As the Modi government prepares for its first anniversary in May, it needs to acknowledge the good work done by a few sectors that fared dismally during the last regime. While the departments are yet to do a complete turnaround, their achievements—and that of the men leading them—have been significant over the last few months. Prashant Mukherjee studies the men occupying the high-pressure posts.
Rakesh Garg, Telecom Secretary
This 1980 batch IAS officer of the UP cadre was the key force behind the government garnering around Rs 1.10 lakh crore from the recently-concluded telecom spectrum auction which went on for 19 days and 115 rounds. When many doubted whether the auction would succeed given the high reserve price, Rakesh Garg said, “It will record history.” And so it did. History has been recorded and India has been able to reduce the fiscal deficit from the revenue generated. Garg has an explanation for this: “See the money that has come through the auction. The spectrum has been given for 20 years and expenditure is Rs 5,300 crore while the turnover of this industry is around Rs 2 lakh crore.” Although there is a fear among mobile users about a large, impending increase in tariff, Garg’s department indicates that there will be an impact of “only 6 to 7 paise per minute”. Known to be a ‘perfectionist’ and regarded as an expert in industries and finance, Garg has also served as district magistrate of Fatehpur and Banda. He was earlier principal secretary to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh, where he brought significant improvement in administration and law and order.
Anil Swarup, Coal Secretary
The 1981 batch, UP cadre IAS officer is the man tasked to clean up the messy coal sector. Six months after the Narendra Modi government came to power, Anil Swarup was appointed to salvage the sector which was mired in controversies. The Supreme Court had quashed the allocation of 214 coal blocks. In his five months in office, Swarup has managed to collect some Rs 4 lakh crore from the e-auctioning and allotting of 67 coal block in 2015. “Of the 67 blocks auctioned or allotted, a total benefit of Rs 3,35,000 crore is for states and another Rs 69,000 crore will be unlocked by way of tariff benefit to the consumers,” he says.
In his earlier posting as head of the Project Monitoring Group, a mechanism created by the last government to coordinate between warring ministries such as coal and power, Swarup had cleared as many as 215 stalled projects valued at Rs 7 lakh crore. Between 2006 and 2013, he was with the union labour ministry, first as joint secretary and then as additional secretary. There, he was the key driver implementing the national health insurance scheme, the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, a cashless, smart card-based health insurance scheme which benefited 90 million people and was highlighted by UNDP as one of the best social security schemes going.
Shaktikanta Das, Revenue Secretary
A 1980 batch IAS officer from the Tamil Nadu cadre is the main face of the finance ministry in the Narendra Modi government. Shaktikanta Das’ dedication to the GST bill and the law on black money has put him at the forefront in the ministry. Today, the industry may feel that implementation of GST is still a distant dream but a special-purpose vehicle is already working to create the IT backbone for the rollout. Says Das, “Doubts have been raised about the implementation timeline. I want to confirm that work related to implementation is very much on.” Regarding the concern on Central Sales Tax compensation, he adds: “ The states were apprehensive about loss of revenue when value-added tax (VAT) was implemented. But the quantum of loss, which too was compensated, was only Rs 33,000 crore. In GST, there will not be much loss.” Das has played firefighter before. His was the lead role in resolving the muddle after the department of industrial policy and promotion initiated a move to clamp up foreign direct investment in the pharmaceuticals sector. This history student from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, has spent most of his career in the field of finance and is known to be a money maven. He is especially known for his skills at budget-making, both at the Centre and state.
Amitabh Kant, DIPP Secretary
An economics student from St. Stephen’s College and a Kerala cadre IAS officer of the 1980 batch, Amitabh Kant was the key driver of the ‘Incredible India’ and ‘God’s Own Country’ campaigns which positioned India and Kerala as leading tourism destinations. Today, Kant is the man behind DIPP, the nodal ministry for Modi’s beloved ‘Make in India’ programme. His department is determined to reducing the burden on the business community and improve India’s ranking on the World Bank’s ‘ease of doing business’ index. Accordingly, it has launched a first-of-its-kind ebiz portal that has a single-window, 24 x 7 interface and gives complex forms a user-friendly format. Kant has also eased FDI in sectors like defence production thereby unlocking its potential and opening new ventures for domestic manufacturers to tie up with foreign companies. Tourism remains a key love. “The country needs to drive the travel and tourism sector as it has a huge multiplier effect with respect to job creation,” says Kant. “The sector currently accounts for 8.7 per cent jobs in India and this number can easily touch 10 per cent,” he adds. The tourism sector currently contributes about 6.8 per cent to the GDP; industry experts believe it could touch the 9 per cent mark easily.