Dilip Cherian | Fiscal advisers may get to have a larger say in ministry spends

Financial advisers are a crucial interface between ministries and the expenditure department

Looking at the future, the Modi Sarkar wants to show that it is capable of fresh thinking. The finance ministry has reportedly formed an internal working group under the department of expenditure secretary T.V. Somanathan to work on improving the decades-old role of financial advisers in ministries and departments.

Financial advisers are a crucial interface between ministries and the expenditure department, and the proposed revamp aims to quicken decision-making while keeping a prudent watch on the purse strings. It may well lead to financial advisers having a larger say in the expenditure roadmap of ministries with possibly more authority to enable better internal governance. Also, since the performance of individual ministers is often evaluated on the outcome of schemes, the financial outlay and the role of financial advisers are sensitive and crucial.

Sources have informed DKB that the revamp is part of the government’s Vision 2047, which aims to make India one of the world’s top three economies. There’s no hint yet on when the working group will present its suggestions, but it is unlikely to have been given a long deadline. Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman is reportedly keen on seeing some progress as quickly as possible.

End of the road for babu-turned neta?

There are plenty of babus who have switched to politics and have enjoyed a good run. But not all babus who had a meteoric rise to political stardom can maintain that streak. The case of Janata Dal (United)’s R.C.P. Singh seems to be headed that way. Mr Singh, who is a member of the Union Cabinet, has not been nominated for the Rajya Sabha by party supremo and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, as was widely expected. This puts Mr Singh’s future as a minister in doubt.

By the book, a minister has to be either a member of Parliament or become a member of either House within six months of taking the oath. Failure to do so, as in Mr Singh’s case, would mean he will have to resign from the Cabinet.

But not so long ago, Mr Singh was widely known for his close ties with Nitish Kumar. Although belonging to the UP cadre, he became the private secretary to Mr Kumar who was then Union railway minister. This proximity led to him being appointed as principal secretary to the Bihar chief minister. Mr Singh made a swift and seamless transition from babudom to politics and rose to become JD(U) president, and was widely considered by babus and party leaders as Nitish’s right-hand man. During this time, he became a two-time Rajya Sabha member.

Mr Singh’s current fall from grace, sources say, can be traced to the Assembly elections of 2020, where the JD(U) got fewer seats than the BJP, its alliance partner. The denial of nomination to the Rajya Sabha seems to suggest that Mr Singh’s run of good fortune may be over. But in politics, nothing is certain, and there may still be a surprise for us all.

Gujarat cracks down on corruption

The BJP has been first off the mark in the run-up to the Gujarat Assembly elections coming up at the end of the year. The extension of the tenures of chief secretary Pankaj Kumar, and director general of police Ashish Bhatia, who were to retire last month, is being seen in this context. The state government clearly doesn’t want to rock the boat until the conclusion of the polls.

Besides, there is a concerted anti-corruption drive to home a stern message to civil servants and present a clean image of the administration to the public. And the message is being driven by the Narendra Modi-led high command in Delhi, no less.

That, babu watchers say, may have led to the CBI raiding 2011-batch IAS officer K. Rajesh in connection with alleged financial irregularities related to land scams and arms licences. There’s more. In April, a retired IAS officer S.K. Langa was booked for allegedly framing incorrect land records when he was posted as collector in Panchmahal-Godhra in 2017. A month earlier, one 1992-batch IFoS officer of the Gujarat cadre was suspended on charges of irregularities which cost the exchequer hundreds of crores.

These developments are a clear and strong warning to IAS, IPS and other officers on what could happen if they stray off the straight and narrow, especially in an election year.

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