Once Upon a Budget – and a 10 Pm Session

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Saturday, February 28, 1970, was a special Budget day in Parliament. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who also held the finance portfolio, became the first woman to present the country’s Budget.

Morarji Desai and Indira Gandhi at an AICC meeting in Bangalore in 1967 (Express Archive)

The convention was for the Finance Minister (FM) to present the Budget at 5 pm on the last day of February. But in Parliament, things were not going to plan. After the PM finished her budgetary remarks, she started introducing the Finance Bill. This law contains the legal changes to implement the tax proposals mentioned in the Budget speech.But before the PM could introduce the Bill, in a moment of confusion, Speaker G S Dhillon adjourned the House to meet on Monday at its usual time at 11 am. This procedural misstep had implications for tax collection. The provisions related to income tax would come into effect from April 1, but a few tax increases, like on petrol, cigarettes, air conditioners were supposed to kick in from midnight. If the finance minister introduced the Bill on Monday, the government would lose tax revenue from across the country for more than a day.The 1970 Budget is not remembered for the procedural slip-up but for the change in its tone. Until then, Budget speeches were a dry recitation of facts as FMs had yet to start using poetry and couplets. Some FMs tried adding a little colour to their speeches. For example, Morarji Desai, in his last budget in 1969, bucketed his tax proposals into appetisers and main course. A year earlier, he had equated his measures for resource mobilisation to conducting surgery. He stated, “I propose to engage myself essentially in a minor operation in the nature of plastic surgery — taking out a little flesh here and adding a little bit there in order to make the tax-system more efficient and attractive.”But the 1970 speech was different. Experts argue that it was the first time the Budget speech went from a financial statement to a political one. The change came during a tumultuous time in our national politics. A crisis was brewing in the Congress party.

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