For decades, finance ministers have been photographed carrying a briefcase into Parliament for the presentation of the Union Budget. The year 2019 marked a big shift when Nirmala Sitharaman ditched this practice for a ‘bahi khata’. She then opted for a paperless format in 2021 by using a ‘Made in India’ tablet. The journey of the presentation of the Union Budget from briefcase to a completely paperless mode is quite fascinating.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is all set to present the Interim Budget for FY 2024-25 on February 1. A full-fledged Budget will be presented after the formation of the new government following the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
In 2019, Union Minister Piyush Goyal, while holding the additional charge of the Ministry of Finance, presented the last interim Budget. Ms Sitharaman presented her maiden Budget on July 5, 2019, after assuming charge as the finance minister following the Narendra Modi-led government’s second consecutive win in the general elections.
Ahead of the Budget 2024, let’s take a look at the history behind the Union Budget presentation exercise:
RK Shanmukham Chetty, the first Finance Minister of independent India, continued with the British-era tradition by carrying the documents related to the first Union Budget in a leather portfolio bag. This tradition continued for the next few years as the finance ministers used different briefcases for the Budget ceremony.
With time, this practice evolved as per the needs. In the 1970s, finance ministers had started carrying a hardbound bag – the colour of which continued to change over the years.
This ‘budget briefcase’ was a remnant of the colonial era and similar to the Gladstone Box, named after the former British Chancellor of the Exchequer, William Ewart Gladstone.
The old ‘budget briefcase’ was replaced with the ‘bahi khata’ soon after the Narendra Modi-led government secured a second consecutive term.
During her first Budget, Finance Minister Sitharaman drew the nation’s attention by carrying a red-coloured ‘bahi khata’ in 2019, instead of the briefcase. The reason behind this appeared to be the renunciation of the colonial legacy.
Her decision to use the ‘bahi khata’ gave an Indian touch to the budgetary exercise as it has been used by business owners for decades to maintain their accounts.
Back then, FM Sitharaman said that it was “easier” to carry the ‘bahi khata’ and it was “very Indian”.
In 2021, the traditional ‘bahi khata’ gave way to a more modern device as FM Sitharaman presented the Budget in a paperless format, using a ‘Made in India’ tablet.
This move was also in tandem with Prime Minister Modi’s push for a ‘Digital India’. This was also the first Budget presentation since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ms Sitharaman carried the tablet in a red ‘bahi khata’-style pouch in 2021 and continued this practice in 2022 and 2023.
This year too, the Finance Minister is expected to present Budget 2024 in paperless format.