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Nimble hands to lighten FM's task
February, 01st 2010

Its that time of the year when the occupants of the 81-year old North Block building on the Raisina Hills are in the huddle as they prepare not just the annual accounts of the government, but also proposal that impact you and me.

Pranab Mukherjees core team is burning the midnight oil as the minister gets ready to present the third Budget in the span of less than a year interim in February, 2009, full Budget for 2009-10 in July after general elections and now the Budget for 2010-11. This Budget comes as the world begins its journey on the road to recovery after being hit by worst recession since the Great Depression.

Finance minister - The captain of team Budget is not new to the game, this being his fifth stint as the team leader. But, this time, veteran Pranab Mukherjee, the man having his pulse on political-economy of the country, has a team that has many a new comers, who will have their first brush with general Budget making.

The overall tone of the Budget will be set by not just economic compulsions of withdrawing the stimulus, but also the political compulsions set out by the party leader Sonia Gandhi.

Chief economic advisor Kaushik Basu The Cornell university professor has done extensive work in game theory, but this is his first brush with the government. The Stephanian, who is also known for his work in the area of developmental economics, has the right credentials to steer the countrys policy towards the UPA governments goal of inclusive growth.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs choice for the post, the bhadra Bengali, Mr Basu has struck a good rapport with Mr Mukherjee. His inputs, at a time when the FM undertakes the tightrope walk between return to fiscal consolidation and keeping the economy running, will be invaluable. His policy prescription will be evident in the Economic Survey that will be tabled in parliament a day before the Budget.

Finance secretary Ashok Chawla An Einstein look alike 1973-batch IAS officer from Gujarat cadre, is an old hand at the North Block. Soft spoken Mr Chawla steered the measures taken to insulate the countrys economy from the unforeseen global financial crisis. He will have to play a key role in striking a balance between winding down those measures and fiscal consolidation. Known for his pro-reform bias, Mr Chawla will be FMs man in designing some of the key policy measures in the areas of taxation, financial sector and expenditure management in this Budget.

Revenue secretary Sunil Mitra: A 1975 batch IAS officer from the West Bengal cadre, is known to be a close confidant of the FM. Mr Mitra, who played the lead in framing the disinvestment policy of the UPA-II, takes the hot seat in the revenue department barely three-and-half weeks before the Budget.

Though a newcomer to the ministry, Mr Mitras dexterity at handling complicated issues will come handy as he helps FM in finding new revenue sources to fund expenses on crucial social sector schemes while keeping an eye on the fiscal deficit.

Mr Mitra is known to be a tough bureaucrat who established his credentials taking tough decisions while handling West Bengals power sector or disinvestment of state PSUs. He is expected to carry forward FMs go by the consensus policy as he spearheads reforms in both the direct and indirect tax structure in the country.

Expenditure secretary Sushma Nath: A 1974 batch IAS officer from Madhya Pradesh cadre, literally controls the purse strings. And, she does it with a natural flair. A known number cruncher, she has spearheaded the governments austerity measures, attempting to bring back the economy back into shape. Ms Nath, who had played a key role in the sixth Pay Commission, is an old hand in the ministry having served even as joint secretary in the same department. Mild mannered Ms Nath is known to be a tough negotiator, as she tries to keep ministries and departments expenditure under check. Her tough austerity measures may have rattled quite a few ministers, but her advice on expenditure management is bound to find reflection in this years Budget.

Disinvestment secretary Sumit Bose A 1976 batch IAS officer, Mr Bose also belongs to Madhya Pradesh cadre and is another new member of the team Budget, though not new to financial matters. After having served for two years at the Thirteenth Finance Commission, which recently submitted its report, Mr Bose now has a different role cut out for him as he now takes the baton from Mr Mitra. Taking charge of the disinvestment department barely three-and-half weeks before the Budget, Mr Bose will be responsible for fulfilling the heavy duty agenda on disinvestment, that will reflect in FMs resource mobilisation measures in the Budget.

Financial services secretary R Gopalan A Masters in Economics from Boston University and Public Administration and Management from Harvard University, Mr Gopalan is a newcomer to finance ministry, but his negotiating skills at the WTO are well known. The IAS officer of the 1976 batch from Tamil Nadu cadre was a key policy man as the government stitched together the package for exporters hit hard by demand slowdown in western markets after financial meltdown. His expertise in export financing at the commerce ministry will come in handy now as he provides crucial inputs for the financial sector at this juncture.

SSN Moorthy, chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT): He was earlier director general investigation at Mumbai and brings a ground level perspective to the Budget. Together with CS Kahlon, member, Legislation and Computerisation, he will work out the tax proposals that will decide how much salary we take home.

V Shridhar, chairman, Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC): Having worked in the tax research unit of the department, Mr Shridhar knows all the nuts and bolts of indirect taxes. Assisted by a member of Budget team in CBEC, YG Parande, who has a macro perspective of indirect taxes, he will have much to contribute as government debates fiscal stimulus withdrawal, including hike in indirect tax rates.

Omita Paul, advisor to the finance minister: She coordinates the entire Budget effort, bringing all the pieces to fall in place, as the FM steps up to deliver his Budget speech.

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