With rivals opposing the presentation of Union Budget before elections, finance minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday defended the move and asked why are parties afraid of it when they claim demonetisation is an unpopular decision.
“These are the political parties which say demonetisation is unpopular. So, why they are afraid of the Budget,” Jaitley told reporters in New Delhi.
When asked about the presentation of the Budget in March 2012 after the election in states, including Uttar Pradesh, he said, “This is not a tradition (for following) every time.”
“Interim budget is presented just before Lok Sabha elections. No one has stopped that. Even in 2014, interim budget was presented some days before the general elections. This is a constitutional necessity.”
With a view to start spending on welfare and other schemes from Day 1 of the fiscal year, the government has shed long-standing tradition of presenting the Budget on the last day of February.
It decided on Tuesday to convene the Budget session of Parliament from January 31 and present the Budget for 2017-18 fiscal the next day. Punjab and Goa go to polls on February 4, followed by elections in three more states, including Uttar Pradesh. Some political parties have gone to the President and the Election Commission against February 1 budget.
Political parties, including Congress, Left, Samajwadi Party and BSP have voiced reservation against the move as they feel the Budget may be used to announce sops to influence voters.
“This will not only give unfair advantage to the ruling party but will also undermine the process of free and fair elections. It is therefore demanded that in view of the forthcoming elections and the precedent of 2012, the advancement of the presentation of the budget should not be allowed,” leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said in a letter to chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi.
Jaitley said starting expenditure early is one of the objectives behind advancing the Budget as following previous year patterns led to expenditure beginning after monsoon months.
“The actual expenditure must start from April rather than half the year being lost and starting after the monsoons. That is the whole object of this exercise and we stand by that exercise,” he said.