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Election Commission seeks centre’s response on Budget postponement demanded by opposition parties

By Sujit Bhar

The Election Commission (EC) has now acted on the appeal by opposition parties that the Union Budget, presented three days prior to elections in five states, could affect the electorate in case major sops are announced.

The EC has sent an official query to cabinet secretary Pradeep Kumar Sinha to clarify the government’s stand on the appeal by the opposition parties that the Budget proposals be tabled after the polls. The assembly elections get over on March 8.

The government has time till January 10 to response to EC’s query.

The Union government had brought forward the Budget date this year (from the usual February-end date), citing that this was necessary to process funds in time for its many social and other projects. The government has maintained that it had verbally shared with the EC its intention to bring forward the budget this year, well before the announcement of the polls.

One must remember in this context that many of the assemblies had neared expiry date, and not holding elections at this point would have precipitated a constitutional crisis. While the terms of the legislative assemblies of Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur ends mid-March 2017, the term of the Uttar Pradesh assembly will expire in May.

According to an amended law, elections to the legislative assemblies have to be held and a new assembly formed well before their term expires. To this end, the Election Commission’s hands were tied.

There is an argument that since this is a national financial document, it might be seen to be beyond the purview of a model code of conduct imposed in states that does not even include New Delhi (though parts of NCR would be in its ‘shadow’). However, the opposition claim rises from the fact that the ruling party at the centre, the BJP, being a claimant to power in the states, will be in a position to influence public opinion through this document.

That is a valid claim, as is the opinion that the expiry dates of the stated assemblies were no secret. It was up to the centre to take these variables into consideration while setting the date for the Budget. This confusion could easily have been avoided, and the opposition feels that the BJP changed the date to suit its own interest vis-a-vis the polls.

That argument has some traction. However, a national money policy is said to rise above all, and this could be a justification put forth by the centre. One has to wait till January 10 to see the outcome.

Lead Picture: Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi. Photo; UNI

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