There is perhaps nowhere in the world that the annual budget is treated with as much fanfare as in India. Every February, we huddle around the TV in anticipation for what the Finance Minister has to say about our taxes and education and insurance. We sit for two hours, entranced, not even getting up for tea. We cheer on or boo walk-outs staged by the opposition. We get riled up when the tax section of the speech gets announced.
India has inherited the way they present the budget from the Colonial era, when the British Parliament would pass the budget at noon (or evening in India). While former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha changed the timing to 11 a.m., India still bears a lot of similarities to the UK budget. In the UK, the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes a budget statement, or speech, just as our finance minister does. Before doing so, there’s a pre-budget report, much like our Economic Survey. And UK’s 2009 budget was greeted just as sourly as ours.
But not everyone does it this way. In the US, the annual budget passes almost unnoticed. Much of the reason is that there’s no single day on which the budget is presented; it’s a year-long process. The President proposes the budget to Congress, and then it goes back and forth for quite a while until it gets a majority. While this is happening, the common man is removed from the process, often unaware of what’s being debated. Only America’s State of the Union address by the president comes anywhere close to getting the kind of attention and reception India’s budget receives.
In China, the budget is equally as obtuse. While it’s presented on a single day in March (around the same time as in India), budget information was previously only available in the annual “Finance Year Book of China”; only recently did it become available online. The military budget of China gets the most attention as a single overall figure is announced. It’s a far cry from the anger inspired in this country by a one rupee hike in petrol.