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Vineeta Rai: Short on time, long on challenges
Sidhartha & P Vaidyanathan Iyer | June 02, 2003
If it was Vineeta Rai's pedigree (she is the daughter of former ICS officer L P Singh) that catapulted her into the finance ministry's banking division, then her quick decision-making abilities may well have won her the coveted job of revenue secretary.
Rai took charge of the revenue department on Monday.
Officials who have worked with her in the banking division say she had a grasp of the issues that have helped the ministry clear an array of long-pending proposals. The list includes the restructuring of Industrial Development Bank of India, the passage of the Securitisation Bill, financial support to IFCI Ltd and the bail-out to the steel companies.
In her brief stint as banking and insurance secretary, Rai also got along well with her peers in the finance ministry including expenditure secretary D C Gupta, department of company affairs secretary V K Dhall and her predecessor, C S Rao.
She was, however, a tough task-master for her junior colleagues in the banking division. So much so that she was described by some as short-tempered.
Despite her amenable personality, some senior bureaucrats rue the fact that the most crucial portfolio in North Block has been handed over to an officer who has spent less than 12 months in the finance ministry during her 35-year career as an IAS officer.
"She is definitely in the good books of the finance minister," said a senior official.
Another official said that Rai, being an upright officer, was well-placed to step into the revenue secretary's shoes.
Jaswant Singh could not have asked for more given the recent episodes of graft charges against his former junior minister Gingee Ramachandran's personal staff. But the 1968-batch officer has less than 18 months to overhaul the department and redefine its image.
Rai is also the first woman to head a key economic department in the government. Given her experience in the health ministry where she was a joint secretary, she was widely tipped to take over as health secretary.
Earlier, she was additional secretary in urban development and had been the administrator for Chandigarh before that.
As revenue secretary, Rai will be able to present just one Union Budget. She will, however, face a stiff challenge to undertake major tax reforms with the term of the present Lok Sabha expiring next September and the spectre of elections looming large. Revenue department sources say that she will have little manoeuvering space to push through proposals during an election year.
Senior officials also claim that a tenure of less than two years at the secretary level does not give enough time for officers to plan long-term initiatives. Rai's predecessor could present just one Union Budget as revenue secretary and Budget 2003 had hardly any noteworthy reform initiatives on the tax front.
Officials say that Rai will have to become more open in meetings with stakeholders. During her stint in banking, many bank chiefs and insurance company chairmen were often denied an audience. She resorted to consultations with her officials only when she could not take a decision on her own, said an official.
Rai has hardly chaired any conferences or made appearances at public functions. Neither does she meet the media and is still referred to as being reclusive by her colleagues.
Perhaps Rai would like to forget her last few days when she was the banking and insurance secretary. The finance ministry dithered in conveying the correct picture on whether the government would charge a premium from public sector banks returning equity to the Centre.Bank stock prices moved like a yo-yo due to the confusion over the government's intentions, with the banking division remaining reclusive to the media -- just like its secretary.