New Delhi: Controversy plagues the presentation of the Union budget as the ruling NDA seemed to be in no mood to defer it even after the Election Commission (EC) announced the poll schedule on Wednesday. Moving away from the tradition of presenting the Budget on February 28, the Centre had on Tuesday officially advanced the day to February 1.
While there were apprehensions that the Budget could influence voters if presented before the conclusion of the elections in March, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley claimed on Wednesday evening that “there is no requirement for a delay.”
Bracing for a showdown with the Centre on the issue, the Opposition parties on Wednesday asked the EC to prevent the government from presenting the Budget before the conclusion of the elections.
Claiming that the Budget could influence voters, BSP chief Mayawati requested the EC to instruct the Centre to present the Budget only after completion of polling in all the five states in March.
“The EC should instruct the central government not to present the Budget on February 1, and just as 2012, it be presented only after the completion of polling on March 8,” she said.
In 2012 , the UPA government had deferred the Union Budget to March 16 when the same five states — Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur — went to polls. Chief election commissioner (CEC) Naseem Zaidi said that the EC would “examine the representations made by the political parties.”
That the government is not willing to budge became somewhat evident as Mr Jaitley pointed out that even in 2014 “the Budget was presented before the polls.”
Reacting to the Opposition charges, Mr Jaitley said that “these are the same parties which say there has been no positive effect of demonetisation so why are they worried about date of the Budget.”
Former Chief Election Commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy and N. Goapalswamy told the media that the Union budget would have to be cut to a vote-on-account only if this was a Lok Sabha election.
T.S. Krishnamurthy pointed out that “any sops announced for the country without being specific to the poll-bound states will not violate the model code of conduct code” which came into effect on Wednesday.
Opposing the Centre’s move to present the Budget on February 1, the Congress maintained that since Independence, the Budget was traditionally presented on February 28.
“Fearing defeat and leaving aside the good traditions of Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants to present the Budget before the elections,” Congress spokesman Ajoy Kumar said. He pointed out that in 2012, the BJP had raised objections on the same grounds, and the then UPA government had only presented a vote-on-account.
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad also wrote a letter to the CEC in which he said, “It is a collective and serious concern of the Opposition parties that advancing the presentation of the Budget will provide an opportunity to the government to make populist announcements to influence voters.”