The Union Budget presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Wednesday would be remembered for a long time to come for being historic in more ways than one. Besides the advancement of date from February 28 to February 1 and merging of Railway Budget with the General Budget, the annual exercise would be registered in the annals of parliamentary history.
The presentation of Budget 2017 was full of suspense and melodrama. Ever since the Narendra Modi government disclosed the plan to advance presentation of the annual exercise to the moment Finance Minister Arun Jaitley finally started reading the speech in the Lok Sabha, the Budget witnessed a roller coaster ride.
1. ELECTION COMMISSION
Several opposition parties, including Congress, Left and Samajwadi Party petitioned the Election Commission for not allowing the Narendra Modi government to present the Budget before the February-March Assembly elections in five states. They argued that the sops could be announced in the Budget and they would influence the voters in the poll-bound states.
The election watchdog examined the sensitive matter and finally came out with its decision on January 23, barely a week before the presentation of the Budget. In its letter to Cabinet Secretary PK Sinha the same day, the Commission allowed the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre to go ahead with its Budget presentation. However, it asked the Centre not to announce any state specific schemes in the Budget which may influence voters in the five states going to polls "in the interest of free and fair elections and in order to maintain level playing field during elections".
2. SUPREME COURT
The second major hurdle came in the form of litigation in the Supreme Court. Advocate ML Sharma filed a PIL in the apex court requesting it to direct the Centre to present the Budget in the financial year 2017-18 which would commence from April 1, instead of February 1. The PIL also based its arguments on the forthcoming Assembly elections and said it would violate the Model Code of Conduct.
However, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition seeking postponement of the Budget. A bench comprising Chief Justice JS Khehar and Justice DY Chandrachud rejected the plea and said there was no illustration to support that presentation of the Budget would influence voters' mind in the poll-bound states.
3. FIRE IN PARLIAMENT BUILDING
A fire broke out on Tuesday night in a room in the Parliament House. A UPS in room number 50 caught fire. The fire service received a call around 9.30 pm and it pressed 12 fire tenders into service to douse the fire. It took about 15 minutes to put out the fire without any casualty or injury being reported.
Had the fire spread or had it been severe, the presentation of Budget could have been put in jeopardy. However, it crossed the third major hurdle.
4. DEATH OF SITTING LOK SABHA MP E AHAMED
As if the Budget was jinxed, the biggest hurdle came in the form of the death of Lok Sabha member from Malappuram in Kerala, E Ahamed, in the wee hours of the Budget day. Ahamed, who was the Indian Union Muslim League president, had suffered a massive heart attack during President Pranab Mukherjee's address to both Houses of Parliament on the first day of the Budget Session on Tuesday. He was rushed to hospital and finally his death was declared barely a few hours before the Budget was scheduled to be presented at 11 am.
Presentation of the Budget was shrouded in uncertainty with Ahamed's death. According to established parliamentary norms, the concerned House is adjourned for the day as a mark of respect to the sitting member of that House who dies during the session or in the inter-session period. It appeared as if the Centre would not be able to go ahead with the Budgetary exercise. The Opposition too demanded its postponement by one day.
It was left to Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan to take a call after meeting Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar, Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and others. As the House met, she read out obituary of Ahamed and asked Jaitley to commence his Budget speech. However, the Opposition, mainly the Congress MPs, objected to it and demanded deferment of the presentation by one day.
But the Speaker said the date of presentation of Budget had been fixed much in advance by President Pranab Mukherjee. She said the Lower House would go ahead with the Budget presentation and not meet on Thursday to mourn Ahamed's death. As Jaitley started reading the Budget speech, the Congress members created ruckus. However, they yielded in a short while. This paved the way for the Budget to surmount the last major hurdle and create history.
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