When finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s Budget speech omitted numbers relating to the government’s overall revenue and expenditure, for both the previous and current years, this was widely commented on. After all, these numbers are the reason for having a Budget speech in the first place – to provide parliament and the general public a quick overview of the state of the Central government’s finances. Her response to this criticism was that all these numbers are available in the supplementary material provided in the Budget documents, so there is no need to go into them in the speech.
But most people do not go through the supplementary material, and that is why finance ministers typically provide a basic summary. But now a more serious reason for this omission has appeared, because it turns out that the numbers provided in the documents – at least as far as the revenue and expenditure of the previous year (2018-19) are concerned – are not just misleading but actually false.
The proof of this comes in the finance ministry’s own Economic Survey of 2018-19. Volume II contains a statistical appendix, in which Table 2.5 on Page A59 provides the receipts and expenditure of the Central government. The last column of this table provides the ‘provisional actuals’ – that is to say, the real amounts as per the finance ministry’s own calculations – for the year 2018-19. (Since this Survey was brought out in July, rather than in February or March, it gave ample time for the ministry to record the actual receipts and spending of the fiscal year that ended on March 31, 2019.) These are presumably the numbers emanating from the office of the Comptroller General of Accounts and therefore must be taken to be correct.