Another top adviser exits govt

There are too many departures from the Modi government's support team. Some members of the team who have held important positions or helped to formulate policies, especially in the economic field, have left their positions. This has given rise to a sense of unease and discomfort, though the decisions of these officials have been described as routine or prompted by reasons that have nothing to do with the government’s functioning. The latest to exit is Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian, who wants to return to the US to attend to pressing personal matters. Subramanian is the third high-profile official to quit, after Reserve Bank Governor Raghuram Rajan and Niti Aayog Vice-Chairman Arvind Panagariya. All of them are highly regarded economists, with impressive credentials in their areas, and so their decisions have raised questions about their relations with the government at institutional and personal levels.  

Subramanian has made important contributions during his tenure as adviser, especially in the evolution of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) system and the implementation of the Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile (JAM) combination as a tool to target subsidies. Some of his ideas were fruitfully incorporated in Union budgets. His reform of the Annual Economic Survey has received much attention. He changed it from a dour and boring report to a document of interesting ideas, proposals and observations. Some of his ideas, like the need to introduce a universal basic income or to put an end to subsidies for the economically better off sections, have given rise to debates and controversies. But he was frank and independent, like good advisers should be, and this was seen in his refusal to support or defend the government’s demonetisation decision of 2016. 

Subramanian has left when only a few months remain for his tenure to end. That has led to doubts whether there were reasons other than those given by him or Union minister Arun Jaitley, who made the announcement. The departure of the adviser is especially unsettling when the ministry needs him most. Jaitley is indisposed and  Piyush Goyal has been holding charge of this most important ministry for several weeks. There are important issues like inflation, fiscal deficit, rupee depreciation and oil prices that call for attention. There is a view that those who were seen to have hounded out Rajan have also succeeded in ensuring Subramanian’s exit, too; that people with a mind of their own cannot last long in this government. Sound economic management needs stability and continuity of policy and personnel, and that is why Subramanian’s decision to leave causes concern, coming after similar decisions by others. 

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Another top adviser exits govt

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