Budget turns paperless; FM reads out speech from tablet for first time

·4-min read

New Delhi, Feb 1 (PTI) From Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman reading out her 110-minute speech from a tablet to seating arrangements in tune with pandemic times, there were quite a few firsts during the presentation of the 2021-22 Union Budget in the Lok Sabha on Monday.

Also, for the first time, the Budget went paperless and members were provided soft copies of the speech and documents.

Clad in a red and cream-hued saree with patterns, Sitharaman continued with the practice of carrying the red-coloured 'bahi khata'. Only that this time around, tablet replaced papers in the red bag.

Unlike earlier occasions, the minister stood in the second row of the Treasury benches as she read out the speech from a tablet placed on a short lectern. During the 110-minute long speech, she paused a few times to sip water and a plate with candies were kept near the lectern.

It was also the shortest speech by Sitharaman, who had delivered the longest speech last year. Her first Budget speech in July 2019 went on for around 137 minutes and in 2020, it went on for more than 160 minutes and was cut short after she felt unwell.

With seats demarcated to ensure adequate social distancing among members, some of the Union ministers, including Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, were sitting in the Rajya Sabha during the Budget speech.

Reading out her third straight Union Budget speech from a tablet, the minister quoted from works of Rabindranath Tagore and Tamil classic Thirukkural while some Opposition members made certain remarks during the speech.

'Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark,' Sitharaman quoted Tagore's lines while mentioning about the fight against COVID-19.

In this spirit, the minister said she can't help but recall the joy that we, as a cricket-loving nation, felt after Team India's recent spectacular success in Australia.

'It has reminded us of all the qualities that we as a people, particularly our youth, epitomise of having abundant promise and the unsuppressed thirst to perform and succeed,' she noted.

Many of the Budget announcements, including some related to taxation, were greeted with thumping of desk by the ruling party members.

Peppering her speech with quote from Thirukkural, she said, 'A King/Ruler is the one who creates and acquires wealth, protects and distributes it for common good'.

After the presentation of Budget, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was wearing a blue mask, went to the minister and congratulated her. Many other members were also seen chatting with Sitharaman after completion of her speech.

Next to Sitharaman was Union Minister Harsh Vardhan and on the same row was ministerial colleague Pralhad Joshi. Apart from Prime Minister Modi, Union ministers Amit Shah and Rajnath Singh were also seated in the front row.

Amid the ongoing farmers' protests against the three new farm laws, Shiromani Akali Dal leaders -- Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Sukhbir Singh Badal -- along with RLP's Hanuman Beniwal sought to raise the matter. They were seen holding posters demanding that the Centre take back the 'black' laws. All of them, who were till recently part of the ruling NDA, stood in the aisle for a few minutes and later walked out of the House soon after the finance minister started her speech.

When the finance minister mentioned about efforts to double farmers' income, some Opposition members shouted 'jumla'. Also, three Congress members from Punjab were clad in the black dress, apparently as a mark of protest against the farm laws.

BJP members -- Jual Oram and Dharambir Singh -- were sitting on the Opposition side. Shatabdi Roy, who is a member of Trinamool Congress, was seen sitting in the Treasury benches side.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah and various other people from the Opposition were present in the House. Congress leader Sonia Gandhi was absent.

Mulayam Singh Yadav's was also seen chatting with some members as he was walking out of the House mid-way through the Budget speech.

Sitharaman also sought to emphasise the importance of 2021 as she mentioned about various historical milestones.

'2021 is the year of many important milestones for our history. I mention a few of these: It is the 75th year of Independence; 60 years of Goa’s accession to India; 50 years of the 1971 India-Pakistan War; it will be the year of the 8th Census of Independent India; it will also be India's turn at the BRICS Presidency; the year for our Chandrayaan-3 Mission; and the Haridwar Maha Kumbh,' she said. PTI JTR RAM BAL