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FinMin denies reports about CEA Arvind Subramanian’s resignation

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The finance ministry on Thursday dismissed reports that Chief Economic Adviser (CEA) Arvind Subramanian has resigned.

There is speculation that Subramanian may be given an extension, making his tenure co-terminus with the current term of the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government till 2019.

Subramanian was appointed on October 16, 2014 for three years as the CEA, a post that had been lying vacant since September 2013 after Raghuram Rajan took over as the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor.

Over the last three years, Subramanian has assumed the role of the main go-to person for advice for finance minister Arun Jaitley on macro-economic matters and has been the principal author of the annual Economic Surveys.

He also authored the highly acclaimed “Report on the Revenue Neutral Rate and Structure of Rates for the Goods and Services Tax (GST)” in December 2015, which laid down the broad contours for implementing GST in India from July 1, 2017.

Subramanian has used the Economic Survey to recommended policy changes, sometimes even sweeping measures. This year, for instance, the survey recommended the rollout of Universal Basic Income (UBI), a poverty alleviation plan involving direct money transfer to people’s bank accounts.

In 2015, he introduced the phrase ‘JAM’—Jan Dhan, Aadhaar, Mobile—to the Indian policy lexicon. The ‘JAM agenda’ refers to the potential of largescale, technology-enabled, real-time cash transfers to improve the economic lives of the poor, and raise efficiency by reducing leakages and market distortions. Over the past two years much progress has been made in spreading JAM across India’s economy, also because of the push towards digital payments following demonetisation.

In 2016, the Economic Survey constructed an index to measure states’ preparedness to implement two varieties of JAM programmes: direct benefit transfer (DBT) and BAPU—Biometrically Authenticated Physical Uptake. BAPU differs from DBT in that there is no transfer of money. Beneficiaries simply authenticate their identities and physically collect benefits or subsidised goods as they do presently.

He also brought in a changed structure in the Economic Survey, presenting it in two parts. The Survey’s first part was tabled in the last of week of January following the budget’s advancement by a month, prompting a modification to a new construct of two volumes presented nearly six months apart.

The second volume was presented in August. This is a departure from the past where the survey, often described the government’s official economic report card, came as a single volume divided into two parts—commentary and outlook in the first, and statistics in the second.

Subramanian, whom the Foreign Policy magazine had named him as one of the world's top 100 global thinkers in 2011,  has also been ranked amongst the top 1 per cent of the world's academic economists in terms of citation of research, according to the widely used REPEC rankings. He has studied at St. Stephens College, Delhi; the Indian Institute of Management at Ahmedabad, India; and University of Oxford.