Halwa reigns supreme in Budget backroom; Arun Jaitley to initiate ceremony

A lot is going to change about India’s annual budget exercise this year. To begin with, the date itself has changed from the traditional last day of February to the first of the month. Its composition too will change with the Railway Budget getting merged with the Union Budget from this year.

What however, is not going to change, is the humongous exercise that goes into the making of the Union Budget. Also remaining unchanged is the ritual associated with the preparation of the Budget that sets the whole exercise in motion. Given the enormity of the task, it is not a surprise that the budget-making team considers the task nothing less than a sacred ritual to be followed dutifully each year.

The ‘halwa’, therefore, will continue to reign supreme in the Budget backroom. The whole exercise begins with the symbolic ritual stirring of the halwa vessel — that will take place on Thursday evening — by the incumbent Finance Minister for sweet deliverance on the D-Day.

This year, especially, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will need all the sweetness and the luck as he will enter the arena facing the ghost of demonetisation.

While millions of Indians will be sitting anxiously in front of their television sets watching what the finance minister brings to table to alleviate difficulties faced by the people due to note ban, many would be unaware of what’s cooking behind the closed doors of the North Block that houses the Ministry of Finance – a fortnight ahead of the Budget day.

The ritual

The race for the final lap begins with the ‘Halwa ceremony’. It marks the commencement of the printing process of documents of the Union Budget. It does not involve any big puja or worship, except lighting of incense sticks. The officials associated with the preparation of the Budget and its printing gather at the printing press situated in the basement of the North Block and exchange wishes in the presence of the finance minister, and distribute halwa. And then, the printing begins.

 Halwa reigns supreme in Budget backroom; Arun Jaitley to initiate ceremony

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley stirring halwa. Image courtesy: PIB

But the people associated with the process gives importance to this ritual and look at it as a good omen.

“This ritual is absolutely necessary and without it, printing of budget documents can’t take place, so all those associated with this ritual had to get things done faster this time as Budget date has been advanced by a month. The best part of this ritual is the secular nature of it and everyone associated with budget-making process, irrespective of religion and caste, participates in it. This ritual is performed every year because we consider that it’ll lead to a good budget. This year, the overpowering demonetisation issue will make the Budget a challenging exercise for the finance ministry and we need a lot of good luck for this,” an official, who has been associated with the ritual for more than a decade, told Firstpost.

Fine Print

One of the most important jobs is the printing of documents. Unlike all government publications that are printed at the government press, the Budget documents are printed in a special printing press situated in the basement of North Block, under tight security cover. From 1947 (First Budget was tabled in the Parliament on 26 November, 1947) to 1950, printing took place at Rashtrapati Bhawan, till the Budget got leaked in 1950. The venue was then shifted to a government press on Minto Road, but since 1980, the North Block basement has become the permanent place for printing. The Budget press is fully air-conditioned, with modern printing machines.

The printing exercise begins nearly 10-15 days before the Budget day. Unlike in the past, this year, it’ll be for the first time that the Halwa ceremony followed by printing will take place in the third week of January.

“In the previous years, this ritual of Halwa ceremony used to take place in mid-February, but this time, we’re doing it in the third week of January. The reason is that the Budget date has been advanced by a month and every process has simultaneously been advanced. Besides, date the volume of printing of the entire budget documents will increase as railway budget has been merged with the union budget,” the official added.

The backroom cooking

Halwa – a traditional Indian sweet dish or dessert prepared from Semolina (sooji) or moong dal, is served during festive occasions. Ahead of the ‘Halwa ceremony’, a team that cooks food for the officials associated with the preparation of budget, procure the necessary stuff. It’s prepared in a large cooking pot (Kadhai) in the basement of North Block and served to the entire budget-making team of the finance minister.

“The 'lock-in' of the documents is followed by the 'Halwa ceremony', which is observed to maintain the secrecy of the budget preparation process. Today evening this ceremony will be observed,” a source added.

For full coverage of Union Budget 2017 click here.

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Updated Date: Jan 19, 2017 15:14:40 IST