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Omicron Scare Hits Union Budget Ritual, Halwa Gives Way To Sweets

The Union Budget 2022-23 is to be presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on February 1, 2022 in paperless form once again.

Union Minister for Finance and Corporate Affairs, Nirmala Sitharaman at the Halwa ceremony to mark the final stage of the Budget making process for Union Budget 2021-22, in New Delhi on Saturday. (ANI Photo)

New Delhi: Amid fears of the virulent Omicron variant, the finance ministry has this time around dispensed with the traditional pre-Budget ‘Halwa ceremony’ and instead distributed sweets to core staff due for a ‘lock-in’ at their workplace.

To maintain the secrecy of the Budget, there is a ‘lock-in’ of the officials involved in preparing the documents, the finance ministry said in a statement.

“Budget Press, situated inside North Block, houses all officials in the period leading up to the presentation of the Union Budget. These officers and staff will come in contact with their near and dear ones only after the Budget is presented by the Union Finance Minister in the Parliament,” it said.

Union Minister for Finance Nirmala Sitharaman along with the Minister of State for Finance Anurag Singh Thakur outside Parliament House to present the General Budget 2021-22, in New Delhi on Monday. (ANI Photo)

“To mark the final stage of the Union Budget making process, sweets were provided to the core staff due to undergo lock-in at their workplaces, instead of a customary Halwa ceremony every year in view of the prevailing pandemic situation and the need to observe health safety protocols,” it added.

The Union Budget 2022-23 is to be presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on February 1, 2022 in paperless form once again. This will be her fourth Budget.

Nirmala Sitharaman and Anurag Thakur during a Halwa Ceremony’, in New Delhi last year. (ANI Photo)

In a historic move, the Union Budget of 2021-22 was delivered in paperless form for the first time. A ‘Union Budget Mobile App’ was also launched for hassle-free access of Budget documents by Members of Parliament (MPs) and the general public.

Last year, it was the first time since the presentation of independent India’s first Budget on November 26, 1947, that the documents containing the income and expenditure statement of the Union government along with the finance bill, detailing new taxes and other measures for the new financial year, were not physically printed.

The Union Budget 2022-23 would also be available on the Mobile App after the process of Budget presentation has been completed on February 1, 2022 in Parliament, the statement said.

FM Nirmala Sitharaman along with MoS Anurag Singh Thakur leave form Ministry of Finance, in New Delhi last year. (ANI Photo)

“The mobile App allows complete access to 14 Union Budget documents, including the Budget Speech, Annual Financial Statement (commonly known as Budget), Demand for Grants (DG), Finance Bill etc. as prescribed by the Constitution. The mobile app is bilingual (English & Hindi) and is available on both Android and iOS platforms,” it said.

The app can also be downloaded from the Union Budget web portal (www.indiabudget.gov.in), it said, adding, the Budget documents will also be available for download by the general public on the portal.

Sitharaman, who in her maiden Budget presentation in 2019 shunned the long-standing practice of carrying the speech and Budget document in a briefcase in favour of a ‘bahi-khata’ holding the papers, used a handheld tablet to read her speech on the last occasion on February 1, 2021.

She came to Parliament carrying the gadget inside the red-coloured ‘bahi-khata’ cloth.