Friday, 19 August, 2022
HomeIndiaWhy Nirmala Sitharaman renouncing budget briefcase for ‘bahi-khata’ is significant

Why Nirmala Sitharaman renouncing budget briefcase for ‘bahi-khata’ is significant

As finance minister breaks with 1860s-era tradition, Chief Economic Adviser K. Subramanian says ‘bahi-khata’ departure from ‘slavery of Western thought’.

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New Delhi: Presenting her first Union Budget Friday, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman broke with over a century-old tradition, abandoning the traditional leather briefcase containing the Budget speech, which all her predecessors had been seen carrying on this day.

Instead, she brought the documents wrapped in a four-fold red cloth, with Chief Economic Adviser Krishnamurthy Subramanian telling ANI: “It symbolises our departure from the slavery of Western thought. It is not a budget but a bahi-khata (ledger).”

Many Right-wing politicians and supporters hailed the move on social media.

This wasn’t Sitharaman’s only break from tradition — she untied the red ribbon on the budget documents during the halwa ceremony, rather than cutting the ribbon, as used to be done in the past. MoS Anurag Thakur and Finance Secretary Subhash Garg also did the same.


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The briefcase and other colonial carry-overs

The first budget of India was presented by James Wilson, finance member of the India Council on 18 February 1869. The council was meant to advise the Viceroy of India on the outlay of revenue and expenditure concerning the colony.

Until 1947, the budget was presented in the British Parliament. R.K. Shanmukham Chetty presented independent India’s first budget on 26 November 1947, entering Parliament with a briefcase in hand, emulating a British tradition that began nearly a century ago.

The word ‘budget’ originated from the French word ‘bougette’, which translates to leather bag. And in 1860, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (the British equivalent of the finance minister) William E. Gladstone used a red leather briefcase with Queen Victoria’s monogram in golden letters.

Gladstone had also begun the tradition of posing for a photo-op holding up the briefcase outside the Chancellor’s official residence, 11 Downing Street, before proceeding to Parliament for the budget speech. However, the red ‘Gladstone briefcase’ was discontinued in 2010, and George Osborne unveiled a new budget box outside 11 Downing Street in 2011.

The tradition of presenting the budget at 5 pm on the last working day of February was also a carry-over from the British Parliament. John Mathai presented the first budget of the Republic of India at 5 pm on 28 February 1950, and every subsequent finance minister followed suit until 2001 when, under Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s NDA regime, Yashwant Sinha began the tradition of presenting it at 11 am.

The Modi government changed the ‘end of February’ tradition in 2017 when Arun Jaitley began presenting the budget on 1 February.

Halwa ceremony 

There’s another unusual tradition associated with the Union Budget — the halwa ceremony, which precedes the printing of the budget documents. The finance minister serves halwa to the officials and ministry staff who are involved in the preparation and printing of the budget, and Sitharaman did observe this one.

The budget documents are printed in top secrecy at North Block, which serves as the office of the finance ministry. Officials involved in the printing of budget remain in the basement with no contact with the outside world until the finance minister concludes his/her budget speech in Parliament.

The office of MoS Finance Anurag Thakur had tweeted this as a fun fact:


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Interesting facts about the Union Budget

  • Morarji Desai has presented the highest number of budgets (10). But he didn’t present any of those as prime minister.
  • Three PMs have presented the budget while holding the finance portfolio — Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.
  • A secret piece of paper known as ‘Blue Sheet’ is maintained throughout the budget preparation process. This contains all the significant numbers from the budget and is constantly updated throughout the process of budget formulation. The person responsible for secrecy is a joint secretary in the finance ministry.
  • On the day of the budget, the finance minister first visits Rashtrapati Bhavan to apprise the President on the main points of the budget.
  • Initially, the budget documents were printed at Rashtrapati Bhavan, but following a leak in 1950, the process was shifted to Delhi’s Minto Road. It was shifted to the North Block basement in 1980.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. This is most certainly NOT an issue for discussion at all. Just shows how we get lost in irrelevance. And it is the media that fans these flames. Congress party’s counter that it will use I Pads is equally silly and out of place. Don’t they have anything else to worry about when their own ship is FOUNDERING and their party is incapable of even finding a leader? SHAME.

  2. Myself as FM, will walk into Lok Sabha empty handed. In My budget speech i will tell that all things are privatised . Government will spend only on defence. India is open for business. All labor laws nullified. Free trade world wide- salt to plane. Say hello to private police, private courts. Private rail. 5% GST. End of speech.

  3. It’s not just the briefcase and other colonial carry-overs, Indian government must get rid of hiring CEA manufactured in USA. India should use its age old wisdom in finance and economics and stop being carried away by buzz words coined in western universities which are trying to re-export Indian ideas back to India after coating them with western buzz words. I have discovered several such things. The success of India’s IT industry is to large extent due to Indian way of lean management that the west has discovered now. Same applies to the Agile, the new western buzz word for the way of working. India is doing so many things without attaching them with buzz words. It can be said an Indian weakness or the strength depending upon which way you want to see it. Without associating with buzz words, you own your methods and actions and have full freedom to change but when you associate methods with buzz words you loose the ownership and are not free to change. This is the fundamental difference between Indian and the western way of working.

    • You always see something negative with NDA government. Do you remember who was living durbari and pricey kife without doing any real work? All congress person born with silver spoon, and not real congress worker on ground.
      Barring persons like L Shastri top leadership of congress have always lived life like king or prince and looted country even more than Britishers.
      Many BJP ministers and leaders are coming up by own hard work rather than family name or help and start from lower ranks, not installed as GS or president by so called working committee.

  4. It doesn’t make any difference to poor and common people whether FM comes with Brief case or Bahi katha bundled in red cloth. Thanks it was not saffron, at least for left who don’t exist in parliament the red is compliment which they got for making their supporters to vote for BJP in Bengal.

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