The retirement dates of Finance Secretary Hasmukh Adhia and Expenditure Secretary Ajay Narayan Jha are confirmed. This means that the team that stands alongside Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, when he presents the Budget briefcase for the traditional photo session on February 1, will be quite different from the one that started preparing the Budget.
Adhia vacates his post on November 30 and Jha, the second seniormost bureaucrat in the finance ministry, retires on January 31, the day before Jaitley presents the 2019-20 interim budget. Ajay Bhushan Pandey, currently the chief executive officer (CEO) of Unique Identification Authority of India, will be the next revenue secretary.
Girish Chandra Murmu, currently the special secretary in the expenditure department, will become the officer on special duty in the expenditure department, and will take over as the expenditure secretary from February 1. When that happens, Economic Affairs Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg will be the seniormost of the five finance ministry secretaries and is likely to be designated the finance secretary as is the convention. From December 1 to January 31, Jha could be designated as the finance secretary.
Jaitley announced Adhia’s departure through a blog on Saturday. Showering praise on the 1981-batch Gujarat-cadre officer, Jaitley on Saturday said he was a no-nonsense civil servant who performed his job with impeccable integrity. He also said the government wanted to use Adhia’s capability and experience in some alternate capacity, but that Adhia did not want to continue a day beyond November 30.
Jha is a 1982-batch Manipur-cadre officer, Garg is from the 1983 batch Rajasthan cadre, Ajay Pandey is from the 1984 batch Maharashtra cadre, while Murmu is from the 1985-batch Gujarat cadre. The other two finance ministry secretaries are Financial Services Secretary Rajiv Kumar, a 1984-batch Jharkhand cadre officer and DIPAM (Department of Investment and Public Asset Management) Secretary Atanu Chakraborty, a 1985-batch Gujarat-cadre officer.
It is an accepted practice for the government to extend the tenure of secretaries in the Finance Ministry if their last day of service falls close to the Budget. For example, former Economic Affairs Secretary Shaktikanta Das was supposed to retire in February 2017, but his tenure was extended to May, to oversee the post-Budget process as well, which includes passage of the Finance Bill.
It is, thus, rather unusual that Jha’s retirement date, and the name of his successor, was announced two and a half months in advance, and that he won’t be getting an extension to help with post-Budget work.
These changes aren’t the only expected ones.
The office of the Chief Economic Advisor has been vacant since August 27, when Arvind Subramanian cut short his extended tenure and went back to a life in academia in the United States. A search panel, led by former Reserve Bank of India Governor Bimal Jalan, has shortlisted some potential candidates after an extensive round of interviews. There will be more interviews in the coming days to narrow the field even further.
The panel will recommend its choice to the government. The Appointments Committee of Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will need to give the final stamp of approval for the appointment. The government is keen to have a new CEA in place before the Budget, as the Economic Survey, tabled in Parliament a day before the Budget, is drafted by the CEA and his team.
Among other members of the core budget team, the tax chiefs will also stay on. Central Board of Direct Taxes Chairman Sushil Chandra will serve his tenure, which has already been extended by a year, till end-May 2019. The Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs Chairman S. Ramesh will also be part of the budget process. The team also includes Principal Economic Advisor Sanjeev Sanyal.