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Government proposes a short 10-day Budget session

The previous NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee had ended a British era practice, by changing the timing of presentation of the Union Budget from 5 pm to 11am in 2001. Sixteen years later, another NDA government under Narendra Modi is following the suit, by proposing a short 10-day budget session of Parliament from January 31. As per the practice inherited from the Colonial Era, the annual Budget was presented each year on the last working day of February by the Finance Minister in Parliament.

The Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs (CCPA) headed by home minister Rajnath Singh which met here on Tuesday recommended the dates to President Pranab Mukherjee. Only the first part of part session from January 31 to February 10 has been proposed. The second half of session will be decided only after the dates for the Assembly elections in five states, including the most crucial Uttar Pradesh are announced by the Election Commission. A top government source said even the second half of the session may also be short.

The first half will have only eight sittings, including the first day limited to the President’s address to the joint sitting of the two Houses. The session has been advanced to pass the budget ahead of the new financial year of 2017-18 that begins on April 1 instead of the practice so far to pass an appropriation Bill for the first four months.

The government could table the Economic Survey on January 31 and follow it up with the presentation of the Budget on February 1. Also there will be no separate Railway Budget. This is a second major shift in the schedule of the Budget by NDA government.

The CCPA meeting asked Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar to draw up a packed schedule as Parliament will have just six days to pass a motion of thanks to the President and finish the first reading of the budget before it goes to the standing committees for department-wise consideration. Sources said the session will be limited to pass the Budget and some important legislations as the government does not hope any help from the Opposition that washed out the entire winter session.

Besides the customary President’s address, the Economic Survey report will also be tabled on January 31 while Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will be presenting the Union Budget on February 1 instead of the usual practice of presentation on February 28 or 29.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has already held pre-budget consultations with the representatives of various sections. Busy with the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council on Tuesday, sources said he would try to wind up the remaining consultations with the stakeholders in the next four days from Wednesday. They said Jaitley is racing against time to prepare three GST-related Bills for consideration by Parliament in the budget session to usher in the new indirect tax regime from June 1, if not from April 1 as planned earlier.

Officials expect the latest move of presenting budget a month earlier will allow for earlier allocation of funds for government schemes and projects and lead to their better implementation on the ground. In the past, funds were usually not allotted from the beginning of the financial year on April 1, creating a backlog and choking funds. Parliament passes the budget through a two-stage process. A vote on account is passed in March to meet necessary expenses on employees’ salaries and other costs for two to three months. The finance bill, which contains tax changes, and the demands and appropriation bill, which spells out full year expenditure details, are passed in May. Political pressures often force tax changes proposed in February during the finance bill’s passage in May.