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Third cabinet reshuffle by Narendra Modi bears leitmotif of NDA govt’s priorities

LiveMint logoLiveMint 03-09-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: The third cabinet expansion by Prime Minister Narendra Modi bears the leitmotif of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s priorities over the remaining months of its tenure.

With the 17th Lok Sabha elections due within the next two years, the task before the union cabinet is to focus on key issues such as reviving the slipping economic growth, creating jobs, triggering private sector investment, rebooting the farm economy, boosting infrastructure and managing India’s external security architecture.

Nirmala Sitharaman, elevated to the cabinet rank position, has been appointed as a full-time defence minister to help contain China’s belligerence, even as the foreign policy framework recalibrates its approach against the backdrop of the Doklam stand-off and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) reflects the new security paradigm.

With the elevation of ministers, the PM is sending a clear signal that performance will be rewarded.

Petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan has been elevated to the cabinet rank along with the new charge of the ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship. Pradhan’s additional remit will have to play an important role to address the challenge of creating jobs for a predominantly young population, with around 18 million people entering the workforce every year.

Also, Piyush Goyal has been made the new railways minister at a time when the national carrier is trying to improve its abysmal safety record. Goyal’s elevation in the cabinet follows his role in initiating key reforms to revamp the power sector. Goyal retains his coal ministry portfolio at a time when the fuel forms an integral part of the railway’s strategy to revive its freight revenue.

The much-awaited cabinet reshuffle today came in the backdrop of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government drawing flak over the demonetization of high-value currency notes and India’s economic growth slowing to 5.7% in the June quarter, the slowest pace in three years.

Keeping in mind the focus on delivery in its fourth and fifth year of tenure, the new faces inducted into the council of ministers include career bureaucrats such India’s former home secretary Raj Kumar Singh, Mumbai police commissioner Satya Pal Singh, Indian Foreign Service officer Hardeep Singh Puri and Delhi Development Authority commissioner Alphons Kannanthanam. They were inducted as ministers of state.

Raj Kumar Singh has given the independent charge of the ministries of power and new and renewable energy, Satya Pal Singh is the new minister of state in the ministries of human resource development; and water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation.

Puri has been given the independent charge of the ministry of housing and urban affairs, with Alphons Kannanthanam getting the independent charge of the tourism ministry and the minister of state in the electronics and information technology ministry.

Perceived to be a doer, Nitin Gadkari has also been made the minister of water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation. Apart from being the transportation and shipping minister, the new charge will help Gadkari towards the government’s ambitious inland waterways project.

The overarching theme of job creation becomes evident given the new ministers in charge of the three key ministries of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME), skills development and entrepreneurship and labour and employment. While Giriraj Singh got independent charge of MSME, Santosh Kumar Gangwar got independent charge of the critical ministry of labour and employment.

Suresh Prabhu has been accommodated as commerce and industry minister and Narendra Singh Tomar got back the charge of the mines ministry in addition to his current portfolio of rural development and panchayati raj.

The cabinet berth choices also reflect the Bharatiya Janata Party’s focus on poll bound states and the electoral arithmetics. While Satya Pal Singh (MoS in the ministries of human resource development; and water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation) and Shiv Pratap Shukla (MoS in the finance ministry) come from Uttar Pradesh, Raj Kumar Singh and Ashwini Kumar Choubey (MoS in the health and family welfare ministry) belong to Bihar--states that together elect 120 MPs to the Lok Sabha. Virendra Kumar (MoS in ministries of women and child development; and minority affairs) is from Madhya Pradesh, Anant Kumar Hegde (MoS in MSME) from Karnataka and Gajendra Singh Shekhawat (MoS in the agriculture and farmers welfare ministry) is from Rajasthan.

The agenda has already been drawn up by Prime Minister Modi who in his Independence Day speech asked the citizens to build a New India in the next five years where people will have access to basic facilities like housing, power and water.

Here is a look at the key priorities of the government:

Economy:

Reviving economic growth.

Achieving 19% gross tax revenue growth.

Rejuvenating investment demand by private sector, currently burdened with high debt and over-capacity.

Resolving Rs10 trillion of bad debts.

Effectively implementing regulatory reforms.

Taxing unaccounted wealth.

Jobs and education:

Given the lack of jobs, employment generation will be a priority area.

Skills mission needs to pick up pace to create a critical pool of efficient workforce.

With the government yet to form the new education policy (NEP), it will be a priority with the policy to serve as India’s education blueprint.

Connectivity:

Improving railway safety.

Increasing the pace of highway construction.

Port modernisation and construction of new ports under Sagarmala.

Improving flight connectivity under UDAN scheme.

Effectively managing Air India privatisation and its transition.

Defence and foreign policy:

Evolving strategic partnership defence models.

Armed forces’ reform and rapid modernisation of defence equipment.

Accelerate India’s economic diplomacy to bring in foreign investments in sectors such as infrastructure.

Stabilise and recalibrate ties with China after the 73 day military stand off on the Dokalam plateau in Bhutan.

Manage ties with Pakistan.

Health and sanitation:

Ensuring patient safety and affordable healthcare.

Reducing infant mortality.

Containing the spread of communicable diseases.

To make India clean and open defecation free by 2019.

Farmers and rural economy:

Improving farm income.

Managing the fall out of June-to-September south-west monsoon’ uneven geographical spread.

Housing for all in rural areas by March 2019.

Connecting rural habitations through all weather roads by 2019.

Green economy and energy:

Managing the fallout of record low wind and solar tariffs.

Setting national environment regulator and framing the national forest policy.

Containing the fallout of weakening environmental laws.

Expediting Ganga clean-up.

Doubling share of gas in the energy mix to 15%.

Integration of state-run oil companies to create state run behemoths.

Attracting investments into unexplored sedimentary basins.

Turning around loss-making state power distribution companies.

Achieving full electric mobility by 2030.

Digital:

Expanding $500 million digital economy to $1 trillion with push towards a less-cash economy.

Enforcing data protection laws and cyber security standards to ensure right to privacy of individuals.

Attracting mobile manufacturing companies and ramping up electronic goods production.

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