After seeking early retirement from the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Subhash Chandra Garg on Friday said his proposal for voluntary retirement was discussed with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on 18 July, much before his transfer orders were issued on 24 July.
After assuming charge of power secretary on 26 July Garg said, “The proposal to take VRS was discussed with the PMO on 18 July much before the orders came. It has no connection with the orders.”
Garg, a 1983 IAS officer from the Rajasthan cadre was removed as finance and economic affairs secretary and was transferred to the power ministry as its top bureaucrat. Garg’s transfer was part of a major bureaucratic reshuffle late on Wednesday. He was replaced by department of investment and public asset management secretary Atanu Chakraborty, a 1985 batch Gujarat cadre IAS officer.
Garg formally applied for VRS on 24 July. His application has gone to his parent state Rajasthan for further processing. He is expected to serve as India’s power secretary for the next three months during the notice period.
He declined to explain his reasons for opting for VRS.
Garg took over as department of economic affairs secretary in 2017 and became the finance secretary in March this year. He is believed to be the architect of the budget proposal to raise $10 billion by selling sovereign bonds overseas for the first time, a move that has faced severe criticism from several experts, including former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan.
“All positions of secretaries (to the Government of India) are equal,” Garg said.
He also negated any possibility of “reconsidering” his decision and said that the sovereign bonds issue was a “well considered decision” with “enormous benefits.” He added that that till the time he was the finance and economic affairs secretary there was no opposition of adverse comment on the plan from within the government.
On the media reports about the probable causes of his departure Garg declined comment and said, “What you hear from different sources, I can’t comment.”
Garg had also joined issues with other members of the Bimal Jalan committee, set up to decide RBI’s economic capital framework, and had submitted a dissent note to the panel. Over the past year, Garg had differences with top central bank officials, including former governor Urjit Patel and his deputy Viral Acharya over the central bank’s autonomy.
Commenting upon the Bimal Jalan committee issue, Garg said that the deliberations were still on and the committee still hasn’t reached its conclusion. He added that that the new government representative will have to take a call on the same.
Garg said that the dream of a $10 trillion economy by 2030 and $5 trillion by 2024-25 articulated by the government can’t be achieved unless the power sector performs. He added that the ease of living can’t be improved in the absence of electricity.
“I am very grateful and perfectly happy to be here,” Garg said and added that he will try to do as much as possible during his term for reforming the sector and improving electricity distribution.
Garg has taken over responsibilities at the critical infrastructure ministry amid a crisis faced by distribution companies due to their poor financial health, leading to delays in payments to power generation utilities.
Garg added that the public sector solutions for Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana (UDAY) targeted at turning around debt-ridden state power distribution companies hasn’t worked and the need now is to look at the private sector for the same. Due to the limited impact of UDAY, the centre is working on UDAY II, wherein greater emphasis will be placed on technology for reducing theft and improving metering, billing and collections.
Garg outlined his agenda for the power sector and said that he will focus on electricity distribution reforms, finances of the power sector, generation, questioning of the power purchase agreements (PPAs).