The government has already let it be known (though a formal announcement is awaited) that both Houses of Parliament will meet again between January 31 and February 13 to transact the financial business relating to passing the 'vote-on-account'. This will be the last session of this Lok Sabha. First, we were given to understand that the winter session itself would be extended to meet again for the vote on account. But now the government has prorogued parliament and a new session will be called starting January 31. This will enable the government to invite the President of India to address the joint session of the two Houses, as this will be considered to be the first session of the year. This will enable the government to indulge in a fresh propaganda blitz through the mouth of the President. He will be invited to address another joint session again this year after the general elections when a new Lok Sabha would be elected. In the past also the President has addressed joint sessions twice in a year in similar situations. But analysts are wondering why a two-week session has been called for the very routine business of passing the vote-on-account which could have been transacted in a couple of days in each House. Obviously, the government has something up its sleeve that we are not aware of and is once again meant to catch the opposition by surprise, as was done in the case of the recent reservation bill. The media was abuzz with rumours sometime ago that the Modi government might present a full budget in complete violation of the established convention, as it has done on so many occasions in the past with other well-established conventions of the constitution. A Hindi daily, supposedly quite close to the government, now suggests that the government is even planning to present an Economic Survey.
The opposition parties must be on their guard. Even legislative business like the Citizenship (Amendment) bill should not be brought before the Rajya Sabha for consideration and passing. In fact, no new and serious business should be brought before parliament in this session which should only discuss and pass a 'motion of thanks' for the President's address and the vote-on-account. A one-week session would be sufficient for this purpose. But clearly the government has other plans.
The presentation of a full budget must be resisted at all cost. A dying Lok Sabha has no business to consider and pass a full budget for the next year. It does not have the mandate of the people to do so. It will also be in complete violation of the constitution and its established convention. Article 116 of the constitution of India prescribes the procedure for a vote-on-account. It talks only of parliament approving the estimated expenditure for a part of the financial year pending the passage of the whole budget as prescribed in the earlier articles. Kaul and Shakdher also state clearly that no proposal relating to 'new services' can be part of the expenditure statement contained in the vote on account. According to convention, the vote-on-account will not be preceded by presentation of the Economic Survey, nor will it contain any taxation changes, specially relating to direct taxes which will entail amendment of the Finance Act. The vote-on-account must contain only an expenditure statement for the coming whole year without any 'new services' and ask parliament to approve incurring of expenditure by the government for a part of the financial year, whether it is two months or three months.
It is the prerogative of the new government, installed after the Lok Sabha elections, to present to parliament a full budget, not the privilege of a government at the fag end of its term. This is the provision of the constitution; it's well-established convention and any departure from it must be considered a violation of the constitution.
Kaul and Shakdher even suggest that a vote-on-account, which is for two months only, need not even be discussed in parliament. But while there is no bar to such a discussion, the fact remains that the whole affair will be routine. Any attempt to change this convention must be strongly resisted.
Media reports would suggest that among the various schemes the government may come out with either in the interim budget or even earlier is a basic income scheme for the poor. I am not against the scheme. I have myself suggested such a scheme for farmers sometime back, but this government's time is now up. It has no business bringing any such scheme at this stage. The opposition must be alert. It should not submit meekly to the government as it did in the case of the constitutional amendment bill for the economically backward classes in the general category. This step will do no good to any one and is a fraud on the constitution, but they allowed the government a walkover in parliament and it is taking the fullest advantage of it now among the people. With a pliant media in tow, it is not difficult to fool the people up to the elections which will be held shortly. By the time they find out that it is as silly as demonetization was, it may be too late.
In cricket parlance, the government got all the opportunity in the earlier overs to make runs. It did not. Now, in the last over, they want to hit only sixers and make 40 runs. Whether they will is anybody's guess. But if the other side, namely the opposition, plays carelessly and bowls no balls as they have done in the past, then even that is possible.
Meanwhile, the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) has crashed to 0.5% in November, unemployment rose to four year high after demonetization, industry decidedly slowed down as a result of it and employment declined by 11 million in 2018. Modi and Company have reasons to be desperate.
Yashwant Sinha, former BJP leader, was Minister of Finance (1998-2002) and Minister of External Affairs (2002-2004)
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