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Hawk eye on budget brigade

New Delhi, Dec. 9: Stung by the stamp paper scam, the finance ministry has asked the Intelligence Bureau to strengthen security for its annual budget-making exercise.

To start with, the IB has been asked to vet all 1,000 officials involved in preparing the budget and its printing and distribution.

“The Intelligence Bureau has been asked to check out the character and habits of the over 1,000 people engaged in the exercise. It has been asked to check the kind of people they are in contact with to weed out the undesirables from the process. This is a far more intensive and detailed examination compared with the normal security check-up which officials in sensitive departments have to endure every year,” a top official said.

The IB will delve into the backgrounds of the men and women involved to see if they have any dubious friends, or bad habits which make them easy prey to companies trying to get a fix on budget decisions.

People whose intelligence reports are not “clean” or are even classed as “dubious” are likely to be given jobs which take them away from budget-making during this period.

It is not the fake stamp paper scandal alone, where officials at the government’s Nashik press are suspected to be involved, that has led to the current round of exhaustive check-up. There have been complaints that decisions taken in the ministry are common knowledge in corporate and stockbroking circles long before they are made public.

The BJP-led government is particularly sensitive to possibilities of a financial scandal breaking in the election year of 2004.

“Scams in the past have eroded the credibility of governments and this ministry at least does not want anything related to it to reflect badly on the government,” said an official.

Usually, the budget-making process is conducted in utmost secrecy. The sections in the ministry that undertake budget-related work are cordoned off from visitors and even government officials with valid passes from other wings are denied access.

The printing is done in government presses located within North Block, which houses the ministry, under the eyes of a double police cordon.

People involved in the budget process are locked inside the night before the final papers are sent for printing. Ever since a senior officer was discovered some years ago with a mobile phone on her person, telephone contacts are also restricted and monitored.

E-mails to and from the ministry computers are usually screened, but this time the scrutiny may be more intensive as there have been cases in the past of secret documents being e-mailed out of government offices.

“The ministry knows if budget details are leaked, certain companies can cause a bull or bear rampage on the bourses,” said an official.

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