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COVID-19 pandemic: Govt not to print Budget documents this year

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New Delhi, Jan 11: 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 (MPs).

Nirmala Sitharaman

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 finance bill, detailing new tax and other measures for the new financial year, will not be physically printed.

Due to COVID-19, it has been decided not to print documents related to the Union Budget for the fiscal beginning April (FY 2021-22), sources said.

All MPs will get soft copies of the budget and Economic Survey that contains an account of the state of the economy.

The printing of documents requires staff to be locked up in the basement printing press of the finance ministry couple of weeks ahead of the presentation of the Budget. The printing all these years began with a ''Halwa'' ceremony that marked the staff going into the basement press only to emerge after the budget is presented.

This will be the first time since independence that physical copies of Budget documents will not be shared with MPs to avoid the risk of COVID-19 infection, the sources said, adding all MPs will get soft copies of the Budget and Economic Survey.

The familiar sight of trucks loaded with budget papers in Parliament on the budget day and scanning of these by security guard will also be given a miss.

The Budget for FY22 will come on the backdrop of an economic contraction of 7.7 per cent, the first time in the history of independent India. So, all stakeholders have great expectation from the upcoming Budget, which could provide a healing touch to the pandemic-battered economy and push growth.

Even Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman last month promised a "never before" like Union Budget to the people of India.

While investment in health, medical Research and Development (R&D) and developing greater skills to handle telemedicine is going to be critical, livelihood challenges will have to be seen in a newer canvas with the latest perspective on vocational training and skill development.

"Send me your inputs so that we can see a Budget which is a Budget like never before, in a way. 100 years of India wouldn''t have seen a Budget being made post-pandemic like this.

"And that is not going to be possible unless I get your inputs and wish list, clear observation of what has put you through the challenge... Without that, it is impossible for me to draft something which is going to be that Budget like never before, a Budget which is being made after a pandemic," Sitharaman had said.

The Union Budget for 2021-22, the eighth Budget of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government, is scheduled to be presented in Parliament on February 1, 2021.

Sitharaman will be presenting her third full-time Budget.

The Modi-led government scrapped a colonial-era tradition of presenting the Budget at the end of February. Then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had for the first time presented the annual accounts on February 1, 2017.

With the preponement of the Budget, the ministries are now allocated their budgeted funds from the start of the financial year beginning April.

This gives government departments more leeway to spend as well as allow companies time to adapt to business and taxation plans.

Yashwant Sinha, as a Finance Minister of the BJP-led government in 1999, also made a departure from the tradition of presenting the Budget at 11 am from the colonial set practice of 5 pm.

Sinha, however, retained the Budget date of February 28 or the last working day of February. The concept of the 5 pm Budget was followed by the British regime as the members of Britain''s parliaments ''House of Commons'' and ''House of Lords'' used to listen to India''s budget before independence.

This so happened because there was a time-zone gap between New Delhi (+5.30 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and Westminster, UK.

The Indian time zone was 4.5 hours ahead of BST (British Summer Time).

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