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With High-Profile Transfers from PMO to Key Ministries, Modi Prepares Govt Machinery for Post-Coronavirus Economic Battle

With High-Profile Transfers from PMO to Key Ministries, Modi Prepares Govt Machinery for Post-Coronavirus Economic Battle

While the Centre has appointed 23 new secretaries as part of the reshuffle, the most significant transfers are of Tarun Bajaj and AK Sharma from the Prime Minister’s Office to two key posts that will play a big role in economic recovery.

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Pallavi Ghosh

A major bureaucratic reshuffle in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown may have come as a surprise for a few, but a closer look at the appointments made on Sunday shows the planning behind the moves.

What is very clear from the rejig is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi now wants to direct his focus on economic recovery and growth, as voices expressing concern over the economic fallout of Covid-19 grow louder.

While the Centre has appointed 23 new secretaries as part of the reshuffle, the most significant of the transfers have come from within the Prime Minister’s Office to two key posts that will play a big role in the economic recovery.

Sources close to the developments say the PM wants the focus now to be fully on putting economy back on growth trajectory, even as it is clear that there could be a massive prolonged slowdown.

The two most important appointments announced Sunday were those of Tarun Bajaj and AK Sharma, both close aides of Modi who were in the PMO.

Sharma was considered as one of the most powerful bureaucrats in the PMO as he has been with Modi since October 2001 when he took over as the Chief Minister of Gujarat after Keshubhai Patel. A 1988-batch IAS of Gujarat cadre, he will take over as the Secretary, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises.

Along with Sharma, the other major transfer has been that of Bajaj, a 1988-batch Haryana cadre officer, who has been made the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) Secretary in the finance ministry. He will replace Atanu Chakraborty, who will retire later this month.

While many had thought Chakraborty was one of those in line for an extension, a source told News18 that the PM is usually not in favour of extensions unless necessary, as in the case of health secretary Preeti Sudan, whose tenure has been extended by three months.

Sudan has been at the forefront of India’s battle against Covid-19, and the government did not want to disrupt the functioning of the department.

But on the economic front, the appointments reflect that the government is just getting started, and hence, PM Modi has brought in people who he trusts can deliver at this critical juncture.

The appointment of Sharma, particularly, a high-profile bureaucrat to the MSME department is a clear sign that small and medium industries will play an important role in the economic package or policies that the Modi government will introduce to cushion the economy after the lockdown ends.

While the economic challenges posed by coronavirus has left many sectors in tatters, it has been particularly fatal for MSMEs, who were already reeling because of the slowdown in the economy before Covid-19 made matters worse.

According to various sectoral experts, as many as 25-30 per cent MSME units many not survive the crisis created by the pandemic.

As the country sees a phased exit from the lockdown, MSMEs will be a key focus area of the government. While speaking to News18 on Friday, MSME minister Nitin Gadkari had said the government will set up a Rs 1 lakh crore fund to repay outstanding payments owed by the central and state government undertakings as well as major industries.

With these appointments, the Prime Minister has also signalled that he will take on a more hands-on role for any stimulus or economic package that his government announces for the economic revival.

The government has refrained from announcing any relief package for industries so far, but Modi has held a series of meetings with finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and industry bodies.


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