Centre must delay Union budget till state polls are over: Oppn parties tell EC

A clutch of opposition parties will meet the election commission on Thursday to complain about the proximity of the Union budget date and the commencement of assembly polls in five states, which are just three days apart.
Opposition leaders protest to observe a 'Black Day' against demonetization at Parliament House in New Delhi on Thursday during the Winter Session.(PTI)
Opposition leaders protest to observe a 'Black Day' against demonetization at Parliament House in New Delhi on Thursday during the Winter Session.(PTI)
Updated on Jan 05, 2017 01:34 PM IST
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New Delhi, Hindustan Times | BySmriti Kak Ramachandran

Six major opposition parties met the Election Commission on Thursday to have the Centre defer its budget presentation, due February 1, to when assembly polls in five states end.

The parties – including the Congress, Trinamool Congress and Janata Dal (United) – sought that the Centre announce the budget after March 8 when polling gets over in all states, arguing that any concessions would influence voters and give the BJP undue advantage.

The commission will now seek the response of the government.

The state elections schedule, which was announced on Wednesday, begins in Goa and Punjab on February 4. The last state to vote is Uttar Pradesh, which finishes on March 8. Results are expected on March 11.

Though the model code of conduct has kicked in, experts believe the NDA government might still have a leeway to present a pro-people budget – a move that could push the BJP ahead in the race.

Read | As political parties cry foul, Jaitley defends budget presentation before polls

A source from the commission told Hindustan Times, “The government while announcing the budget cannot make any announcements that are specific to the poll-bound states. If there are new projects or allocation related to those states, those will have to be announced later.”

There are indications that the government is likely to raise the ceiling of exemption limit for income tax in the general budget, in a major sop for the salaried class. Recently, information and broadcasting minister M Venkaiah Naidu said said, “The proposals on income tax, concessions and rebates will come in the budget.”

Finance minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday, however, defended the move and asked why parties were afraid of the budget when they claimed that the scrapping of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 was 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.

Read | Amid poll code, budget may still roll out pro-people schemes

Former secretary general of Lok Sabha S Sreedharan told HT, “The budget is a constitutional compulsion. It is only a matter of morality and propriety whether they take the election commission’s permission before announcing the budget proposals.”

The presentation of budget in the middle of the polls has raised questions, the EC also revealed on Wednesday. The chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi said, “The commission has received one representation with regard to presentation of budget; we are examining it and will take call on it in due course.”

Former parliamentary affairs secretary Afzal Amanullah said, “The standard practice is that no such announcements should be made which may affect the poll results. And there can’t be any announcements specific to the poll-bound states.”

In 2012, the then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had presented his budget on March 16, after the polling was over for the states.

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