Wednesday, January 4, 2017

INDIA Updated: Jan 04, 2017  HT Correspondent  Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Minister of railways Suresh Prabhakar Prabhu talking with finance minister Arun Jaitley. The Union budget and the railway budget for the fiscal 2017-18 will be tabled in the Parliament together, breaking a century-old tradition. (HT file photo)

The combined general and rail budget will be presented on February 1, the government said on Tuesday, ending a nearly century-long tradition of tabling separate financial documents for the country’s largest transporter.

The date was finalised by the cabinet committee on parliamentary affairs which also decided to convene the budget session of Parliament on January 31, advancing the date by over three weeks.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley was present at the meeting which was also attended by home minister Rajnath Singh, parliamentary affairs minister Ananth Kumar and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj.

The BJP-led government’s decision to scrap the railway budget is seen as a policy reform measure aimed at doing away with the “culture of populism” that has taken a heavy toll on the state-owned transporter’s financial health over the years.

The merger will also help the government formulate an integrated transportation plan for the country by harmonising needs and requirements to develop different modes such as ships, roads and airlines, officials say.

Officials expect the early budget session will also allow for earlier allocation of funds for government schemes and projects and lead to their better implementation. In the past, funds were usually not allotted from the beginning of the financial year on April 1, creating a backlog and choking of funds.

Though the budget was presented in February, several tax proposals kick in only from June after Parliament passes the annual finance bill in May. A group of secretaries in the government had recommended advancing the budget to overcome the problem.

The move will also allow individuals and companies more time to firm up savings and tax payout plans.

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.

Parliament had witnessed disruptions through the month-long winter session that was a virtual washout as opposition parties and the government clashed primarily over the recall of 500- and 1,000-rupee banknotes.

The confrontation overshadowed Parliament’s legislative business, including passage of key social and financial reforms bills.

The Lok Sabha, where the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) enjoys a brute majority with more than 330 parliamentarians, managed to pass two bills in the winter session. The Rajya Sabha, where the NDA is in a minority, passed a single legislation.

The allegations and counter-allegations ahead of elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and three other states could cast a shadow on the legislative agenda of the government in the budget session.


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