Trivia, numbers, Halwa, briefcase and the action on Union Budgets

Last Updated: Thu, Jan 31, 2019 03:17 hrs
Budget 2019 2020

Since independence, twenty six finance ministers have presented to the Bharata-Varsha 76 budgets- most of these were regular financial statements except for seven that were interim budgets or vote of accounts.

Besides economic analysis and financial statements, these seventy-six budgets carry an interesting aspect- that of trivia and unique stories.

Also counted are the myriad rituals like that of the Halwa and that Briefcase, the quintessential accessory that most finance ministers have been clicked with. There is no origin as to when the practice of carrying a leather briefcase commenced considering independent India's first Finance Minister reportedly carried a leather bag and not a briefcase. The practice of a briefcase must have originated from the West. The Finance minister walking with a briefcase has usually been a tradition practiced for ages. But unlike India, reports concur that the leather accessory gets passed on from the outgoing FM to the new one.

Another ritual that has been practiced sincerely is the aspect of security. And in order to maintain complete secrecy nearly hundred Babus and officials from the ministry are cut-off from any form of communication with relatives and friends until the budget is presented in parliament. Attending an urgent phone-call is permitted, but even that is under the vigil of guards, cameras and sniffer dogs.

But the best part of the budget could be that sumptuous looking Halwa. There is no record of who set this tradition, but it is certain that it must have been a foodie to have begun one. After all who wouldn’t want to binge on an Indian dessert as delicious as the Halwa for sweet beginnings.

And as the nation gears itself to listen to Piyush Goyal, the 27th Finance minister present the budget for 2019-2020, here's a recap of select trivia from the past 76 budgets. But first is the tale James Wilson, the man who presented India’s first budget.

India's first budget and its trivia:

  • James Wilson, who presented a budget on 7th April 1860. And, this was India's first budget. This was presented as part of the East-India company to the British Crown.

  • The world remembers James Wilson, the popular Scottish economist and politician as the man who founded the popular magazine 'The Economist'.

  • Deputed by Queen Victoria to India, Wilson's assignment was to establish a new form of tax structure, ideate on a paper currency and rework on India's public finance system after the rebellion of 1857.

  • Soon after presenting the budget, Wilson contracted dysentery and died. Not many knew of Wilson’s burial at Kolkata until 2007 when an Indian Tax Commissioner researched upon him.

  • Wilson is also the founder of Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China which was merged later with Standard Chartered in 1969.

Budget: In Numbers & Time

  • The budget speech of 1991 presented by Dr Manmohan Singh remains the longest one - approximately 18,650 words. Arun Jaitley's budget speech of 2014 was 16,536 words long. Reports suggest that he bettered it with an 18,605 word long budget the next year.

  • The Shortest budget was an interim one presented by HM Patel. This one was only 800 words long.
  • In terms of time taken to deliver speeches, Arun Jaitley and President Pranab Mukherjee both have been reported of delivering long speeches.

  • Jaitley's budget speech in 2014 was 2 hours and ten minutes long with a four-minute interval. President Pranab Mukherjee's budget speech of 1982 was as long as 95 minutes. After he finished the budget presentation, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi quipped, 'the shortest finance minister delivered the longest budget speech.' Another really long budget was that of Finance Minister Jaswant Singh who delivered the 2003 budget. This was 2 hours and 13 minutes long.

  • The record for presenting the maximum number of budgets goes to Morarji Desai who presented a whopping ten Union budgets.

  • Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram presented nine budgets while President Pranab Mukherjee presented eight. Former FMs such as Yashwant Sinha, Yashwantrao Chavan, CD Deshmukh, Manmohan Singh presented six.

Select Trivia on Finance Ministers:

Morarji Desai speaking during a Press Conference on 14 Jan 1978. Image Courtesy: AP

  • Morarji Desai presented the budget twice on his birthday - February 29, 1964 and then again in 1968.

  • Indira Gandhi remains the only woman to present the Union Budget.

  • Yashwant Sinha could be referred to as the unlucky Finance Minister. The economy and turn of events during the times he delivered a budget were too difficult. But, he managed change an old British practice. Union Budgets until the year 2000 were announced at 5 PM on the last working day of February. Sir Basil Blackett in 1924 had started that practice to offer finance officials tired of working the night to present a financial statement. Sinha delivered his budget speech at 11:30 AM.

  • The first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru had to step in and present the budget of 1958-59. Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Morarji Desai, Charan Singh, VP Singh, Manmohan Singh, too have presented the budget and performed the role of Prime Minister.

  • Pranab Mukherjee was the first Rajya Sabha member to hold the Finance portfolio.

  • Jaswant Singh held the Finance ministry portfolio for the shortest duration of time- 13 days, and presented the budget.

  • K C Neogy was a Finance Minister who did not present a budget.

  • R Venkatraman and Pranab Mukherjee are the only two Finance Ministers to have risen to become the President of India.

  • Shankar Acharya held the record for maximum appearances as the Chief Economic Advisor- 7 Union Budgets and two interim budgets.

Popular & Remarkable Budgets:

Yashwantrao Chavan: Maharashtra's first Chief Minister and a Union Minister who held several significant portfolios

  • R K Shanmukham Chetty presented India's first budget in November 1947. Similar to the railway budget of that year- presented under John Mathai, this too was an exercise of economic review and as such did not speak much on taxes. The first budget to speak about interest or rent and passive and active incomes (salaries and business) was Krishnamachari Kaldor's 1957 budget.

  • John Mathai holds the distinction of presenting the first budget of the Republic of India on February 28, 1950.

  • English was the main language of business until 1955. Budget papers from 1955-56 started publishing in Hindi.

  • First disclosure scheme for black money was introduced in the budget session of 1965-66.

  • Indira Gandhi's budget of 1970 was delivered around the crisis of bank nationalisation.

  • Corporate Tax or the concept of Minimum Alternate Tax was introduced by Rajiv Gandhi in his 1987 budget.

  • Economic Liberalisation of 1991 saw Dr Manmohan Singh introduce concepts such as service tax, and a much-required proposal on improving foreign investment, reducing import duties from 300% to 50%. In his budget announcement, Dr Singh said, "It is said that child is the father of the man, but some of our taxpayers have converted children into tax shelters for their fathers."

  • Dr. Singh's 1991 budget and reforms were certainly the turning point for Indian Economy. However the tag of Dream Budget has been attributed to P Chidambaram's budget of 1997. Sadly the dream did not materialize with the HD Deve Gowda government losing mandate after the budget announcement.

  • The budget of 1973-74 delivered by Yashwantrao Chavan is referred to as the 'Black Budget'. The nation faced a deficit of Rs.550 crores.

  • Arun Jaitley carries the distinction of doing away with the tradition of presenting the budget on the end of February. Also, it was during this time that the railway budget was clubbed with the Union Budget. It was in 1924 that the Railway finances were separated from the general government budget.

  • While Arun Jaitley's budget of 2014 endeared him to the stock markets, the same markets feared the arrival of LTCG taxes in 2018. The 2018 budget speech saw him speak about the National Health Protection Scheme, which was referred as Modicare by a section of the media.

Trivia on interim-budgets:

In Pic: RK Shanmukham Chetty, Independent India's first Finance Minister

  • There have been a total of seven interim budgets presented in India, and Piyush Goyal will add one more to this number on February 1 2019. Budgets of 1977-78, 1980-81, 1991-92, 2004-05, 2009-10, 2014-15 have been the interim budgets.

  • Ironically, India's first budget too was an Interim Budget. RK Shanmukham Chetty in his budget speech had said that this his speech was a statement of financial accounts for seven and a half months.

  • With the budget day nearing, the bigger excitement is whether Piyush Goyal would deliver an interim budget or would he deliver a full budget as a few speculators say. Parliamentarians, including Yashwant Sinha said that delivering a full budget could be unconstitutional and improper. Amid this uncertainty, the only man who will  clarify is Mr Goyal himself.