Nirmala Sitharaman made history by becoming India’s first full-time woman finance minister, succeeding Arun Jaitley and capping a meteoric rise in the decade since becoming a member of the BJP. Indira Gandhi had previously held the finance portfolio when she was prime minister. Sitharaman, who was defence minister in the previous Narendra Modi government, will also be in charge of corporate affairs, a portfolio she has held before.
She was soon reminded of the immediate task awaiting her — official data released on Friday showed GDP growth at a fiveyear low of 6.8% in the year ended March. There is growing concern about plummeting demand, lack of investment recovery and tepid employment generation, accentuated by the liquidity woes afflicting the nonbanking finance companies (NBFC) sector.
Sitharaman, 59, has a hectic six weeks ahead of her as she and her staff embark on preparing the first full budget of the new Modi government, to be presented on July 5, which is expected to announce measures to get the economy back on track as well as deliver on poll promises, along with tax cuts indicated in the interim budget. The budget will also be the government’s first big statement of vision, reflecting the scale of its ambitions for the next five years .
With GST revenues still stabilising and direct taxes collections remaining subdued, she will need to strike a balance on the fiscal deficit front even as spending pressure rises.
At the first Cabinet meeting on Friday, the government announced the extension of the PMKISAN income support scheme to all farmers. Much of industry’s hopes are riding on the minister’s economic agenda — India Inc expects the government to provide some stimulus to address growth concerns.
On her first day after taking charge, Sitharaman met all key officials in the ministry before heading for the Cabinet meeting chaired by PM Modi.
“After assuming charge, the minister was briefed on key initiatives and policy issues by the secretaries of the different departments of the ministry of finance and corporate affairs, and was apprised of the ongoing issues and forthcoming challenges facing the Indian economy, among others,” a statement said.
Sitharaman was also the first full-time woman defence minister. Before that, she was commerce minister and briefly the minister of state for finance. Sitharaman’s inclusion increases representation from the south — she hails from Tamil Nadu — besides making her one of the few women in the higher echelons of this government. She became a member of the BJP in 2008 and was one of its main spokespersons in the runup to the 2009 election.
A package of measures has already been readied by various ministries and departments, including the finance ministry, for implementation in the first 100 days of the government. These include steps to rev up private investment, asset monetisation and sales, and easing labour rules.
As defence minister, she is credited with expediting the decision-making process relating to procurements. She constituted a Defence Planning Committee to formulate an “action plan” to effectively overcome various security challenges facing the nation, the statement added.
Sitharaman met Jaitley before taking charge of the ministry. A Rajya Sabha member, Sitharaman is an economist by training and an alumnus of the Jawaharlal Nehru University and the London School of Economics.
The minister of state in the finance ministry, Anurag Thakur, also assumed charge on Friday.
Source : Economic Times