Cabinet may fix 1 February for Budget presentation

A meeting of the union cabinet is likely to consider fixing 1 February as date of presentation of the budget after the government received Election Commission's nod for such a move in light of upcoming assembly elections in five states.

The government, however, did not want the election be held in the middle of Assembly poll in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur and got the consent of the Election Commission to advance the budget presentation by a month.

The Election Commission has concurred with the finance ministry's view that it is an annual financial statement and can come anytime of the government's choice, officials said.

The union cabinet headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to meet on Wednesday or Thursday to decide on the date for finance minister Arun Jaitley to present the budget for 2017-18.

The cabinet had, on 21 September, in-principle decided to end the British-era practice of presenting the Union budget on the last day of February and advance it by about a month to help complete the legislative approval for annual spending plans and tax proposals before the start of the new financial year on 1 April.

"The reason we wanted to advance the date was that we want the entire budgetary exercise to be over and the Finance Bill to be passed and implemented from April 1 onwards rather than June because then the monsoon sets in and effectively, the expenditures start in October," Jaitley had stated last week.

Jaitly had said that the intention was that the government's expenditure programme gets started in April itself. Also,, he said, there are five state assembly elections lined up in 2017.

"So, we are just trying to co-ordinate that you do not have to announce the Budget bang in the middle of an election date. It should be reasonably before that or after that," he had said.

The finance ministry had been proposing that the Budget presentation be fixed for February 1 and the entire exercise be completed by March 24.

It wanted the Budget Session of Parliament to begin before January 25 and go in for a three-week break between February 10-15 before reconvening between March 10-15 to complete the legislative exercise.

However, the assembly elections in five states are likely to be held in phases and there is a probability that this budget schedule may still clash with the campaigning and the polling.

While tenure of Punjab, Manipur and Goa Assemblies is due to end on 18 March 2017 and that of Uttarakhand is till 26 March 2017 while Uttar Pradesh Assembly's tenure expires on 27 May.

The official said the Election Commission has given a go-ahead with presentation of the Budget as per Centre's wishes.

The Cabinet had last month also decided to scrap the 92-year old practice of having a separate railway budget, merging it with the general budget.

The budget approval process, however, takes more time and may extend up to the second or third week of May, hampering early implementation of schemes and spending programmes.

To facilitate its early presentation, the finance ministry had proposed that the Budget Session be convened some time before January 25, a month ahead of the current practice.

This would allow for presentation of Economic Survey to be made available on 7 January instead of 7 February.