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Budget 2018: What happens behind the scenes

What happens inside finance ministry hours before the presentation in Parliament.

 |  5-minute read |   31-01-2018
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In the last full budget of the NDA government, the nation's political course ahead of 2019 polls will be decided. A trying moment for the Narendra Modi regime, the Union Budget 2018, presented via the speech by finance minister Arun Jaitley, will shape the economic fortunes of many.

Will there be a helping hand to the ailing farm sector? Who will pay more taxes? Who will get the rebates? As these questions take centre stage, little is known about how back-breaking the exercise to create the crucial budget document, with the finance ministry in the North Block on Raisina Hills as its epicentre, happens to be.

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Top-most secret document: The security will remain airtight from 6pm Wednesday, January 31, till the finance minister delivers his speech in Lok Sabha on Thursday, February 1. The speech is usually ready some days before the budget presentation; about 4-5 reviews of the budget speech are held by the FM. Day before the budget, he undertakes a final review. FM's budget speech is considered the "top-most secret document" as it contains the brief summary of all budget proposals!

Last item to be printed: It's the last item to be printed in the printing press in the deep bowels of the finance ministry building in North Block. The window to make last-minute changes closes around 11pm pre-budget night.

Quarantine: There's a customary "halwa ceremony" to mark the quarantine period, and FM thanks all his "multi-disciplinary budget team" staff for their hard work! This year, nearly 110 finance ministry officials and staff, printing and other personnel entered into a quarantine phase in finance ministry on January 24. And this isolation will continue till Thursday afternoon. These are people who are directly connected to the budget drafting, finalisation, printing and security of the document, and later its distribution and publicity.

Publicity, media material: A 100-member team of the I&B ministry's Press Information Bureau (PIB) entered the finance ministry on Wednesday evening along with a team from the National Informatics Centre (NIC). The PIB team is preparing the press releases and the infographics that go with post-budget presentations. It will also upload the huge budget document on the website and will go live once the FM's speech is over. The English, Hindi and Urdu translations of the budget document are prepared, with hard and soft copies ready. All have to be printed, packed, uploaded on government sites and disbursed. The NIC team handles the technical/digital side of the entire budget exercise. They will get access to the budget "soft-copy" post midnight. To ensure "all is well", the finance secretary and other top guns will keep up the inspection rounds.

Intelligence Bureau: IB keeps a thorough tab on who is coming and going and for what purpose inside the finance ministry. Special passes are issued by the home ministry with IB screening for the staffers who remain quarantined.

No phone allowed: To ensure that the special passes don't exit the building, they are given to the staff for entry into the isolation zone and deposited at the time of exit. So severe is the quarantine that the staffers have no access to phones!

Medical aid on site: There are doctors inside to keep an eye on the health of the quarantined staff. If someone takes ill, a special section is kept on standby at the nearby Ram Manohar Lohia hospital. Of course, no visitors allowed.

Green budget, digital budget: With digital advancement, the number of hard-copies printed of the budget document has gone down drastically, and the finance ministry takes credit for the "Green Budget Copy" initiative. Till a few years ago, nearly 8,000 copies of budget sets used to be printed. Now this figure has come down to 2,500. Of these, 790-odd are for the members of the two Houses of Parliament and many others for sale counters of the budget.

Each budget document, apart from the FM's speech, includes:

A. Annual Financial Statement (AFS)

B. Demand for Grants (DG)

C. Appropriation Bill

D. Finance Bill

E. Memorandum Explaining the Provisions in the Finance Bill, 2015

F. Macro-economic framework for the relevant financial year

G. Fiscal Policy Strategy Statement for the financial year

H. Medium Term Fiscal Policy Statement

I. Expenditure Profile

J. Expenditure Budget

K. Receipts Budget

Budget sets: After the FM speech is ready, "sets" of the budget document are assembled till 8am of Budget day. Around 9am of the Budget day, in a drill rehearsed for decades, the budget sets in sealed copies will be handed over by the finance ministry to the security agency designated by the home ministry, usually the CRPF, who will bring it to Parliament.

Blue sheet: Even the FM is not authorised to keep what's known as the "Blue Sheet": the key data and numbers involved in budget making.

Budget press: Until 1950, budget papers were printed in a press inside the Rashtrapati Bhavan premises. A data leak shifted the printing to a government press on Delhi's Minto Road till 1980. Since then, finance ministry got its own budget press housed in the basement of the North Block.

First Budget: The first budget of free India was presented by the first Union finance minister RK Shanmugham Chetty on November 26, 1947, amidst partition riots.

Also read: Budget 2018: 10 things I expect from finance minister Arun Jaitley

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Writer

Rahul Shrivastava Rahul Shrivastava @rahulshrivstv ‏

The writer is national affairs editor, India Today TV.

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