National

Chidambaram’s balance-sheet after 22 months at North Block

| Updated on: May 15, 2014
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Some hits, some misses, but lots of challenges

Thursday was like any other day for Nand Lal, though he reached 19, Safdurjung Road in Central Delhi slightly early to drive his saheb , Finance Minister P Chidambaram, once more to the iconic North Block, where he was set to bid farewell to the Finance Ministry after a 22-month stint in the UPA-II regime.

Nand Lal, a Government driver in the Finance Ministry, has been with Chidambaram for the past 10 years. The Minister trusts him so much that when he was appointed as Home Minister, he took Nand Lal with him.

Now, as Chidambaram is leaving North Block, Nand Lal says it will be hard to find such a punctual man. He never kept me waiting for more than five minutes, and best thing is that he does not end the day very late, he says.

Chidambaram’s other support staff was also happy with him because unlike his predecessor he usually did not sit late in office. They say he was a workaholic who believed in utilising each minute efficiently. Even on Thursday, Chidambaram arrived in the Finance Ministry around 8.30 am and left around 11.30 am.

In these three hours, he held several meetings, including with all financial advisors. He met senior officials of all the departments in separate groups, thanked them and bid goodbye.

Finally, he attended a tea party hosted by the secretaries and left for the airport to take a flight to Chennai to be present in his constituency Sivaganga, when the poll results are announced. Though, he did not contest this time, his son Karti is the Congress candidate from Sivaganga, from where Chidambaram has been elected seven times.

Known for his 1996-98 ‘Dream Budget’ when income tax rates were lowered significantly, Chidambaram was the natural choice for the Finance Minister when Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came to power for the first time in 2004. However, in 2008, he was shifted to the Home Ministry, where he continued even after UPA regained power in 2009.

But Chidambaram was brought back to the Finance Ministry in 2012, when Pranab Mukherjee was elected President of India. Since then, it has been a real challenging time for him. He had to control the twin deficits – fiscal and current account – work overtime to check rupee volatility, which touched all-time low of ₹68.80/dollar in August last.

However, Chidambaram also faced brickbats on a number of fronts.

Some economists have criticised him for cutting Plan or development expenditure drastically to keep the fiscal deficit at 4.9 per cent in 2012-13 against the budgeted level of 5.1 per cent and 4.6 per cent in 2013-14, against the Budget estimate of 4.8 per cent.

He could not do much on the growth front as the GDP dipped to a decade low of 4.5 per cent in 2012-13, as also on reducing tax-related litigations, especially from multinational companies.

But the consensus is that he managed to bring stability in the economy and build a platform for faster investment clearances and easier norms for foreign investors, which will help the next Government achieve higher growth.

Published on May 15, 2014

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