New Delhi: The 2020 Union Budget process kicked off officially today (20 February) with the customary halwa ceremony marking the start of printing documents for the Budget. At the halwa ceremony, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was accompanied by Union Minister of State for Finance and Corporate Affairs Anurag Singh Thakur, and a host of other officers of the Ministry of Finance.
Tradition plays its part in the preparation of the Union Budget. One of the photographs that most readers should be familiar with is of the Union Finance Minister stirring a huge 'kadhai' (frying pot) in which there is a bubbling halwa (sweet dish) being prepared in the North Block in New Delhi. The North Block houses the finance ministry. The finance minister is surrounded by the other members of the ministry during the preparation of the halwa.
The Union Finance Minister, Smt. @nsitharaman presided over #HalwaCeremony today at North Block to mark the beginning of printing of #Budget2020 documents. MoS Shri @ianuragthakur was also present besides senior @FinMinIndia officials. pic.twitter.com/CgzYwYnLKx
— Ministry of Finance (@FinMinIndia) January 20, 2020
What is the halwa ceremony
As part of the ritual, halwa is prepared in large quantities and served to the officers and support staff involved. It is also a time when everyone involved with the Budget — officials, clerks come together for the government's important financial statement.
The significance of the sweet dish is that after it is served, a large number of officials and support staff, who are directly associated with the Budget preparation and printing process, are required to stay in the basement of the North Block and remain cut off from their families till the presentation of the Budget in the Lok Sabha.
Union General Budget 2020-21 is to be presented on 1 February 2020. To maintain the secrecy of Budget, there is a “lock-in” of the officials involved in making the Budget. Budget Press, situated inside North Block, houses all officials in the period leading up to the presentation of the Union Budget. These officers and staff will come in contact with their near and dear ones only after the Budget is presented by the Union Finance Minister in Parliament.
Until 1950, the Budget papers were printed in Rashtrapati Bhavan. However, the venue was moved to the North Block after certain portion of the budget was leaked. The North Block basement has since remained the venue for printing the Budget since then.
The printing of Budget documents starts roughly a week ahead of presenting in the Parliament after the customary halwa ceremony.
Growth drops to 6-year low
This year the Budget will be presented at a time when growth has dropped to a six-year low amidst a persistent slowdown in the economy and weak demand, according to IANS
Besides, consumption, investment, the outlook and the targets likely to be missed for the fiscal deficit, tax revenues and disinvestment, all add up to a dismal scenario for the current fiscal.
The GDP growth for the current fiscal ending in March is expected to be 5 percent.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is seen offering halwa to Anurag Thakur, Minister of State for Finance. Twitter/@FinMin
In the context of such subdued macro figures, Budget 2020-21 is expected to be taking steps to create jobs, and raise consumption and demand.
There is widespread expectation of a cut in personal income tax to spur consumption.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharman will be hosting the 'halwa' ceremony on January 20 at North Block. She will present the Union Budget on 1 February.
The finance ministry's annual tradition is observed a few days before the Budget presentation. The 'halwa' (dessert), prepared in a huge iron vessel, is served to all the ministry staff, as well as to the finance minister.
After the ceremony, the employees who are involved in the Budget-making process are escorted to the basement of North Block for a 10-day quarantine and they only come out once the finance minister presents the Budget in Parliament. This is done to ensure that there are no leaks of information about the Union Budget before its presentation.