The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Semantics delay vote-on-account

New Delhi, Feb. 3: The presentation of the interim budget was delayed by over an hour today as Opposition leaders clashed with the ruling alliance over the use of the term and also questioned the constitutional validity of the current Parliament session.

Finance minister Jaswant Singh had to wait till Speaker Manohar Joshi overruled the objections of the Congress-led Opposition before rising to present the vote-on-account.

As Singh rose to present the interim budget at 11 this morning, Congress chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi said the statute had no mention of the term. He argued that only in emergency situations like external aggression or natural disaster could an interim budget be presented, and that in normal circumstances it had to be either a full-fledged budget or just a vote-on-account.

While Das Munshi questioned the term, CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee raised a point the Congress chief whip had forcefully made just before the presentation of the interim rail budget last Friday.

Chatterjee said the short session — convened by the government — was “unconstitutional”.

As the House was meeting for the first time in a new year, the proceedings of the “first session” should have begun with the mandatory presidential address to a joint sitting of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.

The veteran MP cited a 1967 Calcutta High Court ruling to contend that if there was no presidential address the entire proceedings could be held “illegal and invalid”.

Chatterjee pointedly asked the Speaker to clarify whether he treated the current session as the first session of the new year or not.

Alluding to the government’s known position that the winter session had only been adjourned sine die and not prorogued, Congress leader and former Speaker Shivraj Patil said: “The government is using the law to defeat the law.”

Parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj rejected the arguments.

She dismissed Das Munshi’s contention, saying that in 1996, then finance minister Manmohan Singh had called his presentation an interim budget. Yashwant Sinha repeated it in 1998, she added.

Quoting Shakhdar and Kaul, the renowned authors of an authoritative book on parliamentary rules and procedure, Swaraj said whenever a session is adjourned sine die, it could be reconvened until it is prorogued.

She cited instances in 1962 and twice in the late 1980s. About the 1962 instance, she said Shakhdar and Kaul termed the reconvened sitting the “second part” of the same session, which was different from a new session.

The same point was also emphasised by law minister Arun Jaitley.

The Speaker upheld the government’s argument and rejected all Opposition objections to the presentation of the interim budget and its contention that the current session should have been preceded by the President’s address to a joint sitting of both Houses.

Joshi said the points of order raised by Das Munshi, Chatterjee and Raghuvansh Prasad Singh of the Rashtriya Janata Dal were “out of order” and asked the finance minister to present the vote-on- account.

About the current session, he said this “can be treated as the second part of the winter session”.

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