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Mainstream, Vol XLVII No 10, February 21, 2009

On Limitations of Pre-Election Interim Budget

Monday 23 February 2009, by Era Sezhiyan

The last session of Parliament before a General Election is normally intended to present Interim Budget and get Vote on Account to provide the government with necessary funds for the following financial year, pending the vote of final supply..

The procedure of Vote on Account which was not there under the British regime was introduced by the Constituent Assembly. While introducing the first Interim Budget of independent India for 1952-53 before the first general election, Finance Minister C.D. Deshmukh conceded:

Its main purpose is to place before Parliament an account of the finances of the Central Government for the current year and the prospects for coming the year on the existing basis of revenue and expenditure so that the House may know the general background till the new Parliament considers and passes the Budget for the whole year… Meanwhile, the Government proposes to ask the House only for a Vote on Account to meet the anticipated expenditure during the first four months of next year and to continuance of the existing measures of taxation.

Therefore, the sole purpose of presentation of the Interim Budget should be to get Vote on Account to provide funds for the government for continuance ‘at the existing basis of revenue and expenditure’. Any change in the particulars of expenditures and taxation measures should be left to the next government to be formed after the election.

However, in the Interim Railway Budget for 2009-10, presented on February 13, 2009, the Railway Minister has announced proposals of several schemes (with the number of items given in the bracket) such as Construction of ROB/RUBs (10), New Lines (14), Gauge Conversion (3), Doubling (8), New Trains (43), Extension of Trains (14), Increase in Frequency (14) and Additional Coaches in 18 Local MEMU Services.

The Railway Minister has also announced reduction of passenger fares in some trains and classes.

While the Constitution and the Rules of the House do not prevent the Members in giving notices of motions, amendments, and demands for detailed consideration of the grants, it has been the convention of the House to pass the Vote on Account without any discussion. It is not known why the Railway Minister got derailed in not observing the established practice.

The ruling party has every right to announce in its Election Manifesto any number of schemes and concessions, but should not have discarded the long established convention of keeping the procedure on Vote on Account free from detailed consideration. n

The author is a senior Fellow of the Institute of Social Sciences and a former Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament. He can be contacted on e-mail at: sezhiyan23@yahoo.com

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