The presentation of the Delhi government's budget for 2023-24, scheduled for Tuesday, has been put on hold, with the Arvind Kejriwal dispensation and the central government trading charges over allocations in various heads.
The AAP-Centre feud
Speaking at a programme on Monday, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal charged that the Centre was resorting to "gundagardi" and that it was for the first time in the history of the country that a budget of a government was put on hold. A video clip of his speech was tweeted by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
Sources in the Delhi government said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has stopped the Kejriwal government's budget and it will not be tabled in the Assembly on Tuesday.
As the chief minister lashed out at the Centre, sources in the MHA said the ministry has sought clarification from the AAP government as its budget proposal had high allocation for advertisement and relatively low funding for infrastructure and other development initiatives.
The advertisement allocation controversy
Delhi Finance Minister Kailash Gahlot denied the charges as lies. The total budget size was Rs 78,800 crore, out of which 22,000 crore was earmarked for expenditure on infrastructure and just Rs 550 crore on advertisements, he said.
The allocation for advertisement was the same as in last year's budget, he added.
What did the MHA say?
In a statement, the MHA said, "The Lieutenant Governor, Delhi, had raised certain concerns of administrative nature on the proposed Budget, keeping in view the fiscal interest of the National Capital Territory on which MHA vide its letter dated 17.03.2023 has requested GNCTD to resubmit the Budget addressing these concerns for taking further action. The reply from GNCTD is awaited for last four days. For the benefit of the people of Delhi, the GNCTD should submit reply immediately."
In a separate statement, Gahlot said, "It is now learned that the MHA expressed some concerns on Delhi government's budget and refused to give it approval through a letter sent to the Chief Secretary on 17 March. For mysterious reasons, the Chief Secretary of Delhi kept the letter hidden for 3 days."
"I learned about the letter only at 2 pm today... The file with MHA's letter was put up to me officially only at 6pm today i.e. just the day before the budget was to be presented in Delhi Assembly. Subsequently, we have responded to MHA's concerns and submitted the file back to Delhi's LG, after CM’s approval, at 9pm today. The role of the Chief Secretary and Finance Secretary of Delhi in delaying Delhi’s budget ought to be investigated," he said.
A source in the LG office said, "The file was received in LG Sectt at 9:25 PM and was sent back to the Chief Minister at 10:05 PM, after approval of LG, for further action as per law."
Delhi government sources said that the finance secretary will write to the MHA on Tuesday for its approval and the budget will be tabled after its nod. They said budget will not be tabled on Tuesday.
According to sources in the lieutenant governor's office, LG V K Saxena approved the Annual Financial Statement for 2023-2024, with certain observations on March 9, and sent the file to the chief minister.
The Government of Delhi, thereafter, sought the approval of the President as mandated by law by sending a letter to the Home Ministry.
The Home Ministry conveyed its observations to the Delhi government on March 17. The LG office is awaiting for the file to be sent to it from the chief minister.
According to LG office sources, Saxena flagged that "as against proposed Budget size of Rs 78,800 crore, the expenditure on Capital components is indicated at Rs 21,816 crore, which is only 27.68%.... Further, this also includes Rs 5,586.92 crore on account of loan repayment, which, if excluded will further reduce the Capital component to Rs 16,230 crore which is only 20% of the budget."
"Since Delhi is the country's capital and also a large metropolis in which need for creation and improvements of infrastructure is extremely important, the allocation for Capital projects does not appear to be sufficient," the LG said.
"It is noted that expenditure incurred by the Directorate of Information & Publicity as per the Revised Estimate 2022-23 is Rs 272.21 crore against the Budget Estimate of Rs 511.64 crore. However, the allocation for the Budget Estimate 2023-24 is Rs. 557.24 crore, which seems incomprehensible and unjustifiable," he further said.
He claimed that the entire potential under various central schemes has not been fully utilised by Delhi.
"A case in example, the flagship scheme of ‘Ayushman Bharat’, has not yet been adopted by Delhi due to which CSS funds under health sector are not made available. The Union Territory needs to obtain all possible funds under Central Schemes to augment its resources and also to meet national goals," he said.
There was no clarity yet on when the budget will be presented in the Assembly. The ongoing budget session of the Assembly is scheduled to conclude on March 23.
Delhi Finance Minister Kailash Gahlot on Monday tabled an outcome budget of the Kejriwal government and the economic survey, 2022-23.
Earlier in the day, the Assembly was adjourned till 11 am on Tuesday.
(With PTI Inputs)