New Delhi, July 6: Breaking the age-old tradition, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman Friday entered Parliament carrying Budget documents in a red ‘bahi khata’ (traditional Indian ledger) instead of a briefcase used by her predecessors.
The word ‘budget’ has its origin in the French word Bougette, which means leather briefcase. Traditionally, Budget documents — which primarily include the minister’s speech copy, finance bill and some other papers related to revenue receipt and expenditure — were carried in a brown briefcase, a legacy passed on by the British.
India’s Budget briefcase is a copy of the ‘Gladstone Box’ that is used in the British budget.
In Britain, one Budget briefcase is passed on from one finance minister to another but in India, different finance ministers have carried different cases.
Sitharaman’s predecessor Arun Jaitley carried a tan-brown coloured briefcase in 2018.
“I thought it was better we move out from British handhold. And I thought it was good enough to do something on our own. It was easier for me to carry also and very Indian,” she said in the customary briefing post Budget presentation.
Sitharaman, the first full-time woman finance minister of the country, carried the budget documents draped in red silk cloth with the national emblem and keyhole.
Some of the Indian parliamentary traditions have their roots in the colonial legacy. Even after independence, the Budget for decades was presented at 5 pm, which was seen as better synced with local time in England.
During the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, the then finance minister Yashwant Sinha broke this colonial tradition and started Budget presentation in the morning.
Since then all governments have been presenting the budget at 11 am.
Two years back, the tradition of presenting the budget on the last day of February too was done away with and moved forward to February 1 to allow for the process of parliamentary approvals to be completed for the new fiscal began on April 1.
The ‘Gladstone Box’ came into prominence after the then British budget chief William E Gladstone in 1860 used a red suitcase with Queen’s monogram embossed in gold to carry his bundle of papers. Because his speeches were extraordinarily long and needed a briefcase to carry the papers, the briefcase came to be known as ‘Gladstone Box’.
The original Gladstone after becoming shabby was officially retired from service in 2010.
On Budget day, the Indian finance minister poses with the Budget briefcase outside Parliament just was Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer poses with his suitcase in front of 11 Downing Street before the Budget speech.
Sitharaman too posed for camera persons before entering Parliament for the Budget presentation.
Commenting on the shift from a briefcase to bahi-khata, Chief Economic Advisor Krishnamurthy Subramanian said the government is following “Indian tradition”.
“It is in Indian tradition. It symbolises our departure from the slavery of Western thought. It is not a Budget, but a Bahi-Khata (ledger),” he added.
India’s first finance minister R N Shanmukham Chetty carried a leather portfolio to present the first Budget in 1947.
From 1970 onwards, finance ministers started carrying a hardbound briefcase but unlike Britain, their shape and colours varied.