New Delhi: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will present her sixth consecutive budget on February 1, becoming the second finance minister in India’s history to present five full budgets and one interim budget. The only other finance minister to achieve this feat was former Prime Minister Morarji Desai, who held the portfolio from 1959 to 1964.
Sitharaman’s interim budget for the fiscal year 2024-25 will be a vote on account, which means that the government will seek Parliament’s approval to spend on certain items until a new government is formed after the general elections in April-May. Sitharaman has already indicated that she will not make any major policy changes or announcements in her interim budget, as it will be just a vote on account before the polls.
The vote on account, once passed in Parliament, will allow the government to withdraw funds on a proportionate basis from the country’s Consolidated Fund to meet the expenditure for the April-July period. The new government, which is likely to be formed around June, will present the full budget for 2024-25 in July.
Generally, the interim budget does not contain major policy announcements, but the government can take some steps to deal with the issues facing the economy. For instance, in 2019, when Piyush Goyal was holding additional charge of the finance ministry due to Arun Jaitley’s ill health, he presented the interim budget on February 1 and announced some tax relief measures for salaried taxpayers and small businesses.
Sitharaman, who took over the finance ministry after the 2019 general elections, became the second woman after Indira Gandhi to present the budget. She also broke the colonial tradition of carrying the budget documents in a briefcase and instead used a ‘bahi-khata’ (ledger) with the national emblem. Sitharaman has been steering the Indian economy towards the goal of becoming a $5 trillion economy by 2027-28 and a $30 trillion economy by 2047.
Sitharaman, who is presenting her sixth budget, may take some measures to promote the rural sector, as the growth rate of the agriculture sector is expected to decline from four percent to 1.8 percent in the fiscal year 2023-24, according to the first advance estimates of national income released by the National Statistical Office.
Sitharaman will match the record of Desai, who presented the budget 10 times, including six times consecutively. Desai was also the only finance minister to present the budget on his birthday, February 29, twice in 1964 and 1968. The first budget of independent India was presented by the first finance minister, RK Shanmukham Chetty, on November 26, 1947.