The Delhi government had announced well in advance that its budget session in the assembly will begin on March 17 and that it will present its budget for 2023-24 on March 21, 2023. However, with just one day left for the budget presentation, drama erupted in the capital city as the Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government informed the public that the budget presentation would not go ahead as scheduled. The reason cited by the government was that Centre engaged in ‘hooliganism’ to stall the budget presentation.
In a statement issued by Kailash Gahlot, finance minister of the Delhi NCT government, on Monday, it was said that the union ministry of home affairs (MHA) stopped the Delhi government from presenting the budget. It accused the chief secretary of Delhi of hiding a letter, which contained MHA’s concerns about the said budget, for three days, thereby delaying the budget. “The role of the Chief Secretary and Finance Secretary of Delhi in delaying Delhi's budget ought to be investigated,” Gahlot added.
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said that it was for the first time in the nation’s history that a government budget was put on hold. In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Kejriwal asked, “Why are you angry with the people of Delhi?”. He further wrote, “The people of Delhi urge you, with folded hands, to pass their Budget.”
According to MHA officials, the ministry’s concern about the budget was that the Delhi government’s expenditure for advertising and marketing was relatively higher in comparison to the amount earmarked for infrastructure projects. Gahlot, who took over the finance portfolio in the government following the arrest of Manish Sisodia in relation to an excise policy scam case, denied these allegations and furnished figures which were contrary to the Centre’s claims. According to the Delhi government, out of its Rs 78,800 crore budget, Rs 22,000 crore was for expenditure on infrastructure projects while only Rs 550 crore was reserved for advertisements.
After the budget was delayed, the Delhi assembly witnessed chaos on Tuesday as arguments broke out between members belonging to Aam Aadmi Party and Bharatiya Janata Party. While Gahlot was delivering his speech in the assembly, BJP MLA Vijender Gupta and his party members raised objections which eventually led to an intervention from speaker Ram Niwas Goel. BJP alleged that Gahlot engaged in “breach of privilege” by disclosing expenditure figures to the media. They also sought the resignation of the finance minister for the same.
While AAP MLA Saurabh Bharadwaj claimed that the delay in budget was caused by the Centre, BJP accused the Kejriwal government of seeking ‘cheap publicity’ through the budget row.
While it is not yet clear whether there was a deliberate delay from the chief secretary’s office in conveying MHA’s concerns to the Delhi government, or from the lieutenant governor’s office in clearing the budget, it is evident that Delhi’s Budget 2023-24 has been marred by political jibes and negative publicity. It also signals a continuing deterioration of the relationship between the Centre and the capital city’s administration, which recently touched a new low when Manish Sisodia, AAP leader and former deputy chief minister of Delhi, was arrested in the excise scam case.