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Budget 2021: It’s a five-minus-four-year plan


For many entering the debate about the (undue) importance given to the annual Union budget exercise presented by GoI every February 1, one aspect seems to have been overlooked: Article 112 of the Constitution. No harm taking it from the top here again:

‘Article 112, Constitution of India, 1949: Annual financial statement. (1) The President shall in respect of every financial year cause to be laid before both the Houses of Parliament a statement of the estimated receipts and expenditure of the Government of India for that year, in this Part referred to as the annual financial statement [italics mine]. (2) The estimates of expenditure embodied in the annual financial statement shall show separately (a) the sums required to meet expenditure described by the Condition as expenditure charged upon the Consolidated Fund of India; and, (b) the sums required to meet other expenditure proposed to be made from the Consolidated Fund of India, and shall distinguish expenditure on revenue account from other expenditure….’

For over 70 years, the budgetary exercise has, it seems, disregarded Article 112, the source of presenting an annual financial statement (budget) before Parliament, which stipulates that for only one (succeeding) financial year an estimated receipts and expenditure of the Government of India shall be laid before Parliament. The words ‘for that year’ is a constitutional command not to cross the succeeding financial year into the next or years after that.

This year, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced big-ticket expenditure, understandable for an economy trying to get out of a Covid-19-wracked economic slowdown. But the budget, as in previous years, did cross the constitutional barrier of financial year ending March 31, 2022, without providing for adequate budgeted expenditure subsequently. Some examples are Rs 2.76 lakh crore (Rs 2.76 trillion) for the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana, Rs 2.87 lakh crore for the Jal Jeevan Mission, Rs 2.23 lakh crore for healthcare, Rs 3.05 lakh crore for power distribution scheme, Rs 1.97 lakh crore for the manufacturing sector, and Rs 1.41 lakh crore for the Urban Swachh Bharat Mission. These figures add up to tens of trillions of rupees.

Against these announcements, only Rs 4.41 lakh crore of additional expenditure has been budgeted for in 2021-22, as mandated under Article 112 of the Constitution. A magician alone can match the announcements with the limited resources budgeted for.

This ‘magic’ has, of course, been going on for decades. The higher the allocation announced, the more the thumping of desks in Parliament on budget day, the decibels generated against the wood being a ‘market reaction’ of its own. Projections till 2026 have been made in this year’s budget. Once again, the annual remit provided in Article 112 be damned.

The writer is senior advocate, Supreme Court.

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