Behind the heat of the Lok Sabha elections, a group of key Finance Ministry officials in the North Block is preparing the new government’s first full budget.

This unobtrusive group is headed by T. V. Somanathan, Finance Secretary, who doubles up as the Expenditure Secretary. This 1987 batch Tamil Nadu cadre IAS officer is a veteran of several budgets who oversees the exercise with an extraordinary grasp of the macroeconomic picture and the minute nuances of individual schemes and departmental revenue and capital expenditure statistics. He is backed by an equally competent team of officers, each with a particular area of expertise, including Economic Affairs Secretary Ajay Seth, Revenue Secretary Sanjay Malhotra, DIPAM Secretary Tuhin K Pandey, DPE Secretary Ali Raza Rizwi, Financial Services Secretary Vivek Joshi, Chief Economic Advisor V Ananta Nageswaran, CBDT Chairman Nitin Gupta and CBIC Chairman Sanjay Agrawal.

However, this is not a routine annual budget preparation exercise; it is a transition from the interim to the full budget, and which period might witness a regime change. Although not much change is expected in terms of the size between the overall interim and the full budget, it is the speech that is critical. Based on the poll promises and priorities of the government that gets elected, the speech would reflect new schemes, new policies, and changes in the existing policy. Data rejig can be expected based on the new schemes or poll promises. “As soon as the new government is formed and we get the direction, we will be able to finalise the budget in two weeks,” a key official told businessline.

The one person who will be key to the entire reworking exercise is the Additional Secretary supervising the Budget Division in the Economic Affairs Department. This division is directly responsible for drafting the interim as well as the regular budget. The division is under Additional Secretary, Ashish Vachhani, a 1997 batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) of the Tamil Nadu cadre. According to the Civil List, he is a graduate in Public Management from the London School of Economics and an M Phil in International Studies from Jawahar Lal Nehru University. Vachchani and the Budget Division function under the supervision of the team of secretaries headed by Somanathan.

Potential changes

If the NDA comes back to power, officials do not expect any major change in numbers as the general direction of the budget remains the same and no major policy changes have to be factored in, except a health insurance scheme for senior citizens, which is part of the BJP’s poll promises. However, if the INDIA bloc wins, then the entire budget mathematics will need to be reworked, factoring in the poll promises of the Congress and other parties, including a debt waiver for farmers, legal status for MSP, and a Mahalakshmi scheme to provide ₹1 lakh per year to every poor Indian family as an unconditional cash transfer, besides others. “One critical issue would be fulfilling promises made by various parties constituting the alliance. It will be a really tough balancing job,” an official said.

The budget is expected to be presented in the first two weeks of July after the new government has been sworn in. As soon as the FY25 budget exercise is completed, preparing the General Budget for Fiscal Year 2025-26 will begin with the issuance of the budget circular, which is likely to be issued in September.