Finance ministry laying the groundwork for Budget presentation in first fortnight of July
With Narendra Modi expected to be in the saddle in a few days, government departments on Monday got into a huddle to prepare a blueprint for the new administration. Ministries were abuzz with activity as Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth asked officials to prepare a presentation to be made to the prime minister-designate, known to be a tough task master and a stickler for details.
The secretaries held meetings with officials in their respective ministries to finalise the items on agenda for the new ministers. The brief was to list out the items on which action had been taken in the past few years, besides the outgoing United Progressive Alliance government’s pending initiatives and the things that needed to be done immediately.
“We are preparing a note detailing what we have done in the past and the things needed to be done. The note will also apprise the new minister of the various departments of the ministry and how we function,” a senior finance ministry official told Business Standard as he gave final touches to the note.
Economic Affairs Secretary Arvind Mayaram chaired a meeting in North Block to discuss the issues to be brought to the attention of the new government. These might include those pertaining to pending infrastructure projects, foreign direct investment and capital market reforms.
Budget preparations have also gathered momentum and the finance ministry is looking at the first fortnight of July for tabling of the full Union Budget. The final date, though, will be decided after government formation. The ministry is reworking the interim Budget estimates for 2014-15.
As Parliament’s approval for vote-on-account is valid only up to July, the Budget has to be tabled by the first half of that month.
The tax department also prepared a brief, highlighting pending issues, such as information on black money sought from the Switzerland government, signing and revising of tax treaties with various countries and major tax disputes like Vodafone, in addition to goods & services tax, direct taxes code and other proposals.
Non-performing assets of banks and stake sale in public-sector undertakings are some of the other issues that will be brought to the notice of the new government.
In the food and agriculture ministries, the atmosphere was one of frenetic activity. Most officials were rushing to meet the deadline for presenting a road map, including pending Cabinet notes. The environment ministry was asked to prepare a note on programmes related to interlinking and cleaning of rivers, environmental clearances and climate change.
In the road & highways ministry, many meetings were cancelled and the staff was asked to come early, as the Cabinet secretary asked for a status report on the sector by evening.
Officials in the commerce ministry told Business Standard that the Cabinet secretary had asked them to prepare a list of 30 ideas deliverable within the next six months. As a result, all official tours and appointments by the secretaries were postponed or cancelled.
According to a senior official, though briefing the new prime minister and other ministers was a routine exercise, it had gathered more steam this time, given Modi’s penchant for details.
In the agriculture ministry, officials were asked to prepare details of monsoon impact and strategies to deal with a low-rainfall scenario. The ministry has already prepared contingency plans for 500 districts, besides separate plans and advisories to farmers cultivating fruit and vegetables.
“The contingency plans have been prepared keeping in mind two separate scenarios — of monsoon getting delayed by 15 days and 30 days,” a senior official said.
The commerce department is believed to be ready with a draft foreign trade policy and a paper on how it would go about approaching the pending free trade agreement (FTA) talks. Some of the key FTAs with EU, Canada and Australia, started under the UPA regime, are pending. The ministry is also believed to be working on a strategy to boost exports in the traditional markets like the US and Europe.
The department of industrial policy and promotion is ready with a paper on allowing FDI in e-commerce. It has also made some changes to the proposal to allow FDI in railways and real estate. Though proposals for these were ready, implementation had got stalled due to the general elections.
The road ministry has prepared a detailed presentation on the targets set and achieved during the past five years. Besides, a status report has been prepared on the pending issues that need immediate attention, such as rescheduling of premiums for contractors.
Many road projects are stalled by developers, who are cash-strapped and have heavy debt. The government recently allowed a policy to reschedule payment of premiums by developers.
One such proposal is to merge energy ministries such as those of coal, power and petroleum & natural gas under one umbrella ministry
At least 21 mines, including 18 mines that were shut down following a Supreme Court order last year, are poised to resume operations