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Halwa to Quarantines: India’s Union Budget Has Some Quirky Traditions!

Finance ministry officials, including the Finance Minister of India have been following a range of traditions before, during and after the significant annual speech. Some originated in the British period while some follow Indian traditions

The Union Budget is announced on 1st February at 11 am, with plenty of drama beforehand.

For example, the Finance Minister is extensively photographed with a briefcase, before making the elaborate speech on India’s financial plans. That briefcase has become iconic, which makes it a perfect subject for the cameras to capture. So what are the other traditions followed on this significant day of the year?

1. Carrying a briefcase:

This tradition is one of the most popular traditions of the Union Budget day, and it was started in the British era. William Ewart Gladstone, the Chancellor of the Exchequer of Great Britain, was the first to carry a “budget box” in 1860, which went on to become a tradition carried on till date. The same was replicated in India during the Raj.

British Chancellors handed over the budget boxes to their successors, something which India has not continued in the post-Independence period.

The colour of the briefcases used to be red but now range from red to reddish brown to black.

FM Arun Jaitley with the iconic briefcase. Source.

2. The Halwa ceremony:

The Halwa ceremony originates from the Indian tradition of having something sweet before an auspicious event.

Halwa is served to all the officials from the finance ministry, in the presence of the FM.

The Halwa ceremony before the 2017 budget. Source.

This marks the beginning of the lock-up period, where all important officials are put in isolation and not allowed any communication with the outside world. They are all quarantined in the North Block in a basement and have no access to the internet.

They are not even allowed to call friends and family unless there’s an emergency. Even then, the calls are closely monitored.

The officials are allowed to come out only after the FM presents the Budget.

3. Finance and Railway Budget.

For 92 years, the Railway budget and the Union Budget were presented separately.

Representative image. Source.

This tradition was started by the British and almost every country born from the Empire follows it. However, in 2017, India broke the tradition and presented both the budgets together.

4. Date and Time of the announcement.

In the British period, the budget for India used to be presented on the last day of February, at 5 pm. Some claim that this was done so because the British Parliament presented the budget for India immediately after their own presentation.

Others claim that the British officials needed a short break after burning the midnight oil pondering over financial plans.

North Block of the Central Secretariat, Govt of India. Source.

This tradition was continued for a few decades even after independence. In 1999, FM Yashwant Sinha broke this tradition by making the announcement at 11 am. We have been following this time slot since.

In 2016, FM Arun Jaitley changed the date of the announcement too. From the last working day of February, he tweaked the D-day to the first day of February.

5. Printing Documents:

Documents necessary for the Union Budget session used to be printed in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. However, they were leaked in 1950, and the venue was changed to Minto Road in Delhi till 1980.

After that, a special government press in North Block, where the officials are put in a lock-up, is the designated venue to print these documents.

You may also like: Meet the Team of Civil Servants Behind the Union Budget 2018

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