Pandemic shadow to test ability of experienced, first-time finmin officials to weave dream Budget

New Delhi, Jan 28 : The 2021-22 Union Budget will be unprecedented in many ways. For the first time there has been no lockdown in the finance ministry before the Budget presentation as the exercise this year would go completely paperless avoiding the need for secrecy associated with printed documents.

This will also be the first Budget that will come up immediately after a pandemic-induced nationwide lockdown that brought economic activity in the country to a grinding halt forcing the GDP to contract for the very first time in many, many years. Also, a first would be acute recession that the country stares at and severe levels of unemployment that turned from bad to worse post the pandemic.

Though not for the first time, but the Budget 2021-22 also faces severe challenge to do a tough balancing to revive growth in the economy amidst shrinking revenue streams and need to balance expenditure and come back on path of fiscal consolidation. As Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman herself has put that her third Budget would be “unprecedented” as the country looks to rebuild after a pandemic-hit year.

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The challenges thrown at the government will get some reflection in the Budget that will be framed by a team which is a mix of experience and first-timers. Here are the people shaping the February 1 Budget:

Ajay Bhushan Pandey, Finance and Revenue Secretary

He is perhaps the most experienced in the team, having past experiencing of preparing the Budget in the current government. A 1984-batch Maharashtra cadre Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, Pandey is the current finance secretary being the senior most officer in the finance ministry team, apart from heading the revenue department. He has to do one of the toughest balancing acts – to deal with expectations of taxpayers who are looking for a cut in taxes as incomes fell due to the pandemic against the need to raise revenue to mobilise resources required for additional spending on health care and infrastructure. His actions would also determine what new revenue measures are taken and steps to bring back the economy on track.

K. Subramanian, Chief Economic Advisor

One of the important pointers to the Budget is given by the Economic Survey. The survey this year will be brought out by Subramanian who being an eternal optimist had earlier predicted a V-shaped recovery for India post the lockdown as economic activity resumed. The survey will also bring out the policy prescriptions required to achieve this recovery.

Tarun Bajaj, Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs

This will be his first stint as secretary in the finance ministry ahead of the Budget presentation. A 1988 Haryana cadre IAS officer, Bajaj came to the finance ministry during the time of lockdown last year. His earlier service was in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). One of the prime jobs for Bajaj would be to see how it designs its borrowing plan to stay on course for meeting additional expenditure needs while at the same time keep debt under manageable limits. His imprint would also be seen in the design of various measures that may be announced in the Budget.

T.V. Somanathan, Secretary, Department of Expenditure

He also has a tough task in hand as the need for stepping up government expenditure would be weighed against exactly how the Centre could stretch considering the tight revenue position. In this regard, keeping the subsidies under check while at the same time providing enough monetary support to various social sectors would be needed. Somanathan is a 1987-batch IAS officer from Tamil Nadu cadre who has also worked in the PMO earlier.

Debashish Panda, Secretary, Department of Financial Services

The 1987-batch IAS officer is a first-timer in the Budget-making exercise. But the task cut out for him to perform and oversee biggest ever listing exercise involving Life Insurance Corporation and strategic sale and privatisation of public sector banks and insurers. His role in the Budget could be seen if government announces a bad bank or another development financial institution (DFI) to finance the country’s infrastructure. It would be seen whether Panda is able to push through a plan on a credit enhancement corporation easing funding line for infra companies.

Tuhin Kanta Pandey, Secretary, Department of Investment and Public Asset Management

After missing out on meeting disinvestment target set for FY21, Pandey would be watched in this Budget on the kind of disinvestment target set for FY22 and a roadmap on how government revenues would be augmented from disinvestment of public sector enterprises. The challenge before Pandey is to see how the strategic sale process initiated for Air India and BPCL reaches a stage of finality and how the government’s privatisation plan involving sale of non-strategic PSEs and consolidation and sale of some strategic sector enterprises is carried out. Pandey is a 1987-batch IAS officer of the Odisha cadre.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-generated from IANS service.

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