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Why the latest Budget will be like none other

Gayatri Vinayak
·5-min read
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman: Photo: Getty Images
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman: Photo: Getty Images

With the countdown to the much-awaited Union Budget 2021 underway, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has promised a ‘never before’ like Union Budget, in order to boost the economy that has been battered by the pandemic. While addressing the CII Partnership Summit 2020, Sitharaman had said that hundred years of India wouldn't have seen a Budget being made post-pandemic like this.

The Union Budget is scheduled to be presented on February 1, 2021. The Budget session, which is scheduled from January 29 to February 14 and the from March 8 to April 8, will also see Question hour make a comeback after it was discontinued due to pandemic restrictions.

Set against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic that has crippled the country's economy, Budget 2021 would be vastly different from its predecessors.

Crisis-time budget

Last year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed one of the strictest lockdowns to counter the pandemic, India recorded a GDP drop of 23.9 per cent, in the period April-June 2020. This was the worst contraction since India started reporting GDP data in 1996.

The country technically slipped into the worst recession ever after it posted two-quarters of economic decline in 2020 (it posted negative growth of -7.5 per cent in the second quarter). Rating agency S&P Global Rating has revised real GDP growth to negative growth of -7.7 per cent for the financial year ending March 2021, an upward revision from -9 per cent.

Only four other budgets, 1958-59, 1966-67, 1973-74 and 1980-81, have been presented in times of negative growth.

Unemployment has also been a major concern. According to data from CMIE (Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy), unemployment rose sharply to 9.1 per cent in December 2020 - a sharp increase from the 6.5 per cent reported in November 2020.

As per reports, India’s fiscal deficit for the year ending March, may also likely exceed 7 per cent in 2020-21. The final fiscal deficit will be revealed by FM Sitharaman during her budget presentation.

However, the Finance Minister has said that this will not hold the Government back from spending to revive the economy. The budget will see a thrust on making an Atmanirbhar Bharat, with a special focus on migrant labourers.

Thankfully, the contraction has eased in the second quarter of 2020-21, and the economy is recovering faster than anticipated, primarily due to festive rush and increased spending after restrictions have been lifted.

Departure from the past

This pandemic will also see some traditions that have been associated with the Budget since the beginning, being curtailed or stopped.

The process of printing of the Budget documents starts with the preparation and serving of halwa. At the ceremony, that is attended by the Finance Minister as well, the sweet dish is prepared in a large kadhai and distributed to the staff of the Finance Ministry. This time, the Ministry of Finance may hold the ceremony with a limited attendance or may be done away with, for safety reasons.

No printed papers: A common sight during the Budget are truckloads of budget papers making their way to Parliament. However, this will not be the case during this Budget. For the first time in the history of the budgets presented since independence, Budget 2021 will be a paperless one.

In 2016-17 budget, the printing of hard copies had been reduced, however, this is the first time printing has been stopped completely.

This is because, in the run-up to a regular budget session, around 100 people are required to stay at the printing press which is located at the basement of the North Block, until the presentation day. Since this is not possible due to safety concerns and COVID-related restrictions, this Budget would see soft copies of the budget being shared, instead.

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman seen holding the Budget folder (bahi khata) to present Union Budget 2020-21, at Parliament, on February 1, 2020 in New Delhi. Photo: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman seen holding the Budget folder (bahi khata) to present Union Budget 2020-21, at Parliament, on February 1, 2020 in New Delhi. Photo: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

No bahi-khata: In 2019, FM Nirmala Sitharaman switched the traditional briefcase that has been in use from the British era to the more traditional bahi khata to carry the budget papers, including the finance minister’s speech copy, finance bill and other papers. This year, with the finance ministry doing away with the budget papers, the bahi khata will also be conspicuous in its absence.

COVID-protocols: With COVID-19 norms in place, strict safety measures will be in place. This would also mean different seating arrangements from what has been the norm. As per reports, Members of Parliament may be seated in three different areas – the Central Hall during the start of the session, for President Ram Nath Kovind’s address, the Rajya Sabha chamber, the Lok Sabha chamber. While the Rajya Sabha can seat 60 members, the Lok Sabha can accommodate 132. The remaining will be seated in the visitor’s gallery of both the houses.

Coming in the wake of the pandemic, the extremely crucial Budget 2021 will be awaited with much hope and anticipation.