Finance secretary T V Somanathan and department of investment and public asset management (Dipam) secretary Tuhin Kanta Pandey have been part of the Budget team since they took over top positions and could well have two full Budgets to deal with in July and Feb 2025.That’s because the Narendra Modi government has opted to post officers with long tenures in the finance ministry, which does not have fixed two-year terms for top officials like home or defence.
For revenue secretary Sanjay Malhotra and economic affairs secretary Ajay Seth too, this will be the third Budget. Malhotra’s first Budget was as financial services secretary in 2022.
Somanathan, who was part of Narendra Modi’s PMO, is the first among equals in the finance ministry with Pandey and Seth being his batchmates from the 1987 batch of IAS. The Tamil Nadu cadre officer is the man responsible for handling government spending and keeps it on a tight leash, seeking to ensure that wastage is reduced and plays by the rule book. At the same time, he believes in keeping the books clean and transparent, even if it means spending more to reduce off-Budget borrowings.
In the Budget, due to be presented on Thursday, all eyes will be on how the Modi government tackles the ticklish issue of ensuring that government employees aren’t worse off under the National Pension System than the old pension scheme. Besides, Somanathan’s inputs are seen to be critical in ensuring that the fiscal glide path is maintained despite what is likely to be higher pre-poll spending.
Seth will be leading the Budget division and will ensure that the numbers are in order. Seth and Somanathan have also focused on maintaining robust public spending post Covid. They have sought to ensure that ministries spend the money allocated for infrastructure projects.
Malhotra and Pandey are the two officers responsible for raising resources, but with elections round the corner, both will have to adopt a business-as-usual strategy until the full Budget is presented in July.
The focus for them and the Central Board of Direct Taxes and Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs will be to ensure that the current financial year’s targets are met.