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The men behind the Budget

Last updated on: February 28, 2005 08:27 IST

The finance minister's A-Team has at least four people who are familiar with the way things work in North Block. Expenditure secretary D Swarup, who has charge of the Budget division this time, was in the finance ministry when Manmohan Singh was the finance minister. He is coordinating the Budget exercise.

Economic affairs secretary Rakesh Mohan, a former chief economic adviser, has kept a low profile so far. He is looking into banking reforms and divestment, besides providing inputs on infrastructure and manufacturing.

For revenue secretary KM Chandrasekhar, this is the first Budget. He is working out the details of the tax proposals with Parthasarathi Shome, adviser to Finance Minister P Chidambaram. Shome is a tax expert and headed the committee on tax for the Tenth Plan. He has also been associated with tax policy in other countries.

Chandrasekhar, finance ministry sources say, is more of a nuts and bolts man. He is seeking opinion from industry and holding consultations with the ministries concerned.

The present CEA, Ashok Lahiri, is a veteran of many Budgets and Adarsh Kishore, officer on special duty and expenditure secretary-in-waiting, was an additional secretary in the ministry earlier.

Lahiri not only played a role in the formulation of tax policy, but also did the groundwork for reforming the tax structure for petroleum products and edible oil.

Apart from preparing reports and the Economic Survey, Lahiri has also been consulted on a host of other issues -- be it banking reforms, reducing subsidies or food stamps, a scheme that was announced in the last Budget but has not found any taker.

The groundwork for the 2005-06 Budget started earlier than usual, with Chandrasekhar, India's former trade negotiator in Geneva, beginning consultations with industry associations in November. Similarly, things like reworking the tax return forms and commissioning studies for sector-specific measures were also started in early December.

While officials say it was part of the revenue secretary's familiarisation process, Chidambaram made it abundantly clear that the Central Board of Direct Taxes and the Central Board of Excise and Customs would have a smaller role to play in policy formulation. So, all Budget proposals were to be routed through Shome.

Swarup also kicked off the pre-Budget number-crunching work and formulating the revised estimates earlier than usual. He had asked his staff to finish the first round of meetings with ministries and departments before December.

Swarup's workload increased this year because of the 12th Finance Commission report and the government's focus on social sector schemes, which together threaten to guzzle up around Rs 46,000 crore (Rs 460 billion) in 2005-06.

While the Centre could not do much about the finance commission, Swarup and Adarsh Kishore were busy negotiating smaller spending plans with the ministries concerned and the Planning Commission, which wanted the gross budgetary support to be increased to over Rs 1,90,000 crore (Rs 1900 billion).
BS Economy Bureau in New Delhi