Why Election Commission didn’t defer budget
New Delhi, Jan 24 (IANS) The Election Commission (EC) has directed the government to refrain from announcing any state-specific scheme in the Union Budget 2017 that may influence the voters in the five poll-bound states.
The Commission, however, stopped short of asking the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to defer the Budget till the conclusion of assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur.
So what prompted the poll panel – an independent, autonomous body — to take a rather cautious approach towards the Budget and merely restrain the government from announcing sops for the five states?
A highly placed source in the poll panel told IANS that the Commission did not want to be seen acting outside its mandate.
“We considered the matter carefully. There were several considerations,” the source, privy to the discussions, told IANS.
The official said it was primarily the government’s prerogative to present the Budget when it wanted.
“Our role is limited to seeing that the voters are not influenced by any means,” the source added.
But if the EC can restrain the government from announcing sops, can it not stop the government from presenting the Budget altogether until the elections get over?
“We don’t have such sweeping powers. We only act under the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) and MCC is just a moral power,” the source said.
The official mentioned the 2009 advisory the EC issued during the Lok Sabha election.
In a letter to Chief Secretaries and Chief Electoral Officers of all states and Union Territories dated March 9, 2009, the EC wrote: “The Commission would like to point out the prevalent convention that is followed in most states is that instead of presenting the full budget, only a vote on account is taken for 3-4 months in cases where a general election is imminent or when the MCC is in operation.
“It contributes to a healthy democratic process,” it wrote.
The official said the EC took a similar stand this time too. So, instead of prescribing a course of action, it left it to the “sense of propriety” of the government.
Did the Supreme Court’s observation on Monday also weigh on the EC?
“Well, no,” said the source. “We operate on a different plane. We operate around the MCC and do not examine the legal aspects.”
But what if the government, instead of mentioning a particular state, announces sops which apply to every state, such as rebate in income tax or other steps which apply to all Indians? Won’t it influence the voters?
“Let’s see,” the official said.
(Asim Khan can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)