Litigant show-caused, penalised for frivolous PIL appeals against Budget

In December 2018, the Supreme Court had imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on advocate Manohar Lal Sharma for filing a PIL against then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley over an issue related to the Reserve Bank of India's capital reserve

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New Delhi: Within hours of Union Finance Minister Piyush Goyal presenting the interim Budget in Parliament on Friday, an infamous litigant filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking to get it quashed on the alleged ground that there is no Constitutional provision for an interim Budget.

The petition, filed by advocate Manohar Lal Sharma, submitted that, under the Constitution, there is only provision for presenting a full annual Budget and vote-on-account.

About the litigant

In December last year, the top court had imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on Sharma for filing a public interest litigation against the then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley over an issue related to the Reserve Bank of India’s capital reserve.

Sharma is also recalled for defending the rapists in the 16 December 2012 incident whose victim was referred to as Nirbhaya by some media houses and Damini by others.

Alleging that the act of Sharma of casting aspersions on the characters of the victims of the incident was inhumane, scandalous, unjustifiable and a direct affront to — and in violation of — the dignity of women, the Supreme Court Women Lawyers Association filed a petition before the highest court seeking restriction on the entry of Sharma in the premises of the apex court.

In May 2015, the apex court had issued a notice to Sharma asking him why he should not be debarred from filing and/or canvassing any PIL on account of the “irresponsible and scandalous allegations levelled by him” against MPs in one of his petitions. He later apologised for the act after which he was allowed to file PILs with certain checks.

Difference between Budget and vote-on-account

A vote-on-account is an approval taken in an election year for a limited period for government spending; a full-fledged budget is presented later by the newly elected government.

However, technically, a Budget may be presented in the election year if the Election Commission has not announced the dates of the elections yet, said Bibek Debroy, economist, permanent member of the NITI Aayog and chairman of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, recently in an interview to a media house.

A vote-on-account is presented only when elections have been called because it’s purely a temporary government, said Debroy. Since the government cannot stop functioning, and since parliamentary sanction is needed so that the outgoing government can spend out of the consolidated fund of India, a vote-on-account is presented, he said.

Website Business Jargons defines a vote-on-account as “the special provision given to the government to obtain the vote of Parliament to withdraw money when the budget for the new financial year is not released or the elections are underway, and the caretaker government is in place. Simply, (it is) the approval given by Parliament to withdraw a certain sum of money from the consolidated funds of India…”

The Election Commission has not announced the dates of the Lok Sabha election yet. Hence, the ‘grievance’ of the litigant is not expected to hold.

Union Finance Minister Piyush Goyal presented in Parliament the interim Budget on Friday, proposing an array of incentives for all sections of society.

The 2019 Lok Sabha election is expected to take place in April-May.