Centre, AAP trade charges as Kejriwal accuses MHA of stalling Delhi Budget

The MHA has refuted the allegations and instead sought clarification from the government on the high allocation for advertisement and relatively low funding for infrastructure and other development initiatives in its budget proposal

Delhi Budget 2023-24, Arvind Kejriwal, Ministry of Home Affairs, Delhi government,
Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has 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. File photo: ANI

The tussle between the Centre and the Arvind Kejriwal government in Delhi intensified on Monday (March 20) after the AAP alleged that the Union Ministry of Home Affairs stalled the Delhi government’s budget 2023-24, which was scheduled for Tuesday (March 21).

Speaking at an event 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.

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MHA refutes charges

The MHA has refuted the allegations and has instead 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.

Replying to the same, Delhi Finance Minister Kailash Gahlot denied the charges as lies. The total budget size was ₹78,800 crore, out of which ₹22,000 crore was earmarked for expenditure on infrastructure and just ₹550 crore on advertisements, he said.

The allocation for advertisement was the same as in last year’s budget, he added.

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.”

MHA letter hidden for 3 days: Delhi Finance Minister

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 three 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 6 pm today i.e. just the day before the budget was to be presented in Delhi Assembly. Subsequently, we have responded to MHAs concerns and submitted the file back to Delhi’s LG, after CM’s approval, at 9 pm 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.

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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.

Low allocation for capital components: Lt. Governor

According to LG office sources, Saxena flagged that “as against proposed Budget size of ₹78,800 crore, the expenditure on Capital components is indicated at ₹21,816 crore, which is only 27.68 per cent…. Further, this also includes ₹5,586.92 crore on account of loan repayment, which, if excluded will further reduce the Capital component to ₹16,230 crore which is only 20 per cent 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 ₹272.21 crore against the Budget Estimate of ₹511.64 crore. However, the allocation for the Budget Estimate 2023-24 is ₹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.

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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 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 inputs from agencies)