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The Garg affair

Reshuffle of bureaucrats on a whim by the government of the day is common. But the latest development in the corridors of power, where Subhash Chandra Garg sought voluntary retirement on the day he was shifted from his position as Secretary Finance to Secretary Power, has created a flutter.

Garg, who was due to retire on October 31, 2020, has downplayed the entire controversy saying he had discussed his intent to take VRS with the Prime Ministers’ Office on July 18 itself and applied for it on July 24.

Different theories have emerged on why he was shifted — Budget proposals, issues with the RBI and SEBI, issuance of sovereign bonds. “It is not a one-day decision. It is a build-up of many such incidents that has led to it,” said a senior politician. Buzz is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was also in the dark about paragraph 103 of the Budget Speech which said that the government would start raising a part of its gross external borrowing in foreign currencies.

This raises questions on whether Budget-making and other such important economic decisions are taken collectively or not? Are they not well-considered decisions? “Yes, it is not a decision of one individual. On the face of it, in this case, errors seem to have happened at two points — at the Finance Ministry and PMO levels. Officials did not brief properly,” said a senior politician.

“When you are Secretary Economic Affairs and Finance you also need to have sense of how much the political power centres can fathom and the implications of such decisions on the vote bank. In Garg’s case, the city of oranges (Nagpur) was also upset with some of his decisions,” said another senior politician. Nagpur is also the headquarters of the RSS. A lesson to be learnt from the current incident is that responsibility lies with the political powers as well as the bureaucracy. A bureaucrat also works as a guide, putting across the pros and cons of the decision to be taken. Bureaucracy needs to draw the red line for itself and also be politically savvy.

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