Whose Fault if the Elections and the Budget Clash?As early as 26th October, 2016, Prime Minister Modi had indicated that the government would advance the date of presentation of the Union budget from February 28 to February 1 from 2017. This, the government said, was being done so that there would be clear two months to get legislative approvals for annual spending plans and tax proposals and the same could be completed before the new financial year from April 1. That, in turn, would allow for speedier implementation of schemes. The decision was formally communicated to all on November 15, 2016. Finally, on January 3, the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs (CCPA) recommended the same to the President, sealing the matter.
By Sunil Garodia
Just a day after that, on January 4, the Election Commission announced for elections to be held in five states including Goa, Punjab and UP in a phased manner from February 4 to March 3, 2017. The EC was well aware that the budget would be presented on February 1, just three days before the first day on which voting was to take place. It was also aware that the government could present a populist budget with an aim to sway voters. Then why did it announce the dates so close to the budget? The opposition parties have cried foul and have approached both the EC and the President to prevent what they call an unfair advantage the BJP might gain by presenting a populist budget. But is the government or the BJP really at fault, since the elections were scheduled after it was well known that the budget was to be presented on February 1?
The oppositions concern is understandable. No amount of goodies they promise in their manifestos can compete with the immediate tangible benefits the government can transfer through the budget. But it is also true elections keep happening as per schedule, the budget is a constitutional necessity that also needs to be presented as per schedule. If the budget is pushed back to March 4, the very purpose for which it was advanced will get negated, throwing planning of approvals and implementation of schemes out of gear. This is not advisable at a time when many sectors of the economy are already suffering from post demonetization pangs. Alternatively, the EC can reschedule elections to a date in May or June. But can the opposition be sure that if the government presents a populist budget, the people will not be swayed then? Hence, the opposition should accept that it is not the governments fault that elections were announced after it decided to present the budget on February 1 and let things stand as they are.