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Budget making gets more secretive
February, 14th 2011

The idea might be to demystify the budget making process and bring in more transparency but the government seems to be moving in the other direction.

For the last six years, it was the finance ministry that was out of bounds for most of January and entire February. Now, the Planning Commission, which is involved in finalising the allocation for various ministries and schemes, has decided to take a cue from the North Block. So, this year onwards even if you have a valid accreditation from the government, you will not be permitted to enter Yojana Bhawan unless a plan panel official decides to get a pass issued for you.

A kilometre away, in Rail Bhawan, where officials from the Indian Railways are looking for every penny to keep the trains and wagons chugging in the wake of near bankruptcy, intelligence hounds and CCTVs are keeping a watch on those who come in.

So, what has prompted the added layer of secrecy?

In case of the Railways, where the level of interest in the annual budget making exercise was on the wane, the mismanagement of finances after five years of record cash surpluses have reignited interest.

As for the Planning Commission, which is also frequented by the civil society, it was said to be porous, resulting in allocations news trickling out and creating last minute pressures from various ministries.

Even in the finance ministry, a complete shutdown is only a recent phenomenon, started during P Chidambaram's term. Till 2004, it was only the Central Board of Direct Taxe's tax planning and legislation (TPL) unit and Central Board of Excise & Custom's tax research unit (TRU) that were out of bounds from early January. But Chidambaram decided to change it, although officials in the department of economic affairs and several in the revenue department do not know what the final Budget proposals are.

It is usually officials in the expenditure department, those in TPL and TRU and babus in the Budget division, know the final set of announcements that the finance minister makes on the last day of February. In case of the Budget division, though it is, at present, housed in the department of economic affairs, the unit has in the past also been part of the expenditure department. While finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, who succeeded Chidambaram, has decided to rework several decisions taken by his predecessor, when it keeps to increasing the cloud of secrecy over the Budget, he is in the same boat as his Cabinet colleague.

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