Monday, March 1, 2021

Thirunelveli halwada ! ... connection with Indian Budget !!

I rise to present the first Budget of a free and independent India. This occasion may well be considered an historic one and I count it a rare privilege that it has fallen to me to be the Finance Minister to present this Budget. While I am conscious of the honour that is implied in this position, I am even more conscious of the responsibilities that face the custodian of the finances of India at this critical juncture.

 


Tirunelveli locally Nellai and historically (during British rule) as Tinnevelly, is a major city in  Tamil Nadu.   Tirunelveli is located 700 km (430 mi) southwest of the state capital Chennai, 58 km (36 mi) away from Thoothukudi and 73 km (45 mi) from Kanyakumari. The downtown is located on the west bank of the Thamirabarani River; its twin Palayamkottai is on the east bank.  .. .. Thirunelveli, famous for temples is also known for halwa, a sweet made of wheat, sugar and ghee.  Intrestingly, Tirunelveli Halwa does not belong to Tamil Nadu but  originated during the mid-1800s  - having been first prepared by Rajput cooks who were hired by the zamindar of Chokkampatti (a village near Tirunelveli).   .. .. a shop famously ‘Iruttukadai halwa stores’ was doing roaring business and was in news as its owner tragically committed suicide a few months ago, when Corona was spreading wildly. 

Till a few years ago, people were agog with the budget announcements – there would be crowds at petrol bunks as people would fill the tanks of their two wheelers…… funny, some of them had capacity less than 5 litres … !!  

For those of us, not so conversant with Finance, the Union Budget of India is the annual Financial Statement of the Nation as represented in Article 112 of the Constitution of India; presented each year on the last working day of February by the Finance Minister of India in Parliament. The budget has to be passed by the House before it can come into effect on April 1, the start of India's financial year. Sure there cannot be answers to India’s various problems in one budget exercise but the annual budget is one where Govts try to balance between aiming at growth and maintaining the present costs.  Until the year 2000, the Union Budget was announced at 5 pm on the last working day of the month of February. This practice was inherited from the Colonial Era, when the British Parliament would pass the budget in the noon followed by India in the evening of the day. Mr.Yashwant Sinha, the then Finance Minister of India in the NDA government (led by BJP) of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, changed the ritual by announcing the 2001 Union Budget at 11 am. 

Unlike the past, the voluminous budget documents will not be printed this year following the COVID-19 protocol and will instead be distributed electronically to the Members of Parliament.   This will be the first time since the presentation of independent India's first budget on November 26, 1947, that the documents containing income and expenditure statement of the Union government along with the finance bill, detailing new taxes and other measures for the new financial year, will not be physically printed. "In an unprecedented initiative, Union Budget 2021-22 will be delivered in paperless form for the first time. The Union Budget 2021-22 is to be presented on February 1, 2021," the finance ministry said in a statement. On the occasion, the finance minister also launched the 'Union Budget Mobile App' for hassle-free access of Budget documents by Members of Parliament and the general public using the simplest form of digital convenience. The mobile App facilitates complete access to 14 Union Budget documents, including the Annual Financial Statement (commonly known as Budget), Demand for Grants, Finance Bill etc. as prescribed by the Constitution, it said.

.. .. Budget & Halwa – there is connection – the customary halwa ceremony, which marks the process of printing documents for the Budget, was hosted by the Finance Ministry on January 20, ahead of the presentation of the Union Budget on February 1. Finance Minister Mrs. Nirmala Sitharaman,  Mr Anurag Thakur, Minister of State and many other officials of the ministry were present  at the ceremony which will be held at North Block.  It is stated that every  year, the Government follows an annual tradition of hosting a halwa ceremony, a few days before the Budget is presented. The making of halwa marks the official kick-off of events. The Indian dessert is prepared in a large vessel and served to the finance ministry staff as part of the ritual.

After the ceremony, the employees who are a part of the budget-making process move to the basement of North Block for around 10 days. They will only emerge once the Finance Minister presents the Budget in Parliament. This is done to prevent any leaks before the annual Budget is presented.

In presenting the Budget 2013-14 – the one thing that made it interesting for me was the  concluding quote from Thiruvalluvar :

கலங்காது கண்ட வினைக்கண் துளங்காது

தூக்கங் கடிந்து செயல்.

~ meaning -  "What clearly eye discerns as right, with steadfast will; and mind unslumbering, that should man fulfil".

The para at the start were the opening lines of the Budget speech of 1947.  On Nov. 26th 1947, RK Shanmukham Chetty, India’s first Finance Minister presented the first budget.  It covered only 7 and half months from Aug 15th the day of Independence to March 31, 1948.  Though New Delhi could have authorized the expenditure for the part of the financial year, a budget was indeed presented in the Parliament and approved.   Understand that the Budget Estimate for total revenues was Rs 171.15 crore; of which notably, Rs 15.9 crore was to come from the Posts and Telegraphs Department. It was to be a deficit budget of 26.24 crores.  The first budget of the Republic of India was presented by John Mathai on Feb 28, 1950.   This budget laid down the roadmap for the creation of the Planning Commission. The Commission was entrusted with the responsibility of formulating phased plans for effective and balanced use of resources.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
24.1.2021 

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