The countdown to Union Budget 2020 will officially kick off on Monday as printing of Budget documents begins. The process will begin with the traditional 'halwa' ceremony at the North Block, which will be attended by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and other finance ministry officials.
In this pre-Budget event, 'halwa' is prepared in a big 'kadhai' at Finance Ministry offices and served to the entire staff in the ministry. Once the halwa is served and eaten, the officials and support staff directly associated with the Budget making and printing process have to stay in the ministry and cannot contact their families till the Budget is tabled before the Lok Sabha on February 1.
Once the printing of Budget documents begin, the personnel locked inside the Finance Ministry are not allowed to communicate with the outside world, even their families, in any manner. Only very senior officials in the Finance Ministry are permitted to go home.
Budget 2020 coincides with a particularly grim phase for the Indian economy, as GDP growth has reached its lowest level in six and a half years during the September quarter. GDP figures for the December quarter, which are scheduled to be released one day before the Budget presentation, are expected to sink lower. The overall GDP growth for the current financial year is expected to remain south of 5 per cent.
The economy has been dragging its feet for some time now, weighed down by tepid consumer demand and global slowdown. The government has tried numerous measures since August last year to resuscitate economy growth, including corporate tax cut, the biggest ever consolidation seen in public sector banking sector, among others. No substantial results have emerged so far.
Meanwhile, the government is set to miss its direct as well as indirect tax collection targets in this financial year. States and experts have already advocated overshooting the fiscal deficit target with an eye on reviving demand.
All things considered, FM Sitharaman is likely to present a Budget that will focus on creating jobs, and devising measures can put money in people's hand. Several experts have called for changes in income tax structure so that consumers have more money to spend, and in turn, revive consumption and demand. In 10 days time, we will know what the government has in mind for the coming financial year.