The exercise to make the budget is a long-drawn one that deftly juggles political interests, conflicting demands, logistical pressures and the need for utmost secrecy over the country’s annual financial event.
THE FIRST MOVE
September: The process begins with a 109-page circular to all ministries, departments, and autonomous bodies. They reply with details of funds they need the following fiscal year—be it for special projects to routine expenses. These are distilled to form the contours of the budget.
EAR TO THE GROUND
November: Finance Ministry officials begin consultations with stakeholders—industry associations, chambers of commerce, farmer groups and trade unions—at North Block on the Raisina Hill. The groups plead for tax breaks and fiscal incentives.
January: Focus shifts to the big picture. Final meetings are held with stakeholders, this time chaired by the finance minister himself. Plans are fine-tuned to the ruling party’s political leanings and its allies’ wishes.
QUARANTINE IN VALENTINE’S MONTH
February: Spring flowers bloom outside, but top officials of the Finance Ministry, experts, printing technicians and stenographers are quarantined at the North Block. For seven days, they are totally cut off from the outside world, including their families. Only the Finance Minister can visit them.
COUNTDOWN WITH BIG BROTHER
A team of the Intelligence Bureau officials, headed by a Joint Secretary, monitor people’s movements and phone calls, including of the five selected stenographers. The computers of these stenos are delinked from the National Informatics Centre (NIC) server to rule out the possibility of cyber-theft.
A powerful mobile phone jammer is installed inside North Block to block calls and prevent leakage of information.
THE SPRINT TO PRINT
The Finance Minister’s budget speech is the most closely guarded document. It is usually handed over to printers at midnight two days before the Budget is to be announced. This year that would mean the speech would probably be printed on Wednesday night.
Initially, Budget papers were printed at Rashtrapati Bhawan. But in 1950, the Budget was leaked and the printing venue shifted to a press at Minto Road. Since 1980, the Budget has been printed in the basement of North Block.