HindustanTimes Tue,23 Dec 2014

A look at how the budget machine works

Hindustan Times   June 27, 2014
First Published: 23:28 IST(27/6/2014) | Last Updated: 23:33 IST(27/6/2014)

The exercise of making the budget is a long-drawn one that deftly juggles political pressures, conflicting demands, economic priorities and utmost secrecy. A lowdown:

1. 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 for the following fiscal year—be it for special projects or routine expenses. These are distilled to form the contours of the budget.

2. 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 fortax breaks and fiscal sops.

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.

(This year being an election year, the ministers’ meetings with stakeholders have taken place in June, after the new government assumed office in May)

3. A seven-day hibernation
This year, since the budget will be presented on July 10, the officials’ quarantine period will begin in the first week of July.

A team of the Intelligence Bureau officials, headed by a joint secretary, monitor people’s movements and phone calls, including those 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 near-and-dear ones. Only the finance minister can enter or exit the quarantined basement area where these officials work and live.

Sometimes the Intelligence Bureau chief himself makes a surprise visit to the printing press area in the basement of the North Block.

During an emergency, the families of these officials can leave a message on a number given to them, but cannot directly speak to them.

Drafting the document
In an election year, the budget is not presented in th usual month of February, but in July. Hence, top officials of the finance ministry, experts, printing technicians and stenographers are quarantined at the North Block sometime during those two months.

For seven days, they are totally cut off from the outside world, including their families. Onlythe finance ministercan visit them.

4. 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 beannounced

This year, since the budget will be presented on July 10, it would mean that the speech would probably be printed on the night of July 8.

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 the North Block.

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