The guillotine is a large, weighted blade that can be raised to the top of a tall, erect frame and released to fall on the neck of a condemned person secured at the bottom of the frame, executing him by instant decapitation. It was widely used during the French Revolution, including on King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, and was a method of execution in France until the country stopped capital punishment in 1981.
In legislative parlance, to “guillotine” means to bunch together and fast-track the passage of financial business. It is a fairly common procedural exercise in Lok Sabha during the Budget Session.
After the Budget is presented, Parliament goes into recess for about three weeks, during which time the House Standing Committees examine Demands for Grants for various Ministries, and prepare reports. After Parliament reassembles, the Business Advisory Committee (BAC) draws up a schedule for discussions on the Demands for Grants. Given the limitation of time, the House cannot take up the expenditure demands of all Ministries; therefore, the BAC identifies some important Ministries for discussions. It usually lists Demands for Grants of the Ministries of Home, Defence, External Affairs, Agriculture, Rural Development and Human Resource Development. Members utilise the opportunity to discuss the policies and working of Ministries.
Once the House is done with these debates, the Speaker applies the “guillotine”, and all outstanding demands for grants are put to vote at once. This usually happens on the last day earmarked for the discussion on the Budget. The intention is to ensure timely passage of the Finance Bill, marking the completion of the legislative exercise with regard to the Budget.
This year, thanks to the ongoing impasse in Lok Sabha over issues like the Punjab National Bank fraud, Andhra Pradesh’s demand for a special package, distribution of Cauvery water, and Telangana’s plea to raise the quota limit, there was no debate on the Budget and related business.
On Wednesday, therefore, all Demands for Grants were “guillotined”: the Finance Bill and Appropriation Bill (containing the consolidated Demands for Grants) with a spending plan of Rs 89.25 lakh crore, were introduced, voted on, and passed by voice vote, all within 30 minutes.
It was an unusual step because there were still three weeks left in the Budget Session. While the government is technically within its rights to fast-track legislative business, the Opposition has criticised it for “stifling the voice of democracy”, and unfairly bypassing convention.