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Modi govt rejigs economic team

Mehrishi is economic affairs secretary; Swarup becomes OSD in the coal ministry; Mayaram transferred to the tourism ministry

BS Reporter  |  New Delhi 

Arvind Subramanian & Rajiv Mehrishi
Arvind Subramanian & Rajiv Mehrishi

The Narendra Modi government on Thursday took a slew of steps to restructure its economic ministries. Finance & Economic Affairs Secretary Arvind Mayaram was shifted to the tourism ministry, after exercises for the 2015-16 Budget had begun. Rajasthan Chief Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi, handpicked by Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, was made the new economic affairs secretary. And, in the department of economic affairs, US-based economist Arvind Subramanian was appointed to fill the long-vacant post of the government's chief economic advisor.

Subramanian taking charge on Thursday also put to rest the speculation that his appointment had hit hurdle with a Narendra Modi-led government taking charge at the Centre.

In total, 20 bureaucrats - seven of them secretaries - were transferred by an order dated Wednesday. Among other transfers, Anil Swarup, heading the project monitoring group in the Cabinet Secretariat, was appointed officer on special duty in the coal ministry. He will take charge as secretary from November 1, after incumbent S K Srivastava retires. His appointment came at a time when the ministry is preparing implementation of the Supreme Court's decision on deallocation of coal blocks.

When a new government took over, speculations were rife that Mayaram and (the then) revenue secretary Rajiv Takru, considered close to the previous government, would be transferred from the finance ministry. Takru was replaced by Shaktikanta Das in June and posted to the department of the Northeast region, while Mayaram continued as finance secretary, contributing to many tasks, including the Budget presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in July.

The transfer of Mayaram (59) has come as a surprise to officials in the finance ministry. "He is taking it in his stride, unlike other bureaucrats who met the same fate in the past," said an official who spoke to the finance secretary after the reshuffle was announced.

Mayaram will replace Pervez Dewan as tourism secretary on November 1, when the latter retires. Mayaram will, however, chair a Foreign Investment Promotion Board meeting on October 21 that is expected to decide on raising foreign direct investment in HDFC Bank. He had on Wednesday issued a statement on oil prices and held meetings in the ministry. He had a hectic schedule on Thursday as well. He also went to Parliament for work, sources said.

Now, only two of the five secretaries in the finance ministry - Financial Services Secretary G S Sandhu and Expenditure Secretary Ratan Watal - linger from the previous regime. In September, Aradhana Johri was appointed the new disinvestment secretary. She took charge from October 1, when Ravi Mathur retired.

Mehrishi belongs to the same Rajasthan cadre and 1978 batch as Mayaram. Watal, also of the 1978 batch, belongs to the Andhra Pradesh cadre. One of the two is likely to become the finance secretary. The tradition is, if the two most senior bureaucrats in the ministry are of the same batch, their ranks in the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) examination are taken into consideration. If that is maintained, Watal will become finance secretary.

Insiders said the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government might gradually transfer bureaucrats considered close to the previous regime, which might lead to a debate over fixed tenures for secretaries. Mayaram was brought back to the finance ministry by P Chidambaram in 2012 after he replaced Pranab Mukherjee as finance minister. Mayaram had earlier worked in the finance ministry, including in the infrastructure division.

Mehrishi was appointed chief secretary of Rajasthan after the BJP government came to power in the state last year. During his stint, the state initiated major labour reforms. Mehrishi was a joint secretary in the department of corporate affairs in the law ministry between 2001 and 2004. Between 2003 and 2004, Jaitley was law minister in the previous NDA government.

Of the Uttar Pradesh cadre, Swarup was instrumental in clearing stalled projects as head of the project monitoring group set up by the previous government to revive investments in key sectors. In other postings, Water Resources Secretary Alok Rawat has been posted to the department of administrative reforms. The water resources ministry is considered important by the BJP-led government because of its priority for cleaning the Ganga. Additional secretary in the department of personnel and training Bhaskar Khulbe was appointed additional secretary in the Prime Minister's Office in place of R Ramanujam, who retired.

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First Published: Fri, October 17 2014. 00:59 IST