India should shift to the January- December financial year by ending the decades old tradition of April-March fiscal introduced by the British, a Parliamentary Panel said today. The present system was adopted by the Government of India in 1867 principally to align the Indian financial year with that of the British government. Prior to 1867, the financial year in India used to commence on May 1 and end on April 30 of the following year.
Criticising the Finance Ministry for “hastening” the exercise of Budget presentation, the Standing Committee on Finance, chaired by Congress MP M Veerappa Moily, said “greater preparation and adequate groundwork should have been made” before preponing Budget by a month. “The Committee would thus expect a more thorough exercise next year onwards. Keeping in view the above constraints, the Committee would suggest that the financial year may also be correspondingly shifted to calendar year and the budget date be further advanced correspondingly,” it said.
It concurred with the government’s decision to advance budget date to end financial business of the government before March 31 so that the respective ministries are able to spend their allocated money from the beginning of the financial year. Ending the decades old practice of presenting Union Budget on the last working day of February, the government presented the Budget for 2017-18 on February 1. “The Committee, however, finds that shifting the Budget by one month leads to non-availability of comparative data for almost a quarter and in the process the utilisation of funds, achievement of physical and financial targets cannot be determined,” the report said.
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The government had last year appointed a high-level committee to study the feasibility of shifting financial year to January 1 from the current practice of starting the fiscal from April 1. The panel submitted its report to the Finance Minister in December. A Niti Aayog panel, headed by its member Bibek Debroy, had also reportedly favoured following the calendar year as the financial year. A change in financial year would require amendments in various statutes and changes in tax laws during the transitional period.
The Standing Committee also highlighted “inconsistencies” in budget allocation and occurrence of wide variations between the budget estimates and actuals of various departments. Giving instances of inconsistent budgeting and recurring occurrences of wide variation between the budget estimates, revised estimates and actuals, it said the budgetary exercise should have been done with greater due diligence. “The Committee would once again urge that the standard rules and guidelines may be strictly applied and if required, objective parameters may be devised for this purpose so as to avoid inconsistencies and mismatch in their estimates in future and put forth realistic and need based demands,” it said.