Do you know who lays down the road map for the nation's annual financial plans? While it is the Finance Minister who presents the budget in the Parliament, it is the Finance Ministry's core team of civil servants that designs it. Tasked with steering the economy in an uncertain global environment and shepherding in second-generation reforms, this team works tirelessly to prepare one of the best-guarded documents in the country.
Such is the secrecy of the Union budget-making process that each member of this team is completely out of communication with the outside world (including family) until the budget gets presented in Parliament. The use of fixed line and mobile phones is absolutely banned as the officials work round the clock in the quarantine zone inside the North Block building that houses the Ministry of Finance!
What made the job of drafting the budget 2017 even more challenging was that it's the first time since Independence that the Union budget and Railway budget were merged into one. Also, this year's budget was the first annual policy document with no linkage to a Five-Year Plan. And lastly, instead of presenting the Budget on the last day of February, it was advanced by almost a month to 1 February.
While all the focus has been on the announcements, not many know about the team that drafted Union Budget 2017. Here's a look at the key players of the crack team involved in the preparation of this year's budget.
1. Ashok Lavasa, Finance Secretary
A 1980-batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer of the Haryana cadre, Ashok Lavasa led the budget-making exercise as the Finance Secretary. In charge of Finance Ministry's expenditure department, he keeps a balance between the expectations of ministries and departments seeking larger allocations and the fiscal deficit goals of the government. Given the government's commitment to rein in fiscal deficit and push public spending to boost growth, his job is a tough one.
2. Hasmukh Adhia, Secretary, Department of Revenue
A 1981-batch IAS officer of the Gujarat cadre, Revenue Secretary Hasmukh Adhia was at the forefront of the tax proposals in budget 2016 and played an important role in explaining the rationale behind the proposals. Little known outside India's financial circles, Adhia is a trusted bureaucrat of the government when it comes to reducing complaints against tax authorities and taking steps to reduce litigation. In Union budget 2017, his main task was to deliver big tax collections through the disclosure scheme announced during demonetisation.
3. Shantikanta Das, Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs
A 1980 batch IAS officer of the Tamil Nadu cadre, Shantikanta Das is well-versed with the workings of the budget. As the Economic Affairs Secretary, his duty is to deliver a problem-free budget that has enough reforms to meet expectations. In the Union budget 2017, his main task was to incorporate ideas that could put the economy back on track post demonetisation and boost growth in the private sector.
4. Neeraj Kumar Gupta, Secretary, Department of Investment and Public Asset Management
As the secretary of Investment and Public Asset Management, Neeraj Kumar Gupta plays a key role in fulfilling the government's agenda of strategic asset sales. This involves winding up loss-making companies, monetising stakes held through the Specified Undertaking of the Unit Trust of India and pushing for listing of profitable subsidiaries of state-run companies. In 2016, Gupta managed to prevail on cash-rich companies to go for buybacks, which fetched the government ₹15,982 crore. In Union budget 2017, his main task was to leverage assets of state-run enterprises, mobilise resources through disinvestment and attract fresh investments.
5. Arvind Subramanian, Chief Economic Advisor
Formerly a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and at the Center for Global Development, Arvind Subramanian is a development economist who worked closely with former Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan when both were at the International Monetary Fund. As the Chief Economic Advisor, his main job is to maintain macro-economic stability, create favourable conditions for investment and draft the annual Economic Survey—a document on the state of the economy that underpins the drafting of the Budget
6. Anjuly Chib Duggal, Secretary, Department of Financial Services
A 1980-batch IAS officer, Anjuly Chib Duggal's experience in the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion is expected to hold good as India looks to expand its banking network through payments banks and other modules. With bad loans plaguing the banking sector, her job will be to find additional resources to meet the capital needs of banks and lessen their burden while working towards the government's dream of a cashless economy.
7. Prashant Goyal, Joint Secretary, Budget
A 1993-Union territory cadre IAS officer, Prashant Goyal's work as joint secretary (Budget) was the key piece in the Centre's budget-making exercise. It is under his guidelines that the facts were collected and reviewed following which the script of the budget was written. He works in connection with the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) and organises core team discussions on broad overall revenues, new proposals to raise revenue, ways to raise more funds, the levels of deficits, and related numbers.