As Railway Minister Lalu Prasad goes about imparting the finishing touches to yet another one of his populist aam aadmi budgets with a select team of top officials, a thick veil of secrecy has been thrown over the entire process.
All budgetary documents and files are being heavily guarded and even very senior officials of the Railway Board are being kept out of the exercise.
Even the two junior ministers under Lalu Prasad, R Velu and Naranbhai Rathwa, have no inkling of the contents of the Railway Budget 2008-09. In all probability, they will get to know about it only when the senior minister reads out the document before the Lok Sabha on February 26, sources in the Railway Ministry said. The junior ministers had protested against this when it happened last year.
Frantic activity can be witnessed these days in the "corridor of power" on the second floor of Rail Bhawan. This floor houses the chambers of the Cabinet Minister and top functionaries of the Railway Board, including its Chairman and Financial Commissioner, who are engaged in the budgetary exercise.
The nerve centre of all the activity is the budget section, a specialised team headed by Executive Director (Budget) Anjali Goyal, which prepares the budget document by putting together the inputs sent by Railway Board members in charge of various divisions of the Indian Railways.
With armed RPF guards sitting outside Goyal's chamber, such is the level of secrecy that even topmost officials like Lalu's foremost aide and advisor, Officer on Special Duty (OSD) Sudhir Kumar, the link between the minister and the Railway Board, walks down to Goyal's chamber every now and then for consultations.
Many Board members too follow Kumar's example and visit the much junior ED's chamber instead of summoning budget-related files through minor officials or clerical staff.
While the bureaucrats lose sleep and sweat it out as the budget is prepared, Lalu finds time to go on his tours around the country, particularly to his home state Bihar every now and then.