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Elections 2017: Code of Conduct unlikely to affect Modi's move to advance Union Budget

The National Election Commission on Wednesday announced the dates in the high-stake Assembly elections for all the five states. The Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi, flanked by two Election Commissioners AK Joti and OP Rawat announced that the poll process will commence with the issue of notification on January 11 and the counting for all the states will take place on 11 March.

Thus, with the CEC's announcement, the model code of conduct kicked in with immediate effect that is aimed at regulating the conduct of political parties and our netas, who often find themselves crossing the line in the fervour of campaigning for their respective candidates.

Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath (C) during a press conference. Reuters

File photo of Former CEC VS Sampath with the then EC Nasim Zaidi during a press conference. Reuters

"The Model Code of Conduct will come into immediate effect and will apply on political parties and state governments concerned, besides the Central government in terms of announcements in these states," Zaidi told reporters.

Apart from the regular restrictions on speeches, expenditure, handing out of doles by the respective state governments and political parties to woo voters, some doubts were also raised that whether the Central government's bid to roll out the Union Budget early this year will also fall under the Election Commission scanner and would have to be rescheduled.

Sixteen political parties, including the Congress, have written to President Pranab Mukherjee and the CEC claiming that the move to advance the Budget is an indirect move to hold sway in the upcoming assembly elections by the ruling BJP-led NDA government, according to The Indian Express. The Bahujan Samaj Party also urged the government to defer the date of the Union Budget, "in favour of clean and fair elections," according to ANI.

However, if the opinion of two former chief election commissioners is taken into account, the Union Budget 2017 is unlikely to be seen as a violation of the model code of conduct.

According to News 18, TS Krishnamurthy and N Gopalaswami, who have served as former CECs, believe that the government can go ahead with its plan to prepone the Union Budget to 1 February from this year onward. They believe that since the Union Budget is a central activity, any SOPs announced in it for the citizens of the country, without being specific to the poll-bound states should be not be seen as a violation of the code.

However, the former CECs conceded that there remains some ambiguity in Railway budget, which from this year will also be a part of the Union Budget, as it may have specific benefits for the people in the five poll-bound states "but there are no easy answers," Gopalaswamy said.

In a first, the government has decided to present the Budget on 1 February instead of the last day of the month as part of an overhaul that would also scrap the practice of a separate railway budget. The Budget Session is normally convened in the last week of February but this year the government is looking set to convene the longest session of Parliament in the last week of January.

Speaking to News18, Krishnamurthy and Gopalaswami said that had these been the Lok Sabha elections, then Union Budget would have to be cut to a Vote on Account.

A vote on account is essentially a special provision to obtain a vote from the Parliament to withdraw funds from the budget when the Union Budget for the fresh year has not yet been released. However, it entails certain restrictions that differentiate it from a full budget, such as it cannot change direct taxes and it usually lapses after two months. However, it can be extended if the year is an election year and it is anticipated that the main demand and the appropriation bill will take longer to be passed by the house.

It is also instructive to note here that it will be highly problematic to avoid a clash between the dates of Union Budget and assembly elections as each year elections are due in one or the state. Such clashes are generally avoided at the time of parliamentary elections or else, the Union Budget is cut to vote on account.

With inputs from PTI

For full coverage of Union Budget 2017 click here.

Updated Date: Jan 13, 2017 19:48 PM

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