1. Budget 2024: From Briefcase to Tablet, a look at Budget presentation going digital

Budget 2024: From Briefcase to Tablet, a look at Budget presentation going digital

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4 min read • Updated: January 31, 2024, 11:10 AM

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Summary

The evolution of India's Budget presentation from the traditional briefcase to a digital format reflects a significant shift in approach. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman initiated this change in 2019 by replacing the briefcase with a 'bahi khata', symbolizing a departure from colonial practices. In 2021, she embraced a fully paperless presentation using a 'Made in India' tablet, underscoring the government's commitment to digitalization. The move was expedited by the COVID-19 pandemic, eliminating the need for extensive printing of budget documents. As Budget 2024 approaches, the transition to a paperless format is expected to continue, with officials observing the customary 'halwa ceremony' signifying the onset of the final stage of budget preparation. This digital transformation marks a pivotal moment in India's budgetary process, aligning with the nation's focus on 'Digital India'.

paperless budget
The Finance Minister will present her sixth consecutive Budget in the Parliament on February 1.

_In 2021, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman marked a new beginning by making the Budget presentation completely paperless. She used a ‘Made in India’ tablet. _

The Finance Minister walking into the Parliament with a briefcase in hand for the presentation of the Union Budget used to be a familiar sight for years. The iconic briefcase was replaced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman with a red 'bahi khata' or cloth ledger in 2019. This was a symbol of a shift from the colonial legacy. In subsequent years, FM Sitharaman adopted a paperless approach by using a tablet for Budget presentation.

British Finance Ministers used to carry **"Gladstone Box" ** to Parliament for Budget presentations since 1860. The custom was adapted in India with the use of briefcases since the first Union Budget. The briefcase was finally ditched for the ‘bahi khata’ in 2019, offering an Indian touch to the Budget presentation. FM Sitharam scripted a new chapter in the history of India's Budget presentation exercise with the new bahi khata.

In 2021, she marked another new beginning by making the Budget presentation completely paperless. She opted for a ‘Made in India’ tablet to present the budget.

Bahi kahta has been traditionally used by Indian businesses and households for decades to maintain their accounts. As the Interim Budget will be presented on February 1 in the Parliament let’s take a look at the fascinating digital transformation of Budget presentation over the years.

Tradition of carrying a briefcase for Budget presentation

British Budget Chief William E Gladstone used a red briefcase featuring the Queen's monogram to present the budget in 1860. This briefcase, which later came to be known as the 'Gladstone Box', was used by all the supreme heads for budget presentation in years to come. The original Gladstone Box remained in use until 2010, marking a legacy of 150 years. Independent India's first Finance Minister RK Shanmukham Chetty continued with the British-era tradition by carrying the documents related to the first Union Budget in a leather portfolio bag. He carried the first Budget briefcase on November 26, 1947.

Unlike Britain, where the Budget briefcase was passed on from one Finance Minister to another, Indian FMs kept changing the briefcase during their tenure.

In the 1970s, Indian finance ministers started using a hardbound bag with the changing times. While the colour of the bag kept changing over the years, the briefcase remained part of the Budget presentation.

Bahi khata replaces briefcase

The first Budget presentation in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's second tenure marked a new beginning with the government adopting bahi khata or cloth ledger. This was termed as a shift from the colonial legacy of Budget presentation. FM Sitharaman's bahi khata for the presentation of Budget 2019 caught the country's attention as a new beginning.

Budget presentation goes paperless

In 2021, the bahi khata was replaced with a tablet for a modern Budget presentation. The Finance Minister presented the Budget in an entirely paperless format using the tablet, highlighting the government's focus on 'Digital India'. The tablet containing the Budget, however, was wrapped in a bahi khata-style red pouch.

One of the reasons behind this shift was the COVID-19 pandemic. The digital mode of Budget presentation eliminated the need for printing of budget documents in large numbers.

Budget 2024 is likely to go paperless

The final countdown for Budget 2024 has begun with the 'halwa ceremony' at the Finance Ministry headquarters at North Block in New Delhi on January 24. The customary halwa ceremony is performed before the "lock-in" process of Budget preparation. This marks the beginning of the final stage, the printing of Budget documents. The lock-in process ensures the secrecy of the upcoming Budget. Following the halwa ceremony, officials directly involved in the Budget preparation are required to stay in the Finance Ministry till the Finance Minister finally presents the Budget in the Parliament.

The Finance Minister will present her sixth consecutive Budget in the Parliament on February 1. Since it's an election year, an Interim Budget will be presented.

The full Budget is expected to be presented by the new government in July that takes over after the Lok Sabha elections due in April-May.