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Can a vote on account alter tax rates?
February, 07th 2009

Can the Government change the rates of taxation in a request for a vote on account? The question has arisen following the statement made by Mr P. Chidambaram, former Finance Minister, that there is no constitutional bar to doing so.

One view is that while the Government cannot alter the rates of direct taxation in a vote on account, it can change the rates of indirect taxation by notification.

Another view is that it would be improper to do so as money bills need to be properly debated in Parliament.

Article 116 of the Constitution deals with vote on account. It permits expenditure to be made by the Government for part of a financial year for meeting obligatory payments such as salaries and pensions, and under special circumstances.

In a narrow technical sense, Mr Chidambaram is right. The Constitution does not say that a vote on account cannot alter tax rates.

But the issue is one of propriety, which has to be balanced with the question of special circumstances.

Thus, while in ordinary circumstances the Government may not alter tax rates in a vote on account, if it can plead special circumstances, it can alter them.

There is no such thing as an interim Budget in the Constitution.

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