The Union Budget 2021 that the Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is presenting in the parliament now is special because the minister had promised a “never before” experience. As the government plans to steer the pandemic-battered economy and push growth, investment in health, medical research and development and developing greater skills to handle telemedicine is going to be critical. Livelihood challenges will have to be seen in a new light with a newer perspective on vocational training and skill development so as not to see a repeat of the fleeing of migrant labourers from the cities last year in the midst of the raging Covid-19 pandemic.
With a history of 161 years, the budgets by the Union Government of India is known to be the largest exercise of the kind in the world. Prepared by the department of economic affairs of the Ministry of Finance every year, the budget has an interesting history behind it.
Interesting facts about union budgets
The first Union Budget of India was presented on 18 February 1860, Finance Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council of India, Scotsman James Wilson. Wilson is known as the founder of The Economist as well as of the Chartered Bank, which later went on to merge with the Standard Bank in 1969.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in 2019, abandoned the years-old tradition of the budget briefcase and switched to a more local “bahi khata” (ledger). Earlier, the budget briefcase used to be an integral part of the Budget Day and it was a tradition that was inherited from the UK, where budget chief Willian Gladstone, whose speeches were so long that a briefcase was needed to accommodate all his papers, had started it.
The Indira Gandhi government had presented the 1973-74 budget amid severe economic stress in the wake of a failed monsoon and the 1971 Bangladesh war. It came to be known as the “black budget” for the deficit of Rs 550 crore it showed and the plan to nationalise general insurance companies and coal mines.
Previously, the budget documents used to be printed at Rashtrapati Bhavan until the document leaked in 1950. The following year, the printing of the budget document moved to a press on Minto Road and then to the basement of North Block, which then became the permanent venue for the printing press of budget paper.
Morarji presented it on more occasions than any other FM
Former Finance Minister Moraji Desai had presented 10 union budgets in the parliament, which is the highest by any finance minister followed by P Chidambaram with nine budgets.
Longest budget speech
Nirmala Sitharaman’s Budget 2020-21 speech was the longest in terms of duration in Indian history. She had begun her speech at 11 AM and continued for close to 3 hours, ending at about 1:40 PM. The Finance Minister had spoken for approximately 2 h 40 min. Just when the last two pages of her speech were left, Sitharaman had opted to cut short her budget speech as she felt unwell after speaking for a record 160 minutes in the Lok Sabha.
The then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh had delivered the longest budget speech by words in 1991. Singh’s speech was 18,650-words long.
The shortest speech comprising 800 words was given by Finance Minister Hirubhai Mulljibhai Patel in 1977 while delivering the interim budget.
Until 2000, the budget was presented in the parliament at 5 PM on the last working day of February. But later in 2001, Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha change the timings. Since then, the budget is presented at 11 AM.
Until 1955, the budget was presented in English. However, the Indian National Congress (INC)-led government in 1956 decided to print the budget papers in both Hindi and English.
First woman finance minister
Indira Gandhi was the first women’s Finance Miniter to present the Indian union budget in 1970.
First paperless budget
Marking a first, the Centre has decided not to print documents related to the union budget for the fiscal beginning of April (FY 2021-22). All MPs will get soft copies of the budget and Economic Survey that contains an account of the state of the economy. The budget documents will be available on the Mobile App – “Union Budget Mobile App” after the completion of the budget speech by the finance minister in Parliament on 1 February 2021.