Updated: July 24, 2014 12:05:39 am
One of Parliament’s prime functions is to exercise oversight over the finances of the government. Structural factors, however, will prevent such oversight from occurring this year. The Union budget for 2014-15 will be taken into consideration for passing on July 24. The process for the passing of the first budget of a newly elected government in July is, by compulsion, an exception to the presentation and passage of the budget in March every year.
The budget session of Parliament is usually much longer, and standing committees have the opportunity to examine budgetary demands in detail. This year, however, the standing committees have not yet been constituted, so the budget will not receive their scrutiny. It was the same in 2009, when the new Parliament’s standing committees were constituted only at the end of August. This indicates an urgent need for reform.
Parliament also exercises oversight over the Union budget by discussing the demands for grants of individual ministries on the floor of the Lok Sabha. A 2010 paper by PRS Legislative Research, however, states that only about 10 per cent of the demands (between 2004-05 and 2009-10) were actually raised during the general discussion on the floor of the House.
The rest are “guillotined”, that is, passed without discussion. Disturbingly, in 2013, all the demands for grants were guillotined. This year too, the demands of just four ministries will be discussed — a mere 6 per cent of the total demands for grants. This effectively means that most of the Union budget may be passed without parliamentary oversight.
This scant oversight is often justified by pointing to the time constraints built into the financial calendar. The following reforms will reduce these constraints. First, as the budget passed by the 15th Lok Sabha expires on July 31, the vote-on-account can be extended to allow parliamentarians more time to examine the demands for grants. Second, Parliament should allot more time to the discussion of demands for grants.
At the very least, the demands of ministries that take up a major chunk of the Union budget should be discussed in both Houses. Finally, there has to be meaningful reform to ensure that the standing committees of Parliament are constituted in advance of the budget. It is time the “reform” narrative in India included the institution for effectuating all reform: Parliament.
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