Budget date: Suspense continues as govt replies to Election Commission
New Delhi: Suspense over the date for the presentation of the Union budget continued on Tuesday after the cabinet secretary communicated the government’s response to the Election Commission’s (EC) query on the budget date clashing with the poll schedule.
“We have received the response from cabinet secretary on Tuesday evening. We are examining their response and a decision on it will be taken soon,” a senior EC official said requesting anonymity.
The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the opposition led by Congress have been at loggerheads over the issue, with the latter lobbying for postponing the budget on grounds that budget sops could hinder fair elections.
Elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur are to be held between 4 February and 8 March, with the counting of votes scheduled for 11 March. Finance minister Arun Jaitley is due to present the budget for fiscal 2018 on 1 February.
Jaitley said in Amritsar on Sunday that the budget date was decided in advance of poll schedule announcement and dismissed allegations that it was done with an eye on state polls. “The idea is to pass the Finance Bill by March 31, so that next year’s expenses could start from April 1,” Jaitley said in Amritsar on Sunday.
The cabinet secretary’s response to the EC comes in the backdrop of the poll watchdog acting on a representation by some political parties.
Senior leaders of the opposition parties including Congress, Trinamool Congress, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Janata Dal (United), Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal met chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi last week and demanded that the budget date should be reviewed as announcements in it could have ‘undue influence’ on voters. EC had then sought cabinet secretary’s view on the issue.
“Theoretically, the Union budget dates should not be shifted just because there are elections due in 5 states,” said Rajesh Chakrabarti, Professor at O P Jindal Global University. “The budget is also unlikely to have any state specific incentives. But it is also important to note that one of the 5 states that is going to polls is the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh. Further, budget has always been presented on the last date of February. So ethically, a change in the budget dates in a year when there are elections due in 5 states can be questioned,” he added.
The government had sought the election commission’s nod before deciding to advance the budget date to 1 February and is of the view that there is no need for a change in the budget dates on account of elections to the states.