A little more than three months after Arun Jaitley underwent a successful kidney transplant, he resumed charge of the finance and corporate affairs ministries on Thursday morning. Piyush Goyal, who was the caretaker finance minister in Jaitley’s absence, will continue as the railways and coal minister.
Immediately after taking charge, Jaitley took stock of the work in the finance and corporate affairs ministries. He was in North Block for only three hours, and in that time met Finance Secretary Hasmukh Adhia, Expenditure Secretary Ajay Narayan Jha, Financial Services Secretary Rajiv Kumar, Corporate Affairs Secretary Injeti Srinivas, Central Board of Direct Taxes Chairman Sushil Chandra, and Principal Economic Advisor Sanjeev Sanyal.
Economic Affairs Secretary Subhash Garg and Department of Investment and Public Asset Management Secretary Atanu Chakraborty are not in Delhi at the moment. Officials said Jaitley was apprised on topics as varied as the goods and services tax (GST), direct tax collections, work under the insolvency and bankruptcy route, the banking sector, tax evasion, the Centre’s borrowing, expenditure under various programmes and schemes, and pending work like the direct tax code.
Jaitley underwent surgery at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences on May 14. He had been keeping unwell since early April due to kidney-related problems and chest infection. The initial assessment by the doctors after surgery was that he would take at least eight weeks to recover.
The finance minister was discharged on June 4 and underwent post-operative recovery at his official residence under the strictest of conditions imposed by the doctors. He wasn’t meeting anyone but close family members and doctors.
He continued working and kept abreast of political and policy developments in the government though, interacting with officials through videoconferencing. In fact, the day he was discharged from the hospital, he held a meeting with Adhia, Garg, and the then Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian through videoconferencing.
Even when Subramanian’s farewell was held at Jaitley’s residence in late July, the invitees only interacted with Jaitley via television. He copiously wrote blogs on his official Facebook page on issues ranging from the Rafale deal to the National Registry of Citizenship, from Rahul Gandhi to the achievements of the Modi government, and from GST to the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code.
Post-surgery, Jaitley first made an appearance through livestream on July 1 which was being celebrated as the GST day. His first public appearance came on August 10 when he attended Parliament for a day.
Jaitley comes back to North Block to deal with challenges on multiple fronts. There has been fresh political debate on growth during Manmohan Singh’s time vis-à-vis Modi, due to a report on gross domestic product back series by a government-appointed committee. There is also the matter of aid to flood-hit Kerala.
As the country heads into election in 2019, the Centre is still in the process of consolidating its flagship schemes and looking to bolster spending. These, even as there are concerns regarding sources of revenue like disinvestment, non-tax spending, and the GST.