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EC puts brakes on FM’s Budget Speech

EC puts brakes on FM’s Budget Speech
Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi. Photo; UNI

The commission has instructed the centre that there should be no mention of plans or work done in states going to polls this year

~By Sujit Bhar

The central government had just started breathing easy, with the Supreme Court throwing out the PIL on the postponement of the Union Budget in view of the impending polls in five states, when the Election Commission (EC) stepped on its toes. While the apex court decision came late afternoon on Monday (January 23), the EC hammered in a set of restrictions some hours later.

The EC was clear in pointing out that the Budget shall not talk about plans or work done in these five states (those going to the polls). In a letter to the government, the EC said: “In the interest of free and fair elections and in order to maintain a level playing field… no state-specific schemes shall be announced which may have the effect of influencing the electors of the five poll-going states in favour of the ruling parties.”

The EC went further in instructing the union government, specifically Finance minister Arun Jaitley, that his Budget speech should refrain from highlighting “the government’s achievements in respect of the five states in any manner.”

Technically, the EC has clipped a large portion of the Budget wings that the government may have grown from the apex court order. Back in its caterpillar form, the finance minister could have a tough time impressing the lawmakers how good a national Budget he has prepared for the coming financial year.

Of the five states, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab are deemed high on the central government’s “development” agenda, and should receive large budgetary allocations in areas of agriculture and infrastructure. Of the other three, Uttarakhand has a Congress government, whose chief minister Harish Rawat recently won a judicial battle against the centre and has been reinstated. Here it will be a direct BJP-Congress clash.

And in Uttarakhand, too, the issue is development, and the Budget would have talked about that.

While their case in the Supreme Court was set to fall through because the PIL failed to present a watertight case, opposition parties, including the Congress, Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and Lalu Yadav’s RJD had rushed to the EC to get a deferment, citing the EC’s own Model Code of Conduct clause. They had also sent a joint letter to President Pranab Mukherjee.

That yielded this benefit, which, in itself, is stringent enough.

Incidentally, the Budget papers are already in the printing stage, and deleting chapters or sections at this stage could interfere with the tight security arrangements that are put in place before Budget day. Technically, though, the finance minister’s speech can easily be pruned to exclude the issues that the EC has touched upon.

Lead Picture: Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi