The recent 2G-controversy and the related debate over the role of the PAC as opposed to the JPC also raises a broader Issue regarding the general scrutiny of government finances by Parliament.  Oversight of the government’s finances involves the scrutiny of the government’s financial proposals and policies.  The Indian Constitution vests this power with the Parliament by providing that (a) taxes cannot be imposed or collected without the authority of law, and (b) expenditure cannot be incurred without the authorisation of the legislature. The Indian Parliament exercises financial oversight over the government budget in two stages: (1) at the time of presentation of the annual budget, and (2) reviewing the government’s budget implementation efforts through the year. The Parliament scrutinises the annual budget (a) on the floor of the House, and (b) by the departmentally related standing committees. Scrutiny on the floor of the House The main scrutiny of the budget in the Lok Sabha takes place through: (a) General discussion and voting: The general discussion on the Budget is held on a day subsequent to the presentation of the Budget by the Finance Minister.  Discussion at this stage is confined to the general examination of the Budget and policies of taxation expressed during the budget speech. (b) Discussion on Demand for Grants: The general discussion is followed by a discussion on the Demand for Grants of different ministries. A certain number of days or hours are allocated for the discussion of all the demands. However, not all the demands are discussed within the allotted number of days. The remaining undiscussed demands are disposed of by the Speaker after the agreement of the House.  This process is known as the ‘Guillotine’.  Figure 1 shows the number of Demands discussed and guillotined over the last five years.  It shows that nearly 90% of the Demands are not discussed every year. Some Important Budget Documents Annual Financial Statement – Statement of the estimated receipts and expenditure of the government. Demand for Grants –Expenditure required to be voted by the Lok Sabha.  A separate Demand is required to be presented for each department of the government. Supplementary Demand for Grants – Presented when (a) authorized amounts are insufficient, or (b) need for additional expenditure has arisen. Finance Bill – Details the imposition of taxes, the rates of taxation, and its regulation. Detailed Demand for Grants – Prepared on the basis of the Demand for Grants.  These show further break-up of objects by expenditure, and also actual expenditure in the previous year. For more details see detailed note on Financial Oversight by Parliament here.

Discussion on the first no-confidence motion of the 17th Lok Sabha began today.  No-confidence motions and confidence motions are trust votes, used to test or demonstrate the support of Lok Sabha for the government in power.  Article 75(3) of the Constitution states that the government is collectively responsible to Lok Sabha.  This means that the government must always enjoy the support of a majority of the members of Lok Sabha.  Trust votes are used to examine this support.  The government resigns if a majority of members support a no-confidence motion, or reject a confidence motion.  

So far, 28 no-confidence motions (including the one being discussed today) and 11 confidence motions have been discussed.  Over the years, the number of such motions has reduced.  The mid-1960s and mid-1970s saw more no-confidence motions, whereas the 1990s saw more confidence motions.  

Figure 1: Trust votes in Parliament

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Note: *Term shorter than 5 years; **6-year term.
Source: Statistical Handbook 2021, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs; PRS.

The no-confidence motion being discussed today was moved on July 26, 2023.  A motion of no-confidence is moved with the support of at least 50 members.   The Speaker has the discretion to allot time for discussion of the motion.  The Rules of Procedure state that the motion must be discussed within 10 days of being introduced.  This year, the no-confidence motion was discussed 13 calendar days after introduction.  Since the introduction of the no-confidence motion on July 26, 12 Bills have been introduced and 18 Bills have been passed by Lok Sabha.  In the past, on four occasions, the discussion on no-confidence motions began seven days after their introduction.  On these occasions, Bills and other important issues were debated before the discussion on the no-confidence motion began.

Figure 2: Members rise in support of the motion of no-confidence in Lok Sabha