New Secy appointment shows PMO's increasing footprint in Finance Ministry

Topics PMO | Finance Ministry | Bureaucrats

Bajaj will be the second of the five serving Secretaries in Finance Ministry who have worked in Prime Minister Modi’s PMO
On Thusday, incumbent Economic Affairs Secretary Atanu Chakraborty retires, and Tarun Bajaj takes over from him. This was one of the many new appointments announced on Sunday, as part of a major bureaucratic reshuffle. As the Centre and states look for an exit plan from the nationwide lockdown, Bajaj and his department will play a crucial role in formulating an economic revival roadmap. Hence his appointment could prove to be the most crucial.

Bajaj, currently an Additional Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, is a 1988 batch Haryana Cadre officer. Born in 1962, he has two-and-a-half years left for his super-annuation. Bajaj has been a veteran in the Finance Ministry, which has been his only stint in the centre apart from PMO.

Between March 2006 and May 2011, he was in the Department of Financial Services, first as a Director and then as Joint Secretary. He also had a short stint as a JS in Economic Affairs, from September 2014 to April 2015. He has been in PMO since late April 2014, where he was considered a protégé of sorts of former Principal Secretary Nripendra Mishra.

Bajaj is an alumnus of Delhi University’s Shri Ram College of Commerce, London School of Economics and Political Science and Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.
Officials who have worked with Bajaj describe him as soft-spoken, unassuming and someone with sharp powers of observation who does not like the limelight that comes with high-ranking bureaucratic posts. “He is known as a quick decision maker. But all his decisions will be well thought through. In conversations he will listen to everyone’s ideas, take in all inputs, before taking a decision,” said an official.

Bajaj will be the second of the five serving Secretaries in Finance Ministry who have worked in Prime Minister Modi’s PMO. Expenditure Secretary T V Somanthan, a 1987 batch Tamil Nadu cadre officer, was in PMO from April 2015 to August 2017.

Even the outgoing Economic Affairs Secretary Chakraborty, from the Gujarat cadre (1985 batch), has worked closely with Modi when the latter was Chief Minister.

Bajaj’s appointment is slightly surprising. If bureaucratic gossip is to be believed, Somanathan was brought into Finance Ministry to take over as EA Secretary once Chakraborty retired.

Nevertheless, these posts show how crucial North Block is in the PM’s scheme of things, headed as it is by one of his most trusted Ministers, Nirmala Sitharaman. Modi is known to have placed some of his top bureaucrats in the departments he considers important. Recall Hasmukh Adhia, who was Financial Services Secretary and then Revenue/Finance Secretary.

There are many challenges which Bajaj will face. Sitharaman is all but ready to present a second financial package. The centre has, for now, ruled out a mega stimulus and will instead rely on targeted, incremental packages. Industry is clamoring for a bailout, the liquidity upheaval in capital markets is nowhere close to being sorted, and all of the budgetary forecasts now stand irrelevant.
Under Bajaj, the DEA, which also includes the Budget Division, will have to bring out new projections for budgetary and fiscal targets for 2020-21. He will also have to work on reviving the economy after the lockdown ends, and on attracting investment from companies seeking to move out of China. There is also the question of resources, whether the government will have to borrow more than budgeted and whether the Reserve Bank of India will have to monetize some of that deficit.

The next few months promise to be very interesting for Bajaj and his new department.

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