With eight days to go before the Narendra Modi government presents its interim Budget on February 1, the Prime Minister on Wednesday entrusted Railway Minister Piyush Goyal with ministerial portfolios of finance and corporate affairs till Arun Jaitley comes back from the US.
Jaitley underwent a surgery in the US on Tuesday. With doctors having advised him two weeks’ rest, Goyal is set to present the interim Budget — the final Budget of the Modi-led government’s current tenure, which comes less than 90 days before the Lok Sabha polls and could contain key announcements.
According to a Rashtrapati Bhavan communique, issued at 8.55 pm, the President, as advised by the PM, directed that during the period of Jaitley's indisposition, the finance and corporate affairs portfolios, held by him, be temporarily assigned to Goyal. It said Goyal would continue to hold his existing portfolios: Railways and coal.
The communique stated that Jaitley “be designated as minister without portfolio during the period of his indisposition or till such time he is able to resume his work as minister of finance and minister of corporate affairs.”
According to a PTI report quoting sources, Jaitley underwent surgery at a hospital in New York on Tuesday. He has been advised at least two weeks’ rest by doctors, they added. Sources in the government said the PM took the decision to give the additional charge of finance ministry to Goyal after consultations with Jaitley.
This is the second instance in eight months when Goyal will be stepping in for Jaitley in the North Block-located finance ministry. Jaitley, 66, underwent a successful kidney transplant at New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) on May 14, 2018. He had been on leave since early April due to kidney-related problems and chest infection, and took charge of finance and corporate affairs ministries on August 23.
Goyal held temporary charge of the two ministries for 100 days in the interregnum, while Jaitley was a minister without a portfolio between May 14, 2018, and August 23, 2018.
Goyal is expected take up his additional responsibilities on Thursday. The printing of Budget documents began on Monday after the traditional halwa ceremony. Officials said Goyal's focus would be more on delivering the budget speech.
The interim Budget is likely to contain a retelling of the Modi government's economic and social sector achievements.
Sources, however, did not rule out Goyal making minor changes, but all the major announcements, revised estimates for 2018-19, projections for 2019-20 and beyond, and other numbers are already decided.
Earlier this month, Goyal was appointed the publicity head of the Bharatiya Janata Party for the upcoming general elections.
Jaitley had undergone a bariatric surgery soon after the BJP government came to power at the Centre in 2014.
The surgery, to treat weight gain that he suffered because of a long-standing diabetic condition, was first performed at Max Hospital, but he then had to be shifted to AIIMS because of complications.
Speaking a fortnight ahead of the Budget, Jaitley underlined that there have been precedents of interim Budgets containing major policy announcements to tackle an urgent situation.
In his last public appearance, via teleconferencing from New York to an event in Mumbai, Jaitley had said that while the government will work "within the parameters of the conventions that exist", the contents of the interim budget will be decided by the larger interests of the economy.