Brains behind the budget: Meet FM Nirmala Sitharaman’s key team for Budget 2020

The going has not been good so far on the economic front for the country and for the Narendra Modi government, which will be presenting one of its most challenging budgets on February 1. What was once being touted as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, is now faced with the lowest growth rate in 11 years – 5 per cent.

However, all hopes are not dashed as the nation keenly waits to see what Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has to offer in order to halt the downward spiral in the economy. With the FM readying to present Budget 2020-21, we take a look at the top officials who have been assisting Sitharaman in preparing the budget.

Krishnamurthy Subramanian, Chief Economic Advisor: One of the world’s leading experts in banking, corporate governance and economic policies, Krishnamurthy Subramanian took over as the Chief Economic Advisor (CEA) in December 2018, filling in a post that had been vacant for five months since Arvind Subramanian stepped down citing personal reasons. Subramanian has his work cut out though - the country is nowhere near the USD 5 trillion economy target that the CEA had spoken about in his previous Economic Survey, and a lot more needs to be done to shore up the country’s GDP growth rate. The former Indian School of Business professor has been working with experts in the public and private sectors to bring in innovative ideas while preparing for the Budget. A PhD holder in Financial Economics from Chicago Booth School of Economics, Subramanian will present the Economic Survey on January 31st.     

Rajiv Kumar, Finance Secretary: The 1984-batch Jharkhand cadre IAS officer is the senior-most bureaucrat among the five departments of the ministry of finance. Kumar has been credited with initiating a cleanup process in the country’s banking sector, which included measures such as spearheading the merger of public sector banks, a Rs 2.11 trillion public sector bank recapitalisation plan for lenders bogged down by bad loans, and helping to bring financial inclusiveness by taking credit access to the doorsteps. This budget, Kumar would have to do a lot more to save the downfall in the economy, such as working towards getting non-banking financial companies (NBCs) out of the crisis they face and boosting overall consumption in the country.     

Ajay Bhushan Pandey, Revenue Secretary: The Revenue Secretary has asked senior tax officials to check tax evasion and raise more resources for the current fiscal at a time where GST revenue growth is muted. Pandey has had to face criticism from various quarters on GST, which has been accused of being a cause for the current economic slowdown. Pandey, who spearheaded the Government’s Aadhaar initiative, could influence the decision of implementation of Direct Tax Code, which has proposed the relaxation of income tax slabs, hence, providing relief to middle-class income taxpayers. The 1984 batch IAS officer, who holds a BTech degree from IIT, Kanpur and a PhD degree from the University of Minnesota, is reported to become the Finance Secretary after Kumar’s retirement. 

Atanu Chakraborty, Economic Affairs Secretary: Holding expertise in sales of government assets, the1985 batch IAS officer, Atanu Chakraborty, will play a vital role in raising funds to boost the economy and in determining India’s budget deficit goals. Chakraborty took charge of the economic affairs department in July 2019 and also held the additional charge of the Department of Expenditure secretary till recently.   

T V Somanathan, Expenditure Secretary: The Expenditure Secretary will have the task of rationalising government spending in a way that encourages demand while minimising wasteful expenditure. A 1987 batch IAS officer, Somanathan is also versed with the way PM Narendra Modi works, having worked in the Prime Minister’s Office, between 2015 and 2017 where he looked after the implementation of economic policies. 

Tuhin Kanta Pandey, Disinvestment Secretary:  Responsible for the strategic disinvestment of government assets such as Air India and other state-owned companies, Pandey’s inputs will be vital to ensure better divestment plans this budget. While the Centre’s Rs 1,05 trillion disinvestment target for this fiscal year, the biggest the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (Dipam) has ever been given, may not be met, a higher target for the next year cannot be ruled out.