Will a constitutional logjam impede Jagan govt in Andhra from tapping treasury?

This was the first time in the state's history that the Appropriation Bill was not passed by the legislature during the Budget session.
Jagan Mohan Reddy and Chandrababu Naidu
Jagan Mohan Reddy and Chandrababu Naidu
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The Andhra Pradesh government may face Constitutional hurdles in drawing money from the state coffers to pay for salaries of the employees and other administrative expenses from July as the Appropriation Bill could not get the approval of the State Legislative Council, say legal experts.

Though the two-day session of the State Legislature was held last week to pass the state budget for 2020-21, it concluded on June 17 night without the Appropriation Bill being passed in the Upper House, where the ruling YSRCP is in minority.

The Bill could not be tabled in the Legislative Council due to utter chaos as members of YSRCP and opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) nearly came to blows as to which Bill should be taken up first. Deputy Chairman R. Subrahmanyam, who was in the chair, adjourned the House sine die.

This was the first time in the state's history that the Appropriation Bill was not passed by the legislature during the Budget session.

This triggered a debate on whether the government faces Constitutional obstacles in accessing funds from the state coffers for its administrative expenses and the welfare schemes.

Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy is understood to have discussed the issue with Governor Biswabhusan Harichandan during the meeting on Monday.

Though the Chief Minister's Office described the visit as a courtesy call after the Budget session of the Legislature, sources said he informed the governor about the situation that prevailed in the Council on the night of June 17, resulting in the Appropriation Bill not getting the approval.

YSRCP leaders see no problem for the government to draw funds from the coffers after June 30 as they point out that a Money Bill which could not be passed in the Council would be deemed to have been passed after 14 days.

According to them under Article 198(5) of the Constitution, a money bill tabled in the Council but not passed would be deemed to have been passed after 14 days.

However, legal experts say that Article 198(5) applies only if the bill is tabled in the House.

"The Appropriate Bill was not tabled in the Council and hence it can't be deemed approved after 14 days," says constitutional lawyer Jandhyala Ravi Shankar.

He pointed out that Finance Minister B. Rajendranath Reddy did not move the motion tabling the Bill. "The Bill was not transmitted from the Assembly to the Council. Technically, it is in transit and that is why the provisions of Article 198(5) would not apply," said Ravi Shankar, a former advisor to Andhra Pradesh State Legislature.

The YSRCP government may seek legal opinion over the options before it to overcome the Constitutional gridlock. Sources say since calling another legislature session may not be possible in the current situation, the government may pass an ordinance to tap the state coffers.

The Budget session was originally scheduled in March but the state government had to postpone it in view of the COVID-19 situation. The Governor, on the recommendation of the state cabinet, issued an ordinance on March 30, empowering the government to draw Rs 70,000 crore from the treasury for three months till June 30.

The Constitutional deadlock over Appropriation Bill is the latest challenge faced by Jagan Mohan Reddy government, which is already grappling with the huge slump in the revenues due to outbreak of coronavirus and the resultant lockdown. This also forced the government to put on hold its plans to shift the administrative capital from Amaravati to Visakhapatnam.

YSRCP, which has only 12 members in the 58-member Council, had to face another embarrassment in the upper house even as its recommendation to the Centre to scrap the Council is still pending with the Centre.

It was in January that the State Assembly, where YSRCP has absolute majority, passed a resolution to abolish the Council. The move came after TDP forced the Council to refer to the Select Committee two bills moved by the government for trifurcation of the state capital.

Both the bills were passed in the Assembly but hit a roadblock in the Upper House. YSRCP alleged that Chairman Mohammed Sharif succumbed to TDP pressure to refer the bills to the Select Committee.

The Assembly again passed the two bills in the brief session held last week. YSRCP insisted on taking up the two bills in the Council but it was resisted by the TDP.

The opposition party, which has 28 members, with the support of five members of the Progressive Democratic Front, wanted the Appropriation Bill to be first taken up.

There was utter chaos and the two sides nearly came to blows. Amid the din, the deputy chairman adjourned the House sine die.


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