Budget 2018: It isn't really a boring affair; 'halwa', locked-in officials are part of budget rituals

Indians love traditions and are known to hold them up dearly. Well, parliamentarians are not an exception to it. The reasons behind many long-standing traditions are not known though. However, these interesting rituals relax the serious-economic jargon of the days leading to and the D-Day.

Here some of the customs which have been observed by finance ministry:

The briefcase story

The picture of the finance minister holding a leather briefcase and posing for shutterbugs as he readies himself to present the Budget to Parliament has become synonymous to the curiosity and excitement evoked by ''the big day'' for Indian economy.

According to a Business Today report, the reason behind finance ministers bringing Budget papers in a leather briefcase lies in the word ''Budget'' itself. The word originated from a French word ''bougette'' which literally means a leather bag.

The custom of carrying a leather bag on the Budget day, adds the report, has been inherited from British colonial governments. According to NDTV, in the UK, a single briefcase has been passed on from one British  finance minister to the next. That is not the case in India though. Here, the all-important Budget briefcase has been varied in colour and shape every year.

Change in timing of Budget presentation

Have you wondered about this so-called auspicious time? When Yashwant Sinha was finance minister of India, he changed the longstanding colonial tradition of presenting the Budget at the end of the day. Sinha, according to The Indian Express report, in 1999 was in agreement with Finance Ministry officials that it would be sensible to move to a morning timing, which would allow the finance minister to have an informed debate on the Budget.

Sinha was instrumental in breaking the ritual that has been in practice since 1947 when he stood up at  11 am on 27 February, 1999 to present the Budget for 1999-2000. Apparently, the precedent to present the Budget at 5 pm was set by Sir Basil Blackett, a British civil servant in colonial India.

The halwa ceremony 

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and other officials at the halwa ceremony. PTI

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and other officials at the halwa ceremony. PTI

Probably the most interesting among all the Budget traditions is the all-important halwa ceremony where the finance minister is photographed stirring a huge kadhai with the simmering sweet. This ceremony, in fact, marks the process of printing documents for the Budget. Halwa, an Indian dessert is prepared in a big kadhai and served to all finance ministry officials.

Locking-up ministry officials

In order to maintain and ensuring secrecy, after the halwa ceremony the finance ministry officials who are directly associated with making and printing of the Budget are required to stay in the ministry and are not allowed to contact their family or friends, according to The Economic Times. The staff is isolated in the finance ministry for one week before the roll-out of the Union Budget.

Since the Budget comes with big policy announcements and impacts the stock markets, it is feared that  those who are in the know of the Budget document can misuse the information for personal benefits. The finance ministry officials are cut-off from the outer world till the finance minister's delivers his Budget speech.

For full coverage of Union Budget 2018, click here.


Updated Date: Jan 20, 2018 14:20 PM

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