EC clears decks for Budget on Feb 1, but with riders

RSTV Bureau
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley at Pre Budget Consultations with Representatives of Social Sector

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley at Pre Budget Consultations with Representatives of Social Sector

The Election Commission has given a nod to the Centre to present the Union Budget on February 1 ahead of the Assembly polls, but said no schemes related to these poll-bound states can be announced. The Central poll panel has also asked that Finance Minister’s speech should not refer to the government’s achievements in these states.

The decision came on the representation made by the Opposition parties seeking the postponement of Budget till the elections in five states are over.

“The Commission hereby directs that in the interest of free and fair elections and in order to maintain level playing field… no state-specific schemes shall be announced which may have the effect of influencing the electors of the five poll going states in favour of the ruling parties,” the EC told Cabinet Secretary P K Sinha.

Polls in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Punjab and Goa will be held between February 4 and March 8. The counting of votes will be held on March 11.

FILE: Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi, along with Election Commissioners Achal Kumar Jyoti and Om Prakash Rawat, announcing poll schedule for five states during a press conference, in New Delhi  Photo-PTI

FILE: Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi, along with Election Commissioners Achal Kumar Jyoti and Om Prakash Rawat, announcing poll schedule for five states during a press conference, in New Delhi
Photo-PTI

In its order, the EC also reminded the government of a 2009 advisory which said vote-on-account instead of a full fledged budget is presented ahead of elections as per convention.

Referring to the 2009 advisory, the poll panel said it “expects that the advice given by the Commission in that (letter) will also be duly kept in view by the government at the time of the presentation of the Budget for the financial year 2017-18”.

Prior to the Election Commission order late on Monday, the Supreme Court had, earlier in the day, dismissed a plea seeking postponement of Union Budget presentation ahead of the upcoming Assembly elections in five states, saying there was no illustration that it would influence voters.

On its part, the government has maintained that advancing of Budget presentation was necessary as it would ensure that all budgetary provisions are allocated to different sectors from April 1, the beginning of the new fiscal.

The Budget is usually presented around last week of February and, as a result, the approval of the Budget spills over to the next financial year, delaying the start of new programmes.

The Budget session has already been convened from January 31 when the President will address the joint sitting of the two Houses. The Union Budget and the Economic Survey are slated to be presented the next day.

The opposition parties had also written to the President, besides the Election Commission, objecting to the presentation of the Union Budget on February 1 ahead of the Assembly elections and demanded that the government be asked to defer it.

(With inputs from the PTI)