India Insight

Budget in a bunker

The leather briefcase that the finance minister holds up for the cameras before he delivers the budget in parliament is one of the most curious hangovers from British colonial times.

But one tradition that gets little attention is the intense secrecy that surrounds the preparation of the budget.

Weeks before the finance bill is presented, finance ministry officials clam up, and refuse to speak in detail about the economy to the media. The basement of the Finance Ministry in the North Block of India’s central government secretariat, which has its own press to print the entire set of budget papers, is declared off limits to people not involved in the exercise a month before the big day.

The employees of the press and other staff and officers are locked in the bowels of North Block for the last seven days so that nothing is leaked. All contact with the outside world is cut off, their mobile phones are taken away and Internet connections shut down. Food is brought to them from outside, they sleep in bunk beds and the only people that are allowed to enter are doctors if someone falls sick.

“This is a part of the security measure put in place to ensure foolproof secrecy for the budget papers, and is part of a practice started in the pre-independence era,” the government’s manual on the budget process says.

The bitter truth behind BJP’s deafening budget silence

To some, the parliamentary walkout by India’s opposition prior to the vote on the country’s annual budget motion marked the failure of India’s ruling Congress party to engage with its primary adversary, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), over its claims that the Prime Minister had lied to parliament to protect his own reputation.

To others, the sight of BJP leader Sushma Swaraj leading her MPs out of the chamber as Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee prepared to deliver the most important parliamentary bill of the year encapsulated the sorry state of India’s increasingly bitter partisan politics that show no signs of repair since trumpeting corruption became the opposition’s raison d’etre.
Lawmakers and leaders of India's main opposition alliance led by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) including Sushma Swaraj (front, L) and L.K. Advani (front, R) attend a protest against rising prices wearing aprons with protest slogans inside the premises of the Parliament House in New Delhi REUTERS/Stringer(INDIA)
Swaraj would later tell The Hindu that her walkout was to avoid disrupting the passage of the bill, but the damning point rang out loud and clear: the opposition had decided the corruption drumbeat was more important than the budget.

Mukherjee had earlier pleaded with senior BJP leaders to allow the budget to be debated prior to any discussion on a parliamentary privilege motion submitted against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by Swaraj, promising a two-and-a-half hour debate on the issue after the budget had passed.

from Money on the markets:

Should we have a separate railway budget?

INDIA-BUDGET/RAILWAYSA railway budget separate from the general budget started in 1924 because the railways then formed more than a third of the budget.

A dedicated budget for railways was called for.

However the pattern of government’s finances has changed and the railways despite the impressive statistics - 63,327-kilometre network, 18 million passengers,  two million tons of freight – is less important.

Although being the largest state-run enterprise, the immense power of patronage it embodies makes it politically very lucrative.

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