Taking a cue from the ministry of external affairs (MEA), the finance ministry is putting up a mechanism for regular interactions with the media with a view to ensuring that its policies aimed at spurring economic growth, as also its welfare initiatives, are well articulated and effectively conveyed to the people at large.
Unlike the MEA, whose views are articulated by a designated spokesperson, the five secretaries, along with the chief economic advisor in the ministry of finance, would field questions on policies, the first of which is scheduled for Monday.
Individual departments would now also interact with the media on their respective domains more often, sources said. “They will have a nodal officer at the joint-secretary level or so to answer day-to-day media queries,” sources said. With the Prime Minister’s Office keeping an active tab on media reports, the pro-active media management is also aimed at correcting any wrong representation of facts or policies instantly to avoid mis-conceptions.
Currently, the finance ministry’s media relationship is managed through the ministry’s media point-man. Secretaries themselves taking the lead is aimed at increasing the accessibility and transparency at a time when the government is unveiling new measures and simplifying policies to boost ease of doing business and attract investments, official sources said.
The top deck in the ministry was reshuffled in August end, after the completion of the tenure of Rajiv Mehrishi as finance secretary (he has since become the home secretary). Expenditure secretary R P Watal, the senior-most secretary in the finance ministry, is now the finance secretary, who enjoys the status of first among equals among the five secretaries in the ministry.
While Mehrishi used to keep a low-profile even while being a taskmaster, with Watal at the helm, the interactions among the secretaries have become more seamless, a ministry official said on condition of anonymity. The current group of secretaries seems to gel well with each other and form a solid team for the upcoming budget in February, another official said.
Three days after being named as finance secretary, Watal started the system of weekly meeting of secretaries and chief economic advisor on September 3 to discuss policy issues and better coordination among themselves. The move would help them settle inter-department issues rather than burden finance minister Arun Jaitley, who has to split time for his other ministries (corporate affairs and information & broadcasting) too much. Jaitely also needs to devote significant time for party (BJP) affairs.
Having worked as joint secretary in charge of the budget, revenue secretary and now as economic affairs secretary in the ministry, Shaktikanta Das is playing a key role in the new set-up and is considered the most articulate among the five secretaries.
Das has had a number of meetings with RBI officials recently, leading to announcement of a draft policy for relaxation of external commercial borrowing norms, among others.
Also, the department of disinvestment is now working more closely with DEA in “market making” for the government’s ambitious disinvestment programme to succeed. The objective is a deepening of the retail market and participation of mutual funds in the stock markets.
Similarly, Hasmukh Adhia, as revenue secretary, is also playing a proactive role to make the revenue department taxpayer-friendly and the decision to not apply minimum alternate tax (MAT) on foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) for the period prior to April 1, 2015, was taken within a few days of him taking his new charge.