The exercise to make the budget is a long-drawn one that deftly juggles political pressures, conflicting demands, the economy's priorities and utmost secrecy. A Lowdown:
THE FIRST MOVE
· The process begins in September with a voluminous 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.
· 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.
· For a week, they are totally cut off from the outside world, including their families. Only the finance minister can enter or exit the quarantined basement area where these officials work and live.
· A powerful mobile phone jammer is also installed inside North Block to block calls and prevent leakage of information.
· Sometimes the Intelligence Bureau chief himself makes a surprise visit to the printing press area in the basement of North Block.
· In case of an emergency, the families of these officials can leave a message on a number given to them, but cannot directly speak to them.
THE SPRINT TO PRINT
· The finance minister's 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, since the Budget will be presented on February 28, it would mean the speech would probably be printed on February 26 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.
Not good with numbers? Here is Gaurav Choudhury's simple take on the budget