Captains steering the country’s economic engine

The task in hand would be tougher for the ministers this time around given the coalition compulsions.
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman.
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman.Photo | EPS

Even as major economic ministries such as finance and commerce did not see any changes in their respective ministers, some new names in strategically important ministries have been added to the new cabinet. We look at major issues and challenges these ministers may need to address in the short- and medium-term. The task in hand would be tougher for the ministers this time around given the coalition compulsions.

Many new challenges await Sitharaman

Despite all the talks about an inevitable change in the Ministry of Finance under Modi 3.0, Nirmala Sitharman has been retained as the finance minister of the country.

This is her second consecutive term as the finance minister of India. While she has proven herself in her first stint as the finance minister, giving stability to the economy marred by Covid pandemic and geopolitical tensions, her second stint would be about taking several sore issues head-on.

The minister’s task isn’t easy amid global slowdown and supply shocks. Giving impetus to private investment, job creation and rising food prices are key challenges before the minister in the current scenario. She, in her new stint, would also need to address the thorny issue of rationalizing Goods and Services Tax (GST).

With cries of high taxes on goods and services making life of common man difficult, the minister would have to lead the GST Council to take the difficult decision of rationalising the GST rates without taking a hit on the exchequer.

Taking privatisation of central PSUs with more vigour, simplifying direct tax rules through the Direct Tax Code and making Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) more effective are other major tasks at hands of the minister.

She would also have to handle the issue of increasing animosity between the states and the Centre over division of resources. Her work becomes even more challenging amid coalition compulsions, and changed political scenarios.

Piyush Goyal, Min of Commerce, Industries

Piyush Goyal will take charge of the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry for the second straight time. Goyal, who has worn many hats as minister, has his work cut out in his new stint. The primary being reviving the country’s manufacturing sector. Despite its Make in India initiative, the government failed to meet the target of increasing share of manufacturing to 25% and creating 100 million jobs by 2020. It had to shift this goalpost to 2025. In addition, implementing free trade agreements (FTAs) with various countries that were on the cards could prove to be challenging for the coalition government because of potential disagreements. Besides this, slowing foreign direct investment (FDI) is a key challenge the minister will have to address in his second stint as the commerce and industries minister. Among others, rising trade deficit with China remains a challenge.

Piyush Goyal will take charge of the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry.
Piyush Goyal will take charge of the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry.

Sarbananda Sonowal, shipping minister

Sarbananda Sonowal will repeat his term for the second time as ports, shipping and waterways minister under the Modi 3.0 regime. He was the minister of state (independent charge) of youth affairs and sports in the first Modi government from 2014 to 2016. As a shipping minister, completion of the India-Middle East-Europe Corridor, his being one of the nodal ministries, would be the biggest challenge for the minister amid ever changing geopolitical tensions. Completion of the SagarMala project – which seeks to enhance the performance of the logistics sector by leveraging coastal and waterway transportation – would be another key performance Indicator for the minister. Sonowal will also have to make policies which can address climate issues including rising temperatures and sea levels.

Manohar Lal Khattar, power minister

The former Haryana Chief Minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, who assumed office as the power minister in the Centre, will have to address a host of issues in the next five years. Along with ensuring adequate power supply in the country amid rising temperatures, he will also have to address the much-controversial Electricity Amendment Bill 2022, which is currently with the standing committee. Although several of its key norms have been implemented through Electricity Amendment Rules, the bill is expected to be taken up after the committee studies it and puts forth suggestions. Furthermore, the continuation of power sector reforms after the implementation of the late payment surcharge and several schemes to improve the health of the distribution sector will be crucial for the ministry.

Ram Mohan Naidu, civil aviation minister

The role of aviation ministry has changed drastically since the privatisation of Air India. Even as the government still operates Alliance Air and Pawan Hans, it now plays a role in aiding the growth of this sector rather than being an active stakeholder. New aviation minister Telugu Desam Party MP Ram Mohan Naidu will have a tough time ensuring that there are no more shutdowns or collapses of airlines. The ministry will have to protect the interest of smaller players from the unhealthy business practices of two giants that control about 90% of the domestic market. Naidu is likely to improve services offered to passengers who have been put in uncomfortable situations way too many times in recent times. The ministry will have to keep an eye on use and promotion of drones. It will have to come up with policies for air taxis, which are transport for the future.

TDP leader Kinjarapu Ram Mohan Naidu takes oath as minister at the swearing-in ceremony of new Union government.
TDP leader Kinjarapu Ram Mohan Naidu takes oath as minister at the swearing-in ceremony of new Union government.Photo | PTI

Jyotiraditya Scindia, telecom minister

The newly appointed telecom minister, Jyotiraditya Scindia, will have to tackle many issues in the future. The 53-year-old former civil aviation minister will have to check the quality of services and address the growing problem of pesky calls in the country, among other issues. However, the most important task will be to revive the state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and bring it into competition. BSNL has been losing users to its competitors due to lack of 4G services. Scindia will have to roll out both 4G and 5G services as soon as possible. Another major challenge for the newly-appointed minister is to maintain competition in the market as the telecom sector heads towards a duopoly. Currently, Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel are leading players in the market, while Vodafone Idea (VIL) is struggling and losing subscribers due to lack of funds.

Jyotiraditya Scindia has been appointed as Telecom minsiter.
Jyotiraditya Scindia has been appointed as Telecom minsiter.Photo | PTI

Hardeep Singh Puri, petroleum minister

The foremost task for Minister Hardeep Singh Puri will be to reduce fuel prices in the domestic market without impacting Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) profit. Additionally, the minister will have to monitor the price of domestic LPG cylinders and ensure they are affordable in the country. He will also have to achieve the fuel-blending mandate of E20 (Blending of Ethanol in petrol by 20%) by 2025. Furthermore, Puri will need to work on reducing imports and increasing the production of crude oil and natural gas in the country. A former diplomat, Puri’s exposure to geopolitics and the global energy space are widely believed to have worked in his favour. A 1974 batch Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer, Puri has served the country in various capacities, including as the permanent representative of India to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013.

Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri
Union Minister Hardeep Singh PuriPhoto | Express

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