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Strictly Confidential! How Finance Ministry Keeps Budget a Secret

The secrecy is a British legacy, so is the briefcase that the finance minister carries on the Budget day.

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(This article was first published on 5 July 2019 and has been republished from The Quint's archive in view of the upcoming Union Budget 2020.)

The upcoming Union Budget on 1 February has the country’s attention for many reasons. Firstly, it’s the first full Budget by the Modi government after it returned to power for a second term with a massive mandate, and secondly, it’s coming amid a deepening economic crisis.

But there’s one thing about it that will be the same as any other Budget – the secrecy behind it.

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A lot goes into keeping it a secret and preventing any kind of leak, especially in the age of internet and electronic media. Here’s how the Government of India has been successfully guarding the Union Budget every year till it’s presented by the finance minister during the Budget session.

The Quarantine

All the entry and exit points of the ministry are heavily guarded by security personnel in the quarantine period. The officials involved in the Budget-making process are closely monitored by the Intelligence Bureau personnel, assisted by Delhi Police.

According to Business Today, other than officials from the finance ministry, the other key officials that are quarantined include some legal experts from the law ministry, Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) officials, and the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) officials. A few days before the Budget speech, a few Press Information Bureau officials are also sent to the basement to churn out press releases.

A team of doctors are stationed inside the ministry to tackle with any emergency health situation with any of the officials during quarantine.
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The Blue Sheet

As the name suggests, the Blue Sheet is a blue-coloured sheet that contains the key economic numbers that form the basis for the Budget’s calculations. It is updated as new data come in. Only the joint secretary (Budget) is given custody of the secret paper – and not even the finance minister is allowed to take it outside the ministry premises.

The Halwa Ceremony

A ritual called the ‘Halwa’ ceremony is conducted before the printing of the Budget starts. The halwa cooked is distributed to the entire staff of the finance ministry. The finance minister also attends the ceremony.

The significance of the event is that after the sweet dish is served, a large number of officials and support staff, who are directly associated with the Budget-making and printing process, are required to stay in the ministry and remain cut off from their families till the presentation of the Budget in the Lok Sabha.

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The Printing Process

The officials overseeing the printing process remain sequestered within the North Block basement area where the presses are kept. They are not even allowed to contact anybody through phone or any other form of communication.

Only very senior officials in the finance ministry are permitted to go home.

Nobody is allowed to take their phones inside the printing area, not even the finance minister.

Till the finance minister presents the Budget, elaborate arrangements are made for the food and lodging of officials associated with the printing process. In case of an emergency, the person is escorted to a room where calls can be made in the presence of an intelligence officer.

Crackdown on Phones and Internet

Electronic sweeping devices have been installed and private email facilities to most computers in the ministry are blocked. To prevent any cyber theft, the computers inside the press area are delinked from the National Informatics Centre (NIC) servers.

According to Business Today, to intercept any communication related to the secret documents, an intercepting exchange is set up to tap landline telephones installed in the chambers of bureaucrats. To prevent leakage, electronic jammers are installed inside North Block ensuring that no information is leaked using mobile phones.

According to India Today, only one landline remains functional from which outgoing calls cannot be made.

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The Officials Involved

According to Financial Express, following are the key officials involved in the Budget-making process:

  • Economic Affairs Secretary
  • Expenditure Secretary
  • Finance Secretary
  • Chief Economic Advisor
  • CBEC
  • CBDT Chairman
  • Minister of State for Finance
  • DIPAM Secretary
  • Financial Services Secretary

The team for Sitharaman’s Union Budget consists of Finance Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg, Expenditure Secretary Girish Chandra Murmu, Revenue Secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey, DIPAM Secretary Atanu Chakraborty, and Financial Services Secretary Rajiv Kumar.

Sitharaman has Anurag Thakur as the MoS for Finance and Chief Economic Advisor Krishnamurthy Subramanian for assistance.

Has the Budget Ever Been Leaked Before?

According to IBT, a certain portion of India’s Union Budget was leaked in 1950 when the printing used to take place at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The venue of printing was then moved to a government press on Minto Road in Delhi after the leak. Subsequently, the North Block basement at the capital’s Secretariat Building became the permanent place for printing Budget papers since 1980.

(With inputs from The Times of India, Business Today, Financial Express, IBT and India Today)

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Topics:  Budget   Budget 2020   Budget Trivia 

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