In a rare occasion, perhaps the first one since Independence, the country's finance minister missed the 'halwa' ceremony before the printing of the Budget papers. The Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley, is away in New York for treatment. Sources close to his family told Business Today he would come back to Delhi before the Budget presentation on February 1. Most likely, he will rejoin office in the last week of January itself.
Media reports say Jaitley has developed soft tissue sarcoma (there is no official confirmation yet; sources close to family also refused to confirm this). He had apparently left for New York on January 13 for treatment of renal-related ailments. His colleagues in cabinet, the finance ministry as well as the BJP and the RSS are tight-lipped about his current state of health. His immediate family is travelling with him. Family sources said he underwent a minor procedure on Monday and is doing well.
A Cabinet minister considered close to him told BT: "He is doing well. He did media interviews via video. He is available on call and out only for two weeks and will come back to present the Budget," the minister said. There has been no convention of an MoS presenting the Budget, but in the absence of a regular finance minister, the prime minister can do so. If Jaitley delivers the Budget speech, he will become the only finance minister after Manmohan Singh (1991-96) to present six budgets in a row in the last four decades or so.
The government will present an interim Budget, and after general elections, the new government will present the full Budget. In Jaitley's absence, both the ministers of state, Shiv Pratap Shukla and Pon Radhakrishnan, jointly performed the halwa ceremony.Also read: How Budget 2019 is likely to benefit individual taxpayers
In the last five years, Jaitley has underwent surgery twice. In September 2014, he underwent a gastric bypass surgery for diabetes management at a private hospital in New Delhi, and later in May this year for a kidney-related ailment. That time, he had stopped attending office from the beginning of April to August 23. Railway and Coal Minister Piyush Goyal was given additional charge of his ministry in his absence.
Though interim budgets doesn't have fresh tax proposals, indications from the PMO and the finance ministry are that this time there will be announcements to quell the resentment among middle-class and farmers. The Budget will most likely announce income tax breaks and package for farmers. Amid all these speculations, the top officials at the ministry now are locked in North Block without their communication devices. They will stay disconnected from their families and friends till the presentation of the Budget.