A traditional ‘Halwa’ ceremony marks the commencement process of printing documents for the upcoming interim Budget, due to be presented by the government on February 1. The printing of the Budget papers is done in such secrecy and the security is so foolproof that around 100 officials from the finance ministry are cloistered inside a basement for at least 10 days. The halwa ceremony takes place in the presence of the finance minister. Soon after the sweets are served, the officials who are tasked with the printing of budget are locked up in a basement in North Block and even cut off from their families till the presentation of the Budget in the Lok Sabha. However, this year Finance Minister Arun Jaitley Could not be present for the event. The senior BJP leader has been diagnosed with cancer and is in the US for treatment.
Blue Sheet is a blue piece of paper containing key numbers around which hundreds of pages of budget document is prepared is guarded. Not even the Finance Minister is allowed to keep it. The secret sheet, which is updated as and when the new data comes in, forms the backbone of the whole budget process.
Only the joint secretary (budget) is entrusted to keep the custody of the secret paper. The first blue sheet draft gets prepared a few weeks before the budget date. It includes budget proposals on government's annual spending plan.
Until 1950, budget papers were printed inside Rashtrapati Bhavan. However, after a leak during the same year, printing venue was moved to a government press in Minto Road. Ever since 1980, the basement in North Block has become the unchanged dugout for budget printing.
Notwithstanding the confinement, being part of the budget-making process is apparently the most sought-after job among the finance ministry staff.
While many wonder if the level of secrecy is still warranted at a time when all major government announcements including the GST tax rates have not been part of the budget, the meticulous secrecy is a British legacy just like the budget briefcase used by the Finance Minister on the budget day.