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Finance Ministry may talk to EC before finalising Budget date
September, 26th 2016

Before fixing a new date for the presentation of Union Budget 2017-18, the government is likely to hold discussions with the Election Commission to avoid any clash with the schedule of five states headed for polls.

Assembly elections are due to be held in February in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.

"When we traditionally had the Union Budget presentation on the last day of February, the Election Commission always knew of it and would weave around poll schedule accordingly.

Now that the government has decided to advance the Budget, some kind of consultations need to happen with Election Commission," a top official said.

The elections in five states, he said, are likely to be held in phases and the government in no way wants any of them to clash with the Budgetary exercise.

The Cabinet last week agreed to advance the presentation of the Budget to complete the legislative exercise before the beginning of new financial on April 1 as it would help plan spending on schemes better and boost economy. The new date is yet to be decided.

The Finance Ministry has proposed that the Budget presentation be fixed for February 1 and the entire exercises 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 and 15 before reconvening between March 10 and 15 to complete the legislative exercise.

But with assembly elections in five states likely to be held in phases, this Budget schedule may clash with the campaigning and polling. So the government wants to get a fix on the likely dates after speaking to Election Commission.

While tenure of Punjab, Manipur and Goa assemblies is due to end on March 18, 2017, that of Uttarakhand is till March 26, 2017. Uttar Pradesh assembly tenure expires on May 27.

The Cabinet had on September 21 in-principle decided to end the colonial-era tradition of presenting Union Budget on last day of February and advance it to help complete the legislative approvals for the annual spending plans and tax proposals before the beginning of the new financial year on April 1.

It also decided to scrap 92-year old practice of having a separate railway budget and merge it with general budget.

Presently, the Budget approval process happens in two parts extending to the second or third week of May, hampering early implementation of schemes and spending programmes.

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

Consequently, the preparation for the Budget would now start in early October and GDP estimates made available on January 7 instead of February 7.

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