Today, the central government got the Lok Sabha’s nod to withdraw 98.18 lakh crore from the Consolidated Fund of India to meet the 2019-20 financial year’s expenditure. For the past two weeks, the Lok Sabha debated several ‘demand for grants’ put forward by central ministries. Article 113 of the Constitution of India gives the Lok Sabha the power to approve or deny these ‘demand for grants’. However, there are some expenses which do not require this approval.
Article 112 specifies certain expenses, like the salaries of the President and Supreme Court Judges, that would be charged directly to the Consolidated Fund of India; Article 113 states that these would not ‘submitted to the vote of Parliament’. Back in 1948, these provisions –Article 92 and 93, Draft Constitution of India 1948 – attracted criticism when they were debated in the Constituent Assembly.
A parliament of independent India, K.T. Shah argued, must in principle have the power to vote on any expenditure. The idea of keeping certain expenditure outside the ambit of a parliamentary vote was the legacy of the British rule:
“For that regime, no doubt, it can be understood that there were many items of expenditure which it did not care, would not dare, to bring before the representatives of the Indian people. For instance, its huge defence expenditure, or it's Home charges, and so on, if open to a Parliamentary vote, would never allow the Budget to be passed.”
Shibban Lal Saxena agreed with Shah and felt that the Assembly was bringing in a ‘dangerous thing’. He was irked about another sub-clause of Draft Article 93 which allowed parliament to include more expenditure items that would be directly charged to the Consolidated Fund of India:
This, I think, is unprecedented in any constitution of the world and I would like Dr.Ambedkar to enlighten us how sub-clause (f) of Article 93 is in consonance with democratic procedure. I feel that the sovereign parliament of the nation should have the right vote on every item of expenditure.
Neither did Ambedkar nor did any other member respond. The Assembly adopted the Articles with the relevant sub-clauses intact. Why did the Assembly feel that certain expenses like the salaries of Supreme Court Judges be kept out of parliament’s purview?
The debate in the Assembly does not provide us with an answer. But if we look closely at the list of expenditures in Draft Article 92, we find that that they are mostly related to autonomous constitutional functionaries. It seems like the Constitution framers felt that the independence of these functionaries would be compromised if parliament was given the authority to decide upon their salaries and allowances.
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