How does the finance ministry keep budget a secret?
The annual Union Budget is covered under layers of secrecy before being presented by the Finance Minister in the Parliament. The security under which this document develops is foolproof with around a 100 Finance Ministry officials locked up inside a premises for at least 10 days prior to the budget speech in Lok Sabha.
The process begins with preparation and distribution of halwa, an Indian dessert, among the finance ministry staff. The halwa-making ceremony is a customary ritual which takes place in the presence of the Finance Minister. After the dessert is served, all officials who are undertaking the printing of the budget document are put under lock and key in a basement in the North Block of the Parliament. The first draft is usually prepared a few weeks before the budget date and includes budget proposals on the government's yearly spending plans. The joint secretary of the Finance Ministry is in custody of the final document.
Up until 1950, the budget used to be printed inside the Rashtrapati Bhavan, when a leak forced printing location to be changed. Leaking budget documents is a punishable offence under the Officials Secrets Act.
As soon as the halwa distribution session ends, security is beefed up around the North Block. The setup is elaborate and even the finance minister is not allowed to carry his cell phone inside the printing area. Spooks from the Intelligence Bureau keep a close watch on the ongoing of the process.
Till the budget is announced, a number of arrangements are made for food and lodging of the officials in charge of printing. No one is allowed to make any calls and in the case of an emergencies, the concerned person is escorted to a separate room from where he can make calls in the presence of an intelligence officer. Phone calls are tapped and an intercepting exchange is set up. Jammers are installed and email facilities are blocked.
But is this level of secrecy warranted? After all, several major government announcements were not part of the budget. The secrecy is a British tradition similar to the budget briefcase used by the Finance Minister on budget day.