COUNTDOWN TO THE BUDGET DAY Preparing the annual Union Budget is a laborious and lengthy exercise that takes over five months, and is accompanied, in the final stages, by an obsessive emphasis on secrecy.
1. END SEPTEMBER Preparations for a detailed estimate of the government’s expenses for the forthcoming financial year begin. Currently, the government spends almost as much in a year as India’s entire population does on food.
2. END OCTOBER All ministries want more funds every year. Bureaucrats from different ministries hold tough negotiations with finance ministry officials.
3. DECEMBER The first cut of the Budget is presented to the Finance Minister. The sheets on which the first cut is presented are always blue. It is claimed that black print shows up better on light blue paper than on white paper.
4. JANUARY Representatives of industry and bank associations, as well as select economists, meet the Finance Minister to voice their concerns and suggest measures to address them that could be included in the Budget. The minister listens to all, but makes no commitment.
5. THE PRESS From early January, journalists are barred from finance ministry, once again to ensure Budget proposals remain secret.
6. PHONE TAPS Intelligence Bureau secures the finance ministry in January and sets up systems to prevent leaks of Budget proposals. Telephones of key officials are tapped.
7. VISITORS Visitors to the finance ministry are constantly monitored through CCTVs during this period. They are not allowed to use chairs outside the range of the CCTVs.
8. LAST WEEK OF FEBRUARY Budget documents are printed at a press in the basement of the finance ministry. Around 100 people working there are quarantined inside for a week before Budget Day, to prevent any details being leaked. This year, with the Budget postponed by two weeks, the quarantine will be in March.
9. DOCTORS are on call to combat any health emergency the quarantined workers in the press may face.
10. THE CANTEEN The watch kept over the quarantined press workers goes to extreme lengths. Food tasters sample all the food served to them to ensure they are not poisoned.
11. EMERGENCY If one of the quarantined workers in the printing press must step out following an emergency, he is always accompanied by an official of the Intelligence Bureau and another from the Delhi police. They do not let him out of their sight.
12. FEBRUARY 28/29 The Finance Minister makes a brief presentation to the President and the Union Cabinet on Budget Day before unveiling the full package in Parliament.
13. FINALLY The Finance Minister reads out the Budget in Parliament, starting usually at 11 a.m.
CA Mohit Agarwal