Announcing he would be stepping down as Chief Economic Adviser, Arvind Subramanian Wednesday said he would be leaving the Finance Ministry soon though he had not yet finalised the date of his last day in office. The departure announcement comes eleven months before the end of his term in May 2019.
Subramanian cited “personal reasons” along with the expected arrival of his grandchild early-September as reasons to return to a life of research, writing, teaching and reflection.
He said the search for his successor will begin in next few days and the government should focus on competence, than origin, while making the choice. “Competence, competence, competence, that’s what the government believes in and that’s what the government should follow,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Union Minister Arun Jaitley said Subramanian will be leaving the Ministry after nearly four years because of “pressing family commitments” and return to the US.
“His reasons were personal but extremely important for him. He left me with no option but to agree with him,” Jaitley wrote on Facebook. “I know that his heart is very much here. I am sure he will keep sending advice and analysis wherever he is,” he said.
Asked whether he would be open to the idea of returning and working for the government in future, Subramanian said he is “always committed to serving the country”.
Declining to comment on the demonetisation exercise, the CEA said he would be going back to research to reflect on his experiences here, the internal challenges and also work on his book on economic development around the world. “All these things will be the focus of my research,” he said.
Subramanian said he and his team are working on “several things” and will share the results in next few days. They are working on several issues like minimum support price, long-term mechanism to deal with rise in crude oil prices, fiscal federalism especially in the wake of the second year of Goods and Services Tax (GST).
“You haven’t seen the end of me. My team and I are working on several things already. In the next month or two, I am incapable of putting up my feet and having nothing to do. I am incapable of doing that. There are things that we are working on what needs to be done to address some of the pressing challenges. We also have some ideas on fiscal federalism which we are working on,” he said.
On the one work he wanted fulfilled, Subramanian said, “One thing which I wish we could have done… there was a lot of demand for creating the office of CEA in a number of states, a number of chief ministers were keen to have something like this and I wish I had more bandwidth, time and energy to do this in the states as well. I hope it will happen going forward.”
Subramanian’s three-year term as CEA to the government was extended in September 2017. Over the last three years, he brought new ideas in public discourse such as the JAM-Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and Mobile-trinity. He was closely involved in drafting the Goods and Services Tax Act and had also authored the ‘Report on the Revenue Neutral Rate and Structure of Rates for the GST’ in December 2015.
He also advised the government on the resolution of banking sector distress. Also, he was quite vocal in his criticism of the RBI’s monetary policy stance last year, saying there was a “plausible alternative macroeconomic assessment”.
He also conducted the first online course on Indian economy for students and teachers across the country, along with launching the government’s online education platform ‘Swayam’.
Subramanian, an alumnus of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and the University of Oxford, had also pushed for higher spends by the government at a time when the private sector was reluctant to invest, and advocated the setting up of a state-owned asset reconstruction company to take care of the mounting bad loans problem. The office of the CEA had remained vacant for over a year after Raghuram Rajan was appointed RBI Governor in September 2013.