The final session of the 17th Lok Sabha is scheduled to convene from January 31 to February 9, with Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman set to present the interim budget on February 1. The full-fledged Budget for the fiscal year 2024-25 will be presented after the formation of the new government following the general elections this year.

Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman at ‘Halwa Ceremony’ last year.(X/@FinMinIndia)

Leading up to the presentation, a traditional “Halwa Ceremony” will precede the event annually. This ceremony, hosted and attended by the finance minister and other officials, marks a notable prelude to the Budget presentation.

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What is Halwa ceremony?

The ceremony signifies the official initiation of the printing process for various documents related to the Budget. The ceremony holds importance in the conclusive stages of the extensive budget-making procedure that spans several months.

The event serves as a formal ‘send-off’ for ministry officials and staff engaged in preparing the Union government’s annual financial statement. Subsequently, they enter a designated ‘lock-in’ period, isolating themselves within the ministry premises, cutting off from their families to preserve the confidentiality surrounding the final budget document.

The staff are allowed to exit the North Block only after the finance minister tables the budget in Lok Sabha on February 1.

This ceremonial activity will take place in the finance ministry’s basement within Central Delhi, home to a dedicated printing press. The finance minister initiates the proceedings by stirring the ‘halwa’ in a large metal pot or kadhai.

Why are there restrictions before Budget presentation?

Budget preparation is a confidential process carried out by the finance minister in collaboration with high-ranking officials. Those involved in this process undergo a period of lockdown and are prohibited from using mobile phones until the budget is officially presented. Various entities, including ministries, states, union territories, defence forces, and other departments, are tasked with preparing estimates. The budget proceeds to the printing stage only after receiving approval from the prime minister.

Aside from the finance minister’s movements within or outside the restricted area where stenographers and officials are stationed, surprise visits to the printing press area in the basement of North Block are reportedly conducted by the chief of the Intelligence Bureau.

In case of emergencies, the families of the quarantined officials have the option to leave a message on a designated number, although direct communication is not permitted.

These stringent measures trace back to a leak that occurred in 1950.

1950 Union Budget was leaked

The security protocols of this highly classified process faced a breach in 1950 during John Mathai’s tenure as the finance minister. A segment of the 1950 Union Budget was leaked when the document’s printing was underway at Rashtrapati Bhawan. In response to this breach, the printing venue was relocated to a government press on Minto Road. Since 1980, the North Block basement at Delhi’s Secretariat Building has been established as the permanent location for budget printing.

Following the leak, finance minister Mathai, facing allegations of serving the interests of higher powers and affluent individuals, resigned.

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