New Delhi, Jan. 21: It is that time of the year when North Block, home to the finance ministry, shrouded itself in secrecy as the budget exercise gathers steam.
Ever since P. Chidambaram took over as finance minister four years back, the budget security drill at North Block has been spruced up to keep corporate espionage at bay.
Earlier, North Block became out of bounds for visitors about a fortnight before the budget day — February 28. But for the last three years, Chidambaram has insisted on beefing up security two months before the D-day.
Visitors are escorted by security personnel to the officer they have to meet. Sections dealing with taxation policies are kept under strict watch.
A crack team of more than 20 senior intelligence bureau officials keep an eye on the denizens of North Block and their visitors as well as on the regular security personnel. Tabs are also placed on officials dealing in budget outlays.
Companies generally target officers of the Central Board of Direct Taxes and the Central Board of Excise and Customs.
Cyber security and spyware ensure no information is leaked through the Internet. A powerful electronic jammer ensures that mobile phones are not used to pass on sensitive information out of North Block, while a small telephone exchange keeps tabs on sensitive landline calls.
Even though the budget making process has been simplified, it still remains a hush-hush affair. The sections working on the budget are cordoned off from visitors and even government officials with valid passes from other sections are denied access to these offices.
All the work as well as the brainstorming sessions on economic ideas for the next year taken by either the Prime Minister, the finance minister or the cabinet secretary are finally distilled into the speech that the finance minister delivers in Lok Sabha on the budget day.
The final version of this speech is known to the finance secretary and the stenographers who work with him, besides the finance minister. The computers on which these stenographers work are standalone machines to ensure there are no electronic leaks. The disc with the final budget speech as well as those containing various taxation and budget outlay memorandums are handed over a day or two before the budget to a printing press located under the North Block. The printing is done under the watchful eyes of a double cordon of policemen. In the final stages of printing, press workers are asked to stay in as part of the security drill.
The security measures are taken to keep away speculators, who can make big money if they can access the right kind of information. The final outcome will only be known when the budget is revealed about a month later and it is the market sensitive information which the government would like to keep under wraps.