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Centre kicks off poll countdown
- Short Parliament session announced

New Delhi, Jan. 17: The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government today set the stage for early elections by announcing a short Parliament session starting on January 29. The session, which will end on February 5, is being called to pass votes-on-account for the railway and general budgets ahead of dissolving the 13th Lok Sabha.

The Lok Sabha will convene on January 29 and the Upper House the next day. Parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said the railway vote-on-account will be placed before Parliament on January 30. The general vote-on-account will follow on February 3.

The minister would not say when Parliament will be dissolved, adding that the Cabinet will decide on this.

Swaraj waited until the Prime Minister had met President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to inform him of the government’s decision before speaking to the media. The minister spoke to Vajpayee and his deputy, L.K. Advani, earlier in the day.

The decision to convene Parliament was taken after finance minister Jaswant Singh and railway minister Nitish Kumar told Swaraj they would have completed their report by then.

The minister also spoke to Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, to get their consent for convening Parliament. She will formally write to them on Monday.

As Swaraj was making announcements, finance ministry officials worked feverishly on an interim budget as opposed to a mere vote-on-account that will secure sanction for spending until a new government is sworn in.

Top officials said the vote-on-account “would actually be an interim budget as the government would still be interested in bringing in some more soft people-friendly measures even though this vote-on-account or interim budget cannot bring any tax measures”.

These measures are likely to include sops for the three-million-strong bureaucracy such as merging dearness allowance with salary. Two instalments of vote-catching sops have already been made public.

There will also be an attempt to announce the NDA’s economic manifesto through the statement of objectives for the interim budget. The government will not come out with a full-fledged economic survey, but will issue a survey of economic achievements much like a quarterly survey.

Officials said they would like to get a vote to spend 25 to 33 per cent of the government’s total annual expenditure on development schemes or plan expenses.

Economists have traditionally argued that the higher the plan-spend, the higher the GDP growth and lower the poverty figures. But demands of subsidy expenditure, wages and salaries of a huge bureaucracy and interest pay-outs often mean cut-backs in plan-spend to 15-20 per cent in a normal budget.

However, this year the government is inclined to listen to economists. Its logic is simple: private sector investment is not forthcoming, especially in key infrastructure sector such as highways and power. Hence more government spending is required to lift the growth rate, create fresh jobs and make reforms a political success.

With the spectre of “voluntary” separation and industrial closure looming large in industrial tracts, there have been rumblings of discontent even inside the BJP. As such, the spending is seen as a way out of the economic and political difficulties.

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