Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to present sixth Budget in a row ahead of general elections

As the Parliamentary elections are due, Sitharaman's interim Budget may not contain any major policy changes.


Published Feb 01, 2024 | 10:58 AMUpdatedFeb 01, 2024 | 10:58 AM

Nirmala Sitharaman with the Budget

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, on Thursday, 1 February, once again took a digital tablet wrapped in a traditional “bahi-khata” style pouch as she headed for the Parliament to present the interim Budget 2024-25 in a paperless format, just like the previous three years.

She posed for the traditional “briefcase” picture outside her office, along with her team of officials, before heading to meet the President. She was holding a tablet instead of a briefcase to present the Budget in a digital format.

With the tablet carefully kept inside a red cover with a golden national emblem embossed on it, she went straight to the Parliament after meeting President Droupadi Murmu at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Sitharaman, India’s first full-time woman Finance Minister, had in July 2019 ditched the colonial legacy of a Budget briefcase for the traditional “bahi-khata” to carry Union Budget papers.

She used the same in the following year, and in pandemic-hit 2021, she swapped traditional papers with a digital tablet to carry her speech and other Budget documents.

Met with President

As per established tradition, the Finance Minister met the President at the Rashtrapati Bhavan before heading to the Parliament.

“Union Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs Nirmala Sitharaman along with Ministers of State Dr Bhagwat Kishanrao Karad and Shri Pankaj Chaudhary and senior officials of the Ministry of Finance called on President Droupadi Murmu at Rashtrapati Bhavan before presenting the Union Budget,” Rashtrapati Bhavan said in a post on X.

President Murmu extended her best wishes to the Finance Minister.

Sitharaman in her pre-election Budget, which technically is a Vote on Account and popularly termed an interim Budget, will seek the Parliament’s nod for a grant in advance to meet the Union government’s essential expenditure for the first four months of the new fiscal year that starts in April.

A new government elected after the April/May general elections will present the full Budget, likely in July.

Nirmala Sitharaman will match the record of former Prime Minister Morarji Desai.

Last Budget before polls

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government’s last Budget before the general elections is widely expected to contain a mix of measures for the economy and electorally significant segments like farmers and women.

Peppered with political innuendos, it may be a political document with a snapshot of the Modi government’s triumphs over the last 10 years and pointers to how it wants to take the country forward.

With pressure for populist measures off after recent emphatic wins in three states, including Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, Sitharaman is expected to stick to being fiscally prudent while sprinkling sops for sectors like agriculture and engines of the economy that would create jobs and boost consumption.

While convention dictates that no major policy announcements are made in the interim Budget, it, however, presents an occasion for spectacle just weeks ahead of the Model Code of Conduct coming into force for the general elections.

Some finance ministers in the past have used the occasion to announce doles for rural India and the middle class.

Also Read: Kerala decries ‘step-motherly’ attitude in a ‘disappointing’ Union Budget 2023

Previous interim budgets

For instance, former finance minister Piyush Goyal in his interim Budget in 2019, had announced ₹75,000 crore outlay for PM KISAN Samman Nidhi scheme wherein farmers are paid ₹6,000 cash a year.

He also raised the standard deduction to ₹50,000 and came up with a tax rebate to ensure that individuals with income of up to ₹7 lakh per annum are not taxed.

In the pre-election Budget of 2014, Finance Minister P Chidambaram in the Congress-led UPA government slashed excise duty on cars, SUVs, two-wheelers, capital goods and consumer durables to boost manufacturing.

Pranab Mukherjee too in his interim Budget in 2009 hiked the outlay for rural sector schemes to shield the economy from the aftermath of the global financial crisis triggered by the collapse of the US-based investment bank Lehman Brothers in 2008.

Jaswant Singh of the BJP-led NDA government in the 2004 pre-election interim Budget announced sops for central government employees.

The first interim Budget of independent India was presented by the then Finance Minister RK Shanmukham Chetty on 26 November 1947. CD Deshmukh presented the interim Budget in 1952, and TT Krishnamachari in 1957.

Former Prime Minister Morarji Desai presented two interim Budgets, one in 1962 and the other in 1967. Desai has the distinction of presenting six Budgets in a row. He had presented a total number of 10 Union Budgets.

Among others, Manmohan Singh presented interim Budget in 1996, Yashwant Sinha in 1991, R Venkataraman in 1980, H M Patel in 1977, and YB Chavan in 1971.

As the Parliamentary elections are due, Sitharaman’s interim Budget may not contain any major policy changes.

Also Read: Why a top farmers’ body called the 2023 Union Budget the ‘most anti-farmer Budget’

‘No spectacular announcement’

Speaking at an industry event in December 2023, Sitharaman had ruled out any “spectacular announcement” in the interim Budget, saying it would just be a vote-on-account before the general elections.

After the Modi government came to power in 2014, Arun Jaitley took charge of the finance ministry and presented five Budgets in a row from 2014-15 to 2018-19. It was in 2017 that Jaitley departed from the colonial-era tradition of presenting the Budget on the last working day of February to the 1st of the month.

After the 2019 general elections, in the Modi 2.0 government, Sitharaman was given the charge of the finance portfolio. She became the second woman to have presented a Budget after Indira Gandhi, who had presented the Budget for the financial year 1970-71.

In 2019, Sitharaman did away with the traditional Budget briefcase and instead went for a “bahi-khata” with the national emblem to carry the speech and other documents.

Under Sitharaman, India has weathered the Covid pandemic with an array of policy measures announced for the poor and continued its tag of the fastest-growing major economy and a “bright spot” in the world economy.

India is racing to become a $5 trillion economy by 2027-28 and a $30 trillion by 2047.

Sitharaman is expected to come up with some measures, especially to boost the rural sector as the agriculture sector growth in 2023-24 is estimated to decelerate to 1.8 percent, from 4 percent in the preceding year.

(Disclaimer: The headline, subheads, and intro of this report along with the photos may have been reworked by South First. The rest of the content is from a syndicated feed, and has been edited for style.)