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From GST, Demonetisation to Yoga, Meet PM Modi's Trusted Bureaucrat

Critics termed demonetisation as a big gamble but Adhia not only managed the situation on a minute-by-minute basis for nearly a month but also ensured that exchequer was not impacted adversely.

Meghdoot Sharon, Tushar Dhara

Updated:July 9, 2017, 1:28 PM IST
From GST, Demonetisation to Yoga, Meet PM Modi's Trusted Bureaucrat
File photo of Finance Secretary Hasmukh Adhia. (File image: REUTERS)

News18 Sunday FeatureCameras perched at every vantage point in the Central Hall of the Parliament house captured the historic moment ushering in India’s biggest tax reform. Recalling more than a decade-long work that had gone into drafting of the GST laws, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was generous in his speech- thanking political leaders across parties. His mention of the bureaucrats who had worked tirelessly on the project set about a little flutter in the gathering.

Heads- as if on cue- turned towards a gallery reserved for the senior officers on the sidelines of the Central Hall- a moment cameras failed to capture.

And they instinctively turned towards but one man who sat quietly in one corner of the hallowed hall- being congratulated by fellow officers.

Meet one of the most trusted lieutenants of Prime Minister Modi- the unassuming Revenue Secretary Hansmukh Haridas Adhia.

Adhia is largely credited with delivering GST on time, beating expectations of many, including some within the government.

Gujarat Connection

Born in Wankaner in Rajkot district, 58 years old Adhia is a 1981-batch Gujarat cadre IAS officer. He has served in a wide array of positions in his home state: Director of the Gujarat State Financial Services Ltd, managing director of Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation as well as finance secretary and principal secretary to the then Chief Minister, Narendra Modi.

The Gujarat government’s Karmayogi and Kanya Kelavani programmes to improve educational outcomes were conceptualized and implemented by Adhia and his team. He was known as a low profile and media shy officer in Gandhinagar. Those who have known him for years say that he has a no-nonsense attitude and it’s his ability to effectively implement the decisions that led to his speedy rise.

“Gujarat is a very industrialized state and his experience with the corporate world, trade, and financial services was unmatched,” Dr. P D Vaghela, commissioner, commercial tax, Gujarat told News18. “He was handling GST matters even while in the state, so it was not a new subject for him,” Vaghela added.

Modi’s Yoga Mentor

It was perhaps Yoga over which the then CM Modi and Adhia really bonded. Modi had just introduced chintan shivirs, brainstorming sessions for ministers, bureaucrats, and police officers. It was at one of these shivirs that Modi saw Adhia practicing Yoga before the crack of dawn. Legend has it that Modi came away so impressed that he chose Adhia as his Yoga mentor. And Adhia, who has a Ph.D. in Yoga from Swami Vivekananda Yoga University in Bengaluru, was ideally placed to propagate the art.

Soon, Yoga became a regular feature at chintan shivirs. Years later, in 2014, the United Nations, at Prime Minister Modi’s urging, declared June 21 as International Yoga Day.

No wonder, Adhia moved to Delhi in 2014 after Modi became Prime Minister. Here, his first posting was as Secretary in the Department of Financial Services in November 2014. He then took charge of the Department of Revenue in the Finance Ministry in August 2015. It is one of the five departments in the Finance Ministry, and the nodal agency for GST because of the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC), the apex body in charge of indirect taxes, comes under its control.

Mission Good And Simple Tax

A year after the Modi government came to power, the work to implement GST assumed a new urgency. The first big hurdle was having the Constitutional amendment passed in both houses of Parliament. And this was not possible without taking the concerns of states, including those ruled by Opposition parties, into account. While everyone saw key central ministers negotiating with leaders across parties, Adhia’s team quietly worked on fine details to devise a middle path.

For instance, Kerala had a strong view on lotteries, since it would lose income when the betting tax was folded into GST. The Jammu & Kashmir finance minister suggested a compromise that Kerala liked. West Bengal had an issue with who would have jurisdiction over tax assesses below Rs 1.5 crore. Adhia made it a point to meet state government officials and place their concerns on the table.

“Even in the final stretch, the last one-and-a-half years, we weren’t sure if GST would be implemented, but the Revenue Secretary was very positive and pushed things through,” recalls Ritwik Pandey, commissioner of commercial taxes, Karnataka, who was the co-convener of one of the GST Rules Sub-Committees.

“He is a quick decision maker and he delivers. This was a very important skill in the final negotiations because there were disputes between the Centre and states, and between the states on rates. We needed a person who could establish a consensus and also take decisions with an understanding of the issue. He took quick and fair decisions,” Pandey told News18.

People Management

Many of Adhia’s colleagues describe him as a result-oriented but good boss. “He is approachable. Previous revenue secretaries used to function in a silo. Not anymore,” said a Finance Ministry official.

Even during GST talks, his people management skills came in handy. Adhia has penned a series of articles and books on Human Resource Management with titles like ‘Initiative in Human Resource Management’, ‘Management in Government’, ‘Job Satisfaction of Government Employees in India’ and ‘Making Bureaucracy Work’.

Consultant to the Revenue Department P K Mohanty who worked closely with Adhia overseeing the entire process recalls how “we worked overtime for nearly two years and were short on sleep.

“The Revenue Secretary was a central figure. Whenever the committees were at loggerheads, he would step in and take quick and fair decisions. He spent several hours a week with us to listen to issues and take a call on contentious issues,” Rajiv Jalota, commissioner of commercial tax, Maharashtra told News18. Jalota was a co-convener of one of a sub-committees and worked closely with Adhia.

Adhia is a hard taskmaster and stickler to rules. Within political circles, he’s a reputation of being blunt, of flatly refusing to entertain any request for transfers and postings.

But there is another side of Adhia- someone who is equally concerned caring of his colleagues.

As government decided to hold one of the GST Council meetings in Srinagar, Adhia requested his team to bring along their spouses.

“By holding it in the valley, we were not only sending a strong message to people at large but also to the state of Jammu and Kashmir where a large section of the polity was against the bill”; said an officer.

J&K assembly finally cleared the bill last week, making India truly one nation with one tax.

What Next

Having delivered something as monumental changes Adhia is seen as a bureaucrat who delivers and in whom the PM trusts.

And also as someone who is being widely speculated to take over reins from cabinet secretary P K Sinha in April next year.

(More Sunday Features)

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