Budget is ready, now for the super-secret delivery part…

By Rana Ajit, IANS,

New Delhi : Well before sunrise on Monday, a motley crew of about 150 officers will be huddled together in a government building near Parliament House, anxiously awaiting a signal of security clearance.

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Some of these officers will be in their chambers and others in the conference hall, all on the first floor of Shastri Bhavan, which houses the information and broadcasting ministry, a stone’s throw from parliament in the heart of the capital.

They will wait for security clearance from the finance ministry in the North Block, barely 500 metres away, ready to rush there in paramilitary forces’ vehicles waiting downstairs and join 100 officials there.

To an uninformed observer, it may look like a drill for a terrorist attack, but it is part of the process to maintain secrecy of budget documents that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will table in parliament at noon – the secrecy necessitated by the sensitivity of priceless information in them.

While Press Information Bureau (PIB) officials of the information and broadcasting ministry will be at Shastri Bhavan from 4 a.m. – and a few from 7 p.m. Sunday evening – officials from the Budget Division of the finance ministry have been deployed in North Block for the whole of the fortnight before B Day — 24×7.

They have been entrusted with the task of completing the documentation of the complex budget-making exercise — calculations and tabulations of every pie of the taxpayers’ money running into billions and billions to be spent under countless heads, ranging from those related to defence, education, internal security and education to social welfare to name a few.

The Budget Division officials have to spend over a fortnight in their office itself and cannot go home at the end of the day, says a finance ministry official well versed in the procedure.

Even if any of them falls sick during this period, he or she is taken to the neighbouring Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in custody of an Intelligence Bureau official and is not is allowed to receive any visitors there. On recovery, he returns to North Block.

Once the PIB team joins them in the wee hours of budget day, that too will face the same restrictions.

“After entering the security zone in North Block, no official can leave unless the security restriction is lifted,” says a duty roster issued for PIB officials on July 1.

The PIB officials, among other things, will help in preparing sets of budget documents, with each set comprising 12 documents – including the two parts of the finance minister’s speech, the budget highlights and the Finance Bill and statement.

These papers will be distributed among MPs as the finance minister rises to present the budget and read his speech.

The documents also include scores of press releases North Block and Shastri Bhavan officials have drafted to help the media decode the financial jargon and cut through a large amount of data quickly.

These sets, depending upon the language of documents – Hindi or English – will go into khaki and white envelopes. They are then placed in large canvas bags, each carrying 10 sets.

At 8.30 a.m., vechiles with foolproof security, carrying these canvas bags will start leaving Gate 9 of North Block and head for the parliament complex and later for Shastri Bhavan and various parts of the country – to be guarded till the budget presentation.

At Parliament House, the budget bags will be scanned by x-ray machines and then sniffer dogs will have their turn.

A bunch of the budget papers will be handed over to the parliament staff, who will place the budget speech before every member’s seat in the house and send the remaining documents to their residences by the evening.

Another chunk of the document sets will be retained by the PIB officials for distribution among mediapersons, first at Parliament House and later at the Shastri Bhavan.

As soon as the budget is tabled in the Lok Sabha, a group of officials will rush to various railway stations and the airport to dispatch the documents to the regional centres of the PIB to ensure nationwide distribution in time.

Another group of officials will simultaneously start uploading the documents on the government’s official websites, and some in the PIB will begin monitoring TV channels and news agency inputs to brief their seniors about reactions from industry and the common man.

And it will be late in the evening when they will call it a day.

(Rana Ajit can be contacted at [email protected] )