The naming of revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia as the new finance secretary makes him in charge of the annual Budget-making exercise, likely to get underway soon. Within the finance ministry, as the senior-most official, Mr Adhia will now be first among equals, the others being 1984-batch IAS officer Rajiv Kumar, financial services secretary; Ajay Narayan Jha, expenditure secretary; Neeraj Kumar Gupta, department of investment and public asset management secretary; and Subhash Chandra Garg, economic affairs secretary. Mr Adhia will continue as the revenue secretary. Mr Adhia’s elevation, of course, was widely expected after Ashok Lavasa’s term ended in October.
He has been the Prime Minister’s key man in the implementation of the various reforms initiated by the government, most notably demonetisation and for delivering the GST on time. Their association goes back to when Narendra Modi was chief minister of Gujarat and Mr Adhia was his principal secretary. He was behind the successful rehabilitation of victims of the 2001 Gujarat earthquake and also state’s highly successful Vibrant Gujarat investor summits during Mr Modi’s tenure in the state. The Budget is likely to be presented on February 1, 2018 by finance minister Arun Jaitley.
Future of Tea Board uncertain
There is much speculation in Dilli that the BJP-led Centre has decided to dissolve the Tea Board. The Centre has finalised plans to split the board into two or more entities and transfer their governing bodies from Kolkata, India’s tea business capital. The board’s first non-IAS and non-executive chairman, Prabhat Kamal Bezboruah, who may well be its last head of operations, has said that the board’s days were numbered as the Centre had decided to merge the tea regulator with other agricultural boards by the end of this financial year. The buzz is that Centre is weighing options, including merging the Tea Board, Coffee Board and Spices Board into one.
One indication of the impending move, sources say, is that the finance ministry had earlier drastically cut the allocation for three years starting from 2016-17. The Tea Board had sought Rs 800 crores but was given only `540 crores. Clearly the thinking at the Centre is that the importance of autonomous entities such as the Tea Board has decreased. Will the government go ahead with the reported move? Watch this space for updates.
Ex-babus raise ‘critical concerns’
The Centre’s unique identity project, Aadhaar, has raised concerns in many quarters. Even as the Supreme Court is yet to take a final call on the “mandatory” linking of Aadhaar to various services, as sought by the government, six retired senior babus have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding “critical concerns” about the project. This is perhaps the second time senior retired bureaucrats have shared their views with Mr Modi, the first being earlier this year when 65 retired officials from various services expressed their concerns about “rising authoritarianism” in the nation.
The six retired babus are M.K. Bezbaruah, former chairman of the Delhi Finance Commission, S.K. Das, former chief secretary of Uttarakhand, K.K. Jaswal, former secretary, department of information technology, C.K. Koshy, former additional chief secretary of Gujarat, Lalit Mathur, former director-general of National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD) and V.V. Rama Subba Rao, former additional chief secretary of Gujarat. Though there have been demands from several quarters about the UID project and its alleged lack of transparency and issues about data privacy, the letter by senior retired babus adds considerable weight to the growing cry that Aadhaar needs a rethink.