Budget 2018: Eight things to know before you watch it

Interesting details such as who delivered the longest budget, when was it first presented in India and colonial-era traditions that have been struck down

I've been a journalist for over a decade, working across newspapers and magazines. At Forbes India, I write and edit stories on varied themes. I am a sports buff — turning to the back pages of the newspaper first— and keenly follow current affairs, pop culture and new trends at the intersection of politics, business and culture. Being an inveterate foodie, I often end up writing about it.

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Image: Shailesh Andrade / Reuters

 * The word budget is a multilingual derivative, beginning with the Celtic word ‘bolg’, which meant bag or sack, to the Latin ‘bulga’ and the French ‘bougette’, both meaning little bag. Its root now resonates in the red briefcase of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who presents the budget in the UK Parliament, and in India’s colonial tradition of the ‘Budget bag’ being carried by the finance minister.
 
* The first Indian budget was presented on February 18, 1869, by one James Wilson, then the finance member of the India Council that advised Lord Canning, the then Indian viceroy. Wilson was also a Scottish businessman and politician, who founded The Economist and the Standard Chartered Bank. The first budget for independent India was presented by RK Shanmukham Chetty in 1947, and of the Republic of India by John Mathai in 1950.   
 
* India’s longest budget speech in terms of word count was delivered by Manmohan Singh in 1991. At 18,650 words, and with his first budget as finance minister, Singh rolled out a series of structural reforms that ended the licence raj, opened up the country’s economy, and, among other things, reduced peak customs duty from 220 percent to 150 percent. But former President Pranab Mukherjee, as the finance minister, has the longest cumulative budget speech, averaging 202 paragraphs over seven. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is said to have delivered the longest budget speech in 2014, speaking for two-and-a-half hours with a 10-minute break.

* In another of his budgets, in 1994, Manmohan Singh introduced the landmark service tax, at the rate of 5 percent, to cash in on the fastest growing sector then. That year, it fetched the government Rs 400 crore, while the estimated earnings from service tax in 2017-18 stand at Rs 2,75,000 crore.  

* Presenting the budget as the finance minister of the United Front coalition in 1997, P Chidambaram gave the nation what was called the ‘dream budget’. The Harvard-educated minister brought down peak income tax rate to 30 percent, leading to an increased collection rate. He also introduced the Voluntary Disclosure of Income Scheme, a one-time amnesty scheme to ferret out ‘black money’; it raked in about Rs 10,000 crore for the government.    

* Until 1999, the Union Budget was announced at 5 pm on the last working day of February. This was part of a colonial legacy in which the Indian budget would follow the British budget that was presented in the House of Commons at noon. The practice was changed by Yashwant Sinha, then the finance minister of the BJP-led NDA government.  

* Finance Minister Arun Jaitley struck down two colonial-era traditions in his 2017 budget. First, he advanced the date from the last day of February to the first to allow enough time for the budget proposals to take effect from April 1, the beginning of the financial year. He also merged the Railway Budget, usually presented two days before, along with the general one, ending a 92-year-old practice.

* Uncertainty shrouded Budget 2017 as MP E Ahamed, of the Indian Union Muslim League, passed away after suffering a cardiac arrest in Parliament the previous day. While the Congress and the Left parties moved a motion for adjournment, the government went ahead with the budget. Previously, too, in 1974 and 1954, the governments had proceeded with the presentation of the budget and the railway budget, respectively, despite the death of sitting MPs.  
 
Source: Media reports

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