As the countdown to the Budget begins, every movement in the finance ministry is closely monitored, outsider entry is restricted and phone lines of officials involved in the Budget process are tapped.
This will be the first Budget for all five secretaries in the finance ministry in their existing capacity.
Finance and Revenue Secretary RS Gujral came in place of Sunil Mitra, who was revenue secretary last year, while R Gopalan, who was financial services secretary last year, assumed additional charge as economic affairs secretary when Ashok Chawla, who was also the finance secretary at that time, retired in January 2011.
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After Chawla's retirement, Expenditure Secretary Sushma Nath took over as finance secretary. She was given two months' extension till May 2011 to complete Budget formalities.
Sumit Bose, who was disinvestment secretary during last year Budget, succeeded Nath as expenditure secretary. So while Bose and Gopalan have some experience of the Budget, though in different capacities, this will be the first Budget for Gujral, Disinvestment Secretary Haleem Khan and Financial Services Secretary DK Mittal.
Chief Economic Advisor Kaushik Basu, a professor at the Cornell University in the US, joined the finance ministry in December 2009 and got a fair chance to work on the last two Budgets. Besides drafting parts of finance minister's Budget speech, he will oversee the preparation of Economic Survey that is presented prior to the Budget.
Shaktikanta Das, additional secretary (Budget), and other officials in the Budget Division will provide the useful link between all the related departments and ministries.
The two boards of the revenue department - Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) and Central Board of direct Taxes (CBDT) - got new heads this year. But they are not new to the Budget-making process.
CBEC Chairman S K Goel and CBDT Chairman Laxman Das, who took charge recently from MC Joshi, were members on their respective boards and worked in that capacity on last year's Budget.
Planning Commission also plays an important role in the budgetary process.
Besides formulating and monitoring development, Plans and playing crucial role in fixing gross budgetary support, it advises the government on the desirable transfer of resources to the states, essential for development outlays.
The Budget cycle usually starts towards the end of September and lasts till May. The commencement of Budget process takes place with the issue of the Budget Circular, normally issued in September.
The Budget Circular is issued with the purpose of providing guidance to ministries in framing their revised estimates for the current year and the Budget Estimates for the ensuing financial year, for further rendition to the Budget Division.
October and November is devoted to follow-up action on the Budget circular that includes coordinating with various ministries and departments, procuring data for the receipts budget and scrutiny of the estimates framed by ministries for pre-Budget meetings.
In mid-December, ceilings of expenditure are finalised, and communicated to various ministries by the first week of January. Within one week of the communication of ceilings, the ministries render statement of Budget estimates to the Budget division. Estimates of borrowings and revenue are also made in December. Estimates for major subsidies and defence expenditure are made by last week of January.
In the first week of January, the finance minister starts consultations with sectoral representatives, such as economists, industrialists, trade unions, regulators, to get their suggestions on Budget. During this period ministries also send their Plan estimates.
Expenditure estimates are also made by first week of February and Budget printing begins. The printing work gets over by February 25, with the finance minister’s speech, but this time the printing process may also be delayed.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and his team of officials have concluded all pre-Budget consultations with various sectors, including agriculture, industry, trade unions, non-government organisations and economists.
As the Budget is delayed by over two weeks now due to Assembly polls, the mandarins of the North Block had ample time to ponder over these suggestions.
The key challenge for the finance minister’s team this time is to come up with a Budget that addresses the problems of high inflation without compromising on growth, reaffirm government’s commitment to fiscal consolidation after a year of high fiscal deficit and formulate tax proposals keeping in mind the proposed Direct Taxes Code and Goods and Services Tax.