Senior New Delhi-based journalist R Rajagopalan, who has been closely following the Union Budget preparations since 1977, lifts the veil off India’s most secretive operation.
With February 29, the date for presentation of Union Budget 2016 fast approaching, a flurry of activities has been going on in North Block, which houses the ministry of finance.
A few senior officials are engaged in the preparation of India’s most confidential government document, during which common folk, or the aam aadmi, cannot enter the building which has turned into a veritable high-security fortress.
Files marked ‘Top Secret’ are being wrapped in envelope and then ferried to and fro by joint secretaries in the ministry.
The person who is coordinating this massive exercise is none other than the finance minister, Arun Jaitley.
It can be no easy task to preserve budgetary secrecy, but this is how it is done.
Each entry point to North Block is guarded by Central Reserve Police Force personnel and visitors are closely monitored via close circuit cameras and subject to physical frisking.
Entry is possible only on production of special photo ID passes that are issued under the signature of officers above the rank of deputy secretary to the Government of India.
Naturally, the entry of media-persons is strictly banned.
Liaison officials from corporate houses are also stopped at the main gate itself.
A round-the-clock vigil is kept in the first floor corridors, where the office of the finance minister is situated.
Sleuths of the Intelligence Bureau maintain a constant surveillance of the computers that are used in the finance ministry.
All internet connections have been disconnected, and the disabled account details are registered in a log book.
Pen drives and Bluetooth devices are not permitted into North Block.
A scanner manned by IB personnel is kept at the four entry and exit points to ensure no external materials are smuggled inside.
Mobile phone jammers have been installed from February 5 onwards.
So who are the "Jaitley Babus" who prepare the Budget?
The Dream Budget 2016 team, otherwise called the ‘Jaitley Babus’, number between 12 and 14.
The first and foremost among them is Finance Secretary Rattan Watal. The second top official is Shantikanta Das, secretary (economic affairs). The third is Hasmukh Adhia, revenue secretary. The fourth is Madam Anjuly Chib Duggal, secretary (financial services). The fifth is Neeraj Kumar Gupta, secretary (disinvestment), the sixth is Atulesh Jindal, chairman, Central Board of Direct Taxes. And the seventh is Najib Shah, chairman, Central Board of Excise and Customs.
The last five are assisted by two joint secretaries each.
Who is Jaitley’s confidant?
Simanchala Dash, an IRS officer who has been with Arun Jaitley for more than 15 years, and currently an OSD in the FM’s office, is Jaitley’s closest confidant.
Where, when and how is the Budget printed?
Budget papers running into hundreds of pages are printed at the Government Press, located underground below North Block.
To ensure there’s no leakage from there, IB has stationed three senior officials at the printing press.
The printing is done in such a manner that even press employees many not be able to decipher what was being printed.
Not only that, even officials from one division of the finance ministry won’t be able to meet employees of other department employees as the underground path is constructed in such a way as to preclude just such a possibility.
Quarantine of employees will start from February 22, 2016.
From this date on there will be no exiting the printing press, and the big iron door at the main entrance will remain sealed till the Budget is presented.
Any papers going into the printing press will have to be handed over in a sealed trunk.
Arun Jaitley’s halwa party will be held on February 19
Every year the finance minister hosts a halwa party to all finance ministry officials to cheer up the team.
On February 19 Jaitley will go into the printing press to serve hot halwa fresh from the oven to all the officials. That is the indication to his team 'gear up' for February 29, 2016.
How many copies of the Union Budget will be printed and how are they despatched?
Printing of the Budget papers will commence from February 22 onward.
First, 2500 copies of the Economic Survey will be printed and bound.
Next come 2500 copies of the demands and grants of various ministries.
Finally, in the evening of February 27, the 2500 copies of Budget speech and Budgetary grants will be printed, and will bound by February 28.
How are the Budget papers despatched?
This is an interesting story. Highly-trained sniffer dogs will be brought to the entry point of the quarantined printing press area to escort the Budget papers. The sniffer dogs, earlier deployed at Parliament’s entry point, were shifted to the printing press in order to save time.
Four lorries of CRPF personnel, with a commandant each, will escort the Budget papers once they are despatched from the printing press at 0945 hours on February 29, 2016.
The time chosen has no astrological significance. The Union Cabinet will meet in Parliament House at 1000 hours, before which the Budget papers will have to be delivered at the building’s despatch section. Fifty highly-trained police personnel will take the Budget bundles into the Parliament section, and will guard the sealed gunny bags containing the Budget papers till such time, say, 1055 hours, as the finance minister enters the Lok Sabha along with the prime minister.
The preparation of the Union Budget may be tough task, but maintaining the document’s secrecy and security is the ultimate challenge. And that is entrusted to Dineshwar Sharma, director of the Intelligence Bureau. He is responsible for the safety and security of the Union Budget papers.
Sharma is assisted in his task by one special director and three joint directors of the IB.
In the words of the doyens of Intelligence Bureau, M K Narayanan and ESL Narasimhan, maintaining the Budget’s secrecy is a very important task assigned the IB. The director keeps track of each and every page of the Budget after they are printed and before their submission to Parliament. The director also visits the printing press very often to boost the morale of his subordinates.
Image: Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley at the launch of the official YouTube channel of the ministry in New Delhi on Thursday. Also seen are Finance Secretary Ratan P Watal and Secretary (Economic Affairs) Shaktikanta Das. Photograph: PTI Photo.