THE MAKING OF THE UNION BUDGET

about 1 year ago
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By Ruma Dubey

Tomorrow is the Union Budget FY19. All eyes and ears are tuned to see and hear only Jaitley and his Budget. As usual hopes are high, the wish list is endless, more so because of the “sacrifices” that we have made on account of demonetization.

Everyone has reached a sense of ad nausea when it comes to expectations; no one wants to read that anymore and have reached a point where they just want the Budget; get it over and done with so that life can move on!

This article is more about the machinations which happen behind the scenes,  the nuts and bolts which turn to make the Budget a reality. A free wheeling, light hearted read so that you can be ready for all the heavy duty grey cell work tomorrow and day after!

So do you know how the Budget actually gets made? It is a process in itself and a veil of secrecy shrouds the finance ministry and other Govt offices at North Block right from the time the date is announced. Earlier, the entire month of February would be out-of-bounds but this time around, it would have been the last fortnight of January. The Press is off limits. Work on the Budget begins right from September but the process of secrecy begins in November and internet connections in the offices of senior officers and staff involved in the process are monitored very strictly.

The Department of Revenue and Expenditure provides the first data, or the basis on which the entire Budget is planned. Data is then collected from the financial advisor of each ministry, based on which a Revised Estimate is made to get an idea about the money required and expected to be collected by each ministry.  The Planning Commission provides data on Plan allocations, which starts around October-December. By mid-January, Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) and Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) give tax collection numbers till end of 31st Dec and the balance three months tax collections are based on estimates. Based on this data, tax collection for the next fiscal, to be presented in the Budget is made. This is like the edifice of the entire Budget as it is these figures which will help design the Budget.

Simultaneously, on the expenditure side, an estimate of Plan Budget is prepared wherein the Planning Commission conveys to the ministry of finance about the schemes is requires to run for the next fiscal, which is then broken down and discussed by Finance Minister and the Chief of the Planning Commission. And to take inputs from other stakeholders like trade unions, industry chambers, economists, the Department of Economic Affairs collects data.

Once all this data is collected, the FM then sits, collates all the data and starts penning down who requires what, how much it can afford to give and how much money it needs to collect to keep the machinery running.  All this happens in 15-20 days before the Budget  when the 100 volunteers who assist in the Budget making process are confined to the basement in North Block, with no contact with the outside world. This year the ‘lock-in’ started around 19-20th of January and they worked in 24/7 shifts. Before the lock-in started, there used to the ceremonial “halwa” ceremony where sooji halwa is made in-house, marking the auspicious commencement of the Budget.  These volunteers print, edit and translate the entire Budget document.  An “only incoming” phone is available for these volunteers and they can receive calls only in the presence of an Intelligence Official.  Food comes from outside which is first checked by the security. Only people allowed to visit are the officials from the Finance Ministry, that too to check the validity of the documents printed. They are not even allowed to contact their near and dear ones through phone or any other form of communication, like e-mail. Only very senior officials in the Finance Ministry are permitted to go home.

Under high security, the Budget papers are sent to the Parliament in the dead of the night on the eve of the Budget. So the famous “red briefcase” which we see the FM’s clutching and entering the Parliament on Budget day contains just the Budget speech and not the entire Budget document.  In fact the Budget speech is a work-in–progress through this entire Budget making process and till the last minute, it is fine tuned.

The only people who know the entire Budget in totality are obviously, first the Finance Minister, a few key officials of the Finance Ministry and the Prime Minister.

And it is only after the FM gets half way through his Budget speech that the locked-in volunteers are released.

Well, reading all this itself would have been long and tedious; so one can imagine how much time and effort goes into making a Budget. Whew!

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