Seven challenges before Nirmala Sitharaman, India's new finance minister

The ex-defence minister inherits a fractured economy and could be staring at the worst slowdown in 5 years.

Modi Cabinet 2.0: Shah gets Home, Rajnath Defence, Nirmala first woman Finance Minister
Narendra Modi picked Nirmala Sitharaman as the person to steer India's next course of reforms. The former defence minister inherits a fractured economy and is probably staring at a slowdown which could be the worst in five years.

The 59-year-old former JNU student, Nirmala Sitharaman rose in the ranks of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and became the first full-time woman defence minister of India in Modi govt's first tenure. Before that she handled the Minister of State portfolio in the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Corporate Affairs and Minister of State (Independent charge) of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. She also served as Member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament, since 2016.

Sitharaman had joined the BJP in 2006, when Nitin Gadkari was the party chief, and she went on to become the national spokesperson of the party. During PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee's tenure in 2003, she became a member of National Women for Commission and continued till 2005.


Sitharaman will have her hands full, taking off from where Arun Jaitley left. Here's what she will be tackling in her tenure.


1] GET THE ECONOMY MOVING AGAIN
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2] ADDRESS FINANCIAL SECTOR TROUBLES
Another round of capital infusion to put NPA issues behind.

Special window for NBFCs to tide over liquidity crisis.

3] CREATE JOBS
8.1 million new jobs needed every year in India, according to the World Bank.

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4] GET PRIVATE INVESTMENTS FLOWING
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5] ADDRESS WEAKNESS IN EXPORTS
India is vulnerable to crude price shocks.

This spills over as high CAD and currency weakness, high inflation.
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6] RURAL STRESS DUE TO LOW GROWTH & SOFT PRICES
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7] RAISE PUBLIC INVESTMENT WITHOUT COMPROMISING FISCAL PRUDENCE
Higher welfare spending will be a drag on govt finances.

Govt will need to find resources to solve this imbalance.

This could impact capital budget of the govt.
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SECTORAL AGENDA Reforms that the new government could address,

TAXATION
GST 2.0 with fewer rate slabs.

Bring excluded items under GST, ease compliance.

New direct taxes code.

Cut corporate tax rate, remove exemptions.

OIL, GAS & COAL
Lift declining domestic oil output to reverse rising import dependence.

Policy reforms to attract oil majors to upstream sector.
Auction of coal blocks for private commercial mining to raise production.

TELECOM
Review of taxes/fees in sector to make it more viable..

Push investment in broadband infrastructure.

Revival of BSNL, MTNL.

Infrastructure status for communication systems to enable low-cost financing.

STARTUPS
Permanent solution for angel tax issue.
Differential voting rights to allow entrepreneurs to retain control.

Relax financial thresholds to allow easier listing of startups.

Equitable ecommerce policy, level playing field.

ROADS, HIGHWAYS & SHIPPING
Spur private investment, strengthen PPP model.

Asset sale to raise funds.

Privatisation of ports and river-linking projects.

Development of inland waterways.

LABOUR
Collation of job data on realtime basis..

Consolidation of 44 labour laws in four labour codes.

Greater incentives to employers to create more formal jobs.

SKILLS
Unify education & skilling; set up regulator to monitor skilling programme.

Incentivise employers to offer apprenticeships.

Reskill existing workforce to meet industry demands.
CORPORATE AFFAIRS
Fine tune Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code.

Revamp LLP framework.

Ease compliance for companies.

Give more teeth to SFIO.

RURAL DEVELOPMENT
Housing for all by 2022.

Make rural livelihood mission more effective.
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Boost rural road network.
RAILWAYS
Free up fare setting.

Private sector participation.

More bullet train corridors.

BANKING AND FINANCE
PSU bank consolidation, capital infusion.
Provide liquidity to NBFCs.

Strengthen the bankruptcy law for faster resolution.

More credit to agriculture/MSMEs.

RENEWABLES
Give renewable power priority, ensure viability.

Infrastructure for evacuation of renewable energy and timely payment.

Address equipment supply issues; dependence on China.

MARKETSLowering transactional expenses, both STT and capital gains tax levied.

Ease overseas investment norms, reduce compliance.

AGRICULTURE
Double farmers’ incomes; remunerative prices.

Development of irrigation facilities Agri-marketing infrastructure development.

DBT for fertilizer; warehouse, silo creation.

COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY
Raise exports to reduce trade deficit.

Ease access to credit for exporters.

Boost Make in India.

Improve ease of doing business in the country.

Further easing of foreign investment rules.


Meet the men and women who will run India for the next 5 years
1/20
PM Modi's new cabinet is in. These are the men and women who will matter to you for the next five years.
PM Modi's new cabinet is in. These are the men and women who will matter to you for the next five years.
Experience: 1 Rajya Sabha Term
Outgoing: Rajnath Singh

From a polling booth in-charge to heading the world’s largest political party to cabinet minister, the journey of BJP president Amit Anilchandra Shah has been stupendous to say the least.

For 14 years in Gujarat, Shah was the most trusted lieutenant of then CM Narendra Modi. His career suffered a brief setback in 2010, when he, as the MoS home of Gujarat, was arrested in the Sohrabuddin Shaikh and Tulsiram Prajapati encounter cases. He was granted bail on the condition that he would stay away from Gujarat. But Shah used his time in Delhi to not just sort out his legal problems but also understand the nitty-gritty of national politics.

Immediately after the 2014 LS polls, Shah was elevated to BJP president. Incidentally, Shah honed his political skills in his home state Gujarat, where he started as a booth manager in the Gandhinagar constituency – the seat which he won this year with a record margin of 5.57 lakh votes. When he’s not busy with politics, Shah likes playing chess and watching theatre. He also likes to learn new languages.
Experience: 1 Rajya Sabha Term Outgoing: Rajnath Singh From a polling booth in-charge to heading the world’s largest political party to cabinet minister, the journey of BJP president Amit Anilchandr..
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Experience: 2 Lok Sabha, 2 Rajya Sabha Terms
Outgoing minister: Nirmala Sitaraman

A seasoned politician of many decades and former party president, Rajnath Singh was instrumental in pitching for Narendra Modi as prime minister, as mandated by the RSS. In the last government, he was an efficient home minister who kept a low profile. He implemented the party’s tough line on terror, asking security agencies to act impartially on intelligence inputs. He also adopted a policy of rehabilitation for individuals who might have been radicalised, but had not yet committed a crime and were open to reconsidering their choices.

As a former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, his presence will balance caste and regional equations in the top levels of government. He has experience as a political manager, having been drafted in to seal alliances and sort out inner-party crises in the past.
Experience: 2 Lok Sabha, 2 Rajya Sabha Terms Outgoing minister: Nirmala Sitaraman A seasoned politician of many decades and former party president, Rajnath Singh was instrumental in pitching for Nar..
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Experience: 2 Rajya Sabha Terms
Outoing Minister: Arun Jaitley

The last five years have seen a meteoric rise of this former JNU student, who joined the BJP just over a decade ago. She was nominated as party spokesperson in 2010. Under the government led by AB Vajpayee, she served as a member of the NCW 2003 till 2005.

The two time Rajya Sabha member started out in May 2014 as an unsure minister of state with independent charge of commerce and industry. In September 2017, she went on to become India’s first full-time woman defence minister and a member of the hallowed cabinet committee on security.

As the ‘Raksha Mantri’, Sitharaman took some time to find her feet in the complex defence ministry, and the overwhelmingly male dominated environs of the armed forces, with all its national security challenges. It was, of course, not easy to follow heavy-weight predecessors like Pranab Mukherjee, A K Antony, Arun Jaitley and Manohar Parrikar.

She was also confronted with the tough task of countering Congress’ charge of crony capitalism in the Rs 59,000-crore Rafale deal, inked during Parrikar’s tenure. She vigourously defended the government’s stand on the defence deal. There was persistent talk she was kept out of the loop on major decisions, like the pre-dawn air strikes on the JeM facility in Balakot. But the earnest minister, who rarely smiles, did not let go. She retains PM Modi’s trust.
Experience: 2 Rajya Sabha Terms Outoing Minister: Arun Jaitley The last five years have seen a meteoric rise of this former JNU student, who joined the BJP just over a decade ago. She was nominated ..
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Experience: No Parliamentary Experience
Outgoing: Sushma Swaraj

Former foreign secretary S Jaishankar’s induction in the Modi government as an MoS is hardly a surprise to foreign policy wonks. Jaishankar, son of the strategic affairs expert K Subrahmanyam, has been Modi’s go-to man on foreign policy since his Gujarat CM days. Jaishankar was then India’s ambassador to China, and the two met whenever Modi visited. In January 2015, Jaishankar was days away from his retirement when he was dramatically made foreign secretary by Modi. As foreign secretary, Jaishankar worked the back channels to end the India-China standoff at Doklam. His tenure as FS was later extended by a year. Jaishankar joined the Tata group three months after his retirement and after the “cooling-off period’’ of a year for bureaucrats was waived off by the government in his case.

An IFS officer from the 1977 batch, he served as India’s ambassador to the US, China Singapore and Czech Republic. He also led the negotiations for the India-US nuclear deal between 2004 and 2008.
Experience: No Parliamentary Experience Outgoing: Sushma Swaraj Former foreign secretary S Jaishankar’s induction in the Modi government as an MoS is hardly a surprise to foreign policy wonks. Jaish..
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Outgoing: Suresh Prabhu

Chartered accountant-turned-politician Piyush Goyal was in charge of some of the top portfolios in the Modi government. Goyal seems to have been the BJP government’s SOS minister. He twice stepped in for ailing colleague Arun Jaitley as finance and corporate affairs minister. As power minister, Goyal launched some of the administration’s marquee schemes aimed at reviving the sector and has led the new and renewable energy drive in the country. Goyal also launched the UJALA scheme aimed at distribution of energy-efficient LED bulbs.

Experience:
1. Minister for finance and corporate affairs (May-Aug 2018; Jan-Feb 2019)

2. Minister for railways (Sept 2017-19)

3. Minister for mines (July 2016-Sept 2017)

4. Minister for power, coal and new and renewable energy (May 2014-Sept 2017)

5. National treasurer, BJP (March 2010-May 2014)

Outgoing: Suresh Prabhu Chartered accountant-turned-politician Piyush Goyal was in charge of some of the top portfolios in the Modi government. Goyal seems to have been the BJP government’s SOS ..
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Outgoing: Maneka Gandhi

From Miss India contestant to soap opera star to giant slayer, Smriti Irani’s career has not had a dull moment. Irani captured India’s imagination as ‘Tulsi’ in one of the most successful running soaps of all time. In 2004, when most would have been thinking of graduating to a film career, Irani chose politics running an unsuccessful but feisty campaign against Kapil Sibal from Chandni Chowk. In a nod to her fighting spirit, Irani was made Rajya Sabha member in 2011, and held several positions in parliamentary committees till 2014 when she challenged Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Amethi. She lost the poll battle but won a cabinet position in the Modi government.

Controversies though were not far behind (least of which were her “fake” educational qualification), and soon she was divested of the ‘sensitive’ HRD portfolio to I&B ministry. There, too, a controversial proposal to reign in ‘fake news’ placed the government in crisis that could only be defused after the notification was withdrawn. She appeared to have lost favour and moved to textiles but her dogged campaign against the ‘lapata saansad’ (read Rahul Gandhi) which led to a shock victory in the Gandhi pocket borough of Amethi has cemented her political career.
Outgoing: Maneka Gandhi From Miss India contestant to soap opera star to giant slayer, Smriti Irani’s career has not had a dull moment. Irani captured India’s imagination as ‘Tulsi’ in one of the mo..
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Hardeep Singh Puri, 67 (BJP Rajya Sabha MP, UP): A career diplomat, Puri joined BJP in 2014 and took charge of the ministry of housing and urban affairs in 2017. He was elected as a Rajya Sabha member from Uttar Pradesh in 2018. A 1974 batch IFS officer, Puri has been a vocal critic of the Arvind Kejriwalled AAP government in Delhi over issues related to Delhi Metro projects and fare hikes.

Experience:

1. MoS (independent charge) of housing & urban affairs (2017-2019)

2. Permanent representative of India to the UN (2009-2013)

3. Secretary in ministry of external affairs (2009 to 2013)

Hardeep Singh Puri, 67 (BJP Rajya Sabha MP, UP): A career diplomat, Puri joined BJP in 2014 and took charge of the ministry of housing and urban affairs in 2017. He was elected as a Rajya Sabha mem..
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Experience: 1 Lok Sabha Term

Gadkari earned his spurs as PWD minister in Maharashtra by delivering the Mumbai-Pune expressway and 55 flyovers in Mumbai, earning him sobriquets like ‘bridge bhushan’ and ‘flyover man’.

However, Gadkari’s straight-shooting often gives rise to controversies. Last year, he said the government would not give the Navy an inch of land for housing in South Mumbai. Or even more embarrassing, he said it was wrong to call fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya a thief after one loan default. In the last few months, he made several cryptic comments that were seen as barbs at the leadership.

All that seems water under the bridge now, and the RSS favourite is once again in the driver’s seat. After all, not only does he have a strong record as union minister for road transport and shipping, he has also been BJP’s trouble shooter in Goa, sorting out the political chaos that ensued after the death of Manohar Parrikar. This wasn’t the first time Gadkari was asked to pitch in. In 2017, when BJP failed to get a majority in the Goa Assembly polls, Gadkari had flown to the state to help the party cobble up an alliance with smaller partners, after which a government was formed under Parrikar’s leadership.
Experience: 1 Lok Sabha Term Gadkari earned his spurs as PWD minister in Maharashtra by delivering the Mumbai-Pune expressway and 55 flyovers in Mumbai, earning him sobriquets like ‘bridge bhushan’ ..
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Pradhan’s stint as petroleum minister was marked by policy reforms and a successful attempt at taking clean cooking gas to the masses. Access to cooking gas expanded to more than 94% of the country’s households from 56% five years ago. Deregulation of diesel reignited interest from private and foreign companies in the fuel retailing business and helped cut fuel subsidies. A gas pipeline that will take gas to much of eastern India is nearing completion while a record number of city gas licences have been distributed. Pradhan’s unfinished agenda includes getting more foreign and private players to enter the upstream business, building a gas grid and developing a domestic gas market.

Experience:

1. Minister for petroleum and natural gas (2014-19)

2. Minister for skill development and entrepreneurship (Sept 2017-2019)

3. BJP national general secretary (since 2010)

Pradhan’s stint as petroleum minister was marked by policy reforms and a successful attempt at taking clean cooking gas to the masses. Access to cooking gas expanded to more than 94% of the country..
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