Secret build-up: Here's how the budget is prepared
The exercise to make the Union Budget is a long-drawn one that deftly juggles political pressures, conflicting demands, the economy's priorities and utmost secrecy. Here is 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 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
Finance ministry officials begin consultations with stakeholders — industry associations, chambers of commerce, farmer groups and trade unions — at North Block at Raisina Hill in November. The groups plead for tax breaks and fiscal incentives.
3) Clear picture emerges
Focus shifts to the big picture in the subsequent year. 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. (Since this is an election year, the ministers' meetings with stakeholders took place in June, instead of January, after the new government assumed office in May.)
4) Quarantine of officials begins
A practice usually carried out in February, this year, top officials of the finance ministry, experts, printing technicians and stenographers will be quarantined at the North Block in the first week of July. For seven days, they are totally cut off from the outside world, including their families. Only the finance minister can visit them.
5) Secrecy paramount
A team of Intelligence Bureau officials, headed by a joint secretary, monitors 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 the North Block to block calls and prevent leakage of information.
6) Cut off, but under close watch
Apart from the finance minister entering or exiting the quarantined area where the stenographers and other officials work and live, the Intelligence Bureau chief is known to have made surprise visits to the printing press area in the basement of North Block.
7) In case of emergency, leave a message
In case of an emergency, the families of the quarantined officials can leave a message on a number given to them, but cannot speak to them directly.
8) 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, assuming that the Budget will be presented on July 11, it would mean the speech will likely be printed on the night of July 9.
9) All the reason for strict vigil
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.
10) And, it's D-Day
The Budget speech of the finance minister is usually presented in Parliament in two parts. Earlier practice was to present the Budget at 5pm on the last working day of February, but since 1999, it is presented at 11am on the last working day of February. This year, because of the elections, Vote on Account was presented in February and the full Budget will be presented in July).