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Kerala state budget: Finance minister's speech leaked; oppn holds 'parallel reading'

The Kerala state Assembly witnessed unprecedented scenes midway the finance minister's presentation of the state budget on Friday, as the Opposition led by the Congress party alleged that the budget had been leaked to television channels and social media.

What seemed like a usual day in the office for Finance Minister Thomas Isaac in the Assembly was interrupted by opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, who was seen waving papers which he claimed were leaked excerpts of the budget — before Isaac could even read it.

Thomas Isaac. Image courtesy: Facebook

Thomas Isaac. Image courtesy: Facebook

As chaos reigned inside the House, the minister's budget speech had to be stopped and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan assured the House that an inquiry would be conducted into allegations of a leak. Vijayan has even asked the chief secretary to immediately conduct an inquiry into the leak.

An agitated opposition staged a walk-out from the Assembly, amid demands for the resignation of Finance Minister Isaac, even as he continued with his speech. What then took place was perhaps unprecedented in the history of Kerala's legislative Assembly.

Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala read out what he called a "parallel budget" in the media room, which was telecast live by the Malayalam media along with the finance minister's speech on a split screen, putting the state government in an embarrassing position.

"We received these parts of the budget even before the finance minister had read it out. How can that happen, if someone hadn't leaked it out from his own office. The budget has a sanctity and that has been lost today," said Chennithala.

It was Chennithala's office that first flagged off the suspicion that those parts which are yet to read by the finance minister had been leaked. At the crux of the issue is an email sent allegedly from the finance minister's office at 10.26 am, an hour and 26 minutes into Isaac's speech.

Though the government claims that only the highlights were out and not the entire budget proposals, it was a 15-page PDF document that went to media houses, and contained every scheme that the government was proposing and their respective costs.

The media soon flashed it across television channels and the opposition pounced. More damaging perhaps for the Pinarayi Vijayan government is the fact that the PDF also revealed the figures from the budget. The numbers pertaining to total revenue, capital expenditure, revenue and fiscal deficit were all out in the open even before the minister had the time to say it himself on the floor of the house.

The only figures missing in the document were the tax proposals, which would have been the last nail in the LDF coffin. A visibly flustered finance minister soon cut his speech short, reading out only the major portions after taking permission from the speaker to skip various paragraphs of the budget.

"The budget as such has not been leaked. What came out in the media is a copy of the highlights section, which was prepared to be given to the media after the budget presentation. This was given in advance this time round, which should not have happened. This needs to be investigated," said Thomas Isaac in a press statement after the session.

Vijayan is reported to be furious at the turn of events that soured an otherwise "people centric" budget, which was also the first full-fledged budget his government has prepared after coming to power in May 2016.

Sources close to the Chief Minister's Office say that heads are likely to roll very soon and even the removal of the finance minister cannot be ruled out at this point. Meanwhile, the opposition has registered an official complaint with the Speaker of the House, who has assured them of a thorough probe into the issue. The opposition would also be meeting the governor over the issue.

Protest rallies have been planned across the state by the Congress, the BJP and the Indian Union Muslim League in the coming days. The state Assembly is also expected to witness uproarious scenes as the budget proposals would be taken up for discussion in days to come.

Updated Date: Mar 03, 2017 16:34 PM

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