Hasmukh Adhia: The man who changed the way we do business
Five months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi moved to Delhi in 2014, another workaholic from Gujarat moved to the capital. Like Modi, he too had earlier served a barely noticeable stint in Delhi — as a director in the department of industrial policy and promotion. And like Modi, he was known to be intolerant of corruption and slacking. In just forty months, Hasmukh Adhia, now finance secretary, has helped the government rewrite the country’s economic history.
He has received his share of criticism for the way GST was implemented and the paltry amount of black money recovered. Yet, he is quick to acknowledge mistakes and rectify them. “Is it bad to respond to difficulties being faced and make suitable changes? It’s better to be flexible and give immediate relief to people,” he had told TOI in an interview in October, when GST was facing maximum criticism.
It’s this same flexibility and firmness that came in handy when the Gujarat-cadre IAS officer and Lutyens’ outsider took over as financial services secretary three years ago.
Almost immediately, he asked bank chiefs to stop making unnecessary visits to the Capital and wasting time in the finance ministry. Two months later, Adhia organised a first-of-its kind offsite, Gyan Sangam, a platform that Modi used to tell the country’s top bankers that there will be no interference in business decisions. The sentiment percolated to the department of financial services — known for pushing not just transfers but even loans. A notice was put up requesting visitors to stop seeking such favours.
Based on the inputs from Gyan Sangam, the government rolled out Indradhanush, a package to revitalise public sector lenders through a revamped HR policy and capital infusion. Though a step in the right direction, it’s clear two years later that it wasn’t enough to tackle the problem of huge non-performing assets.
Meanwhile, Adhia moved to the revenue department, where he really came into his own, negotiating revamped tax treaties with Mauritius, Cyprus and Singapore, which the government believed were being misused.
Then, of course, came bigger tasks like the launch of GST. His work may be high profile but the gold medallist from IIM-Bangalore who has a PhD in yoga is not. He is never seen at dinners, other than official functions. The disciplined 59-year-old usually hits the sack by 9.30-10pm and is an early riser. By 7 in the morning he is done with yoga and gym. He manages to find time to follow his other pursuits, including writing for TOI’s Speaking Tree, where he has contributed regularly for several years now.
But his no-nonsense approach hasn’t gone down well with many in the revenue service, some of whom had complained of undue interference. At one point there was revolt of sorts after Adhia sought action against officials who forced companies to cough up higher taxes to meet their targets.
But he does believe in running a tight ship. Whether it is participating in video-conferences to push tax collection or reworking the strategy amid complaints over GST implementation, the seniormost bureaucrat in the finance ministry believes in being in the thick of action.
Adhia carries the same approach even at GST Council meetings, which are attended by state finance ministers apart from his boss, Arun Jaitley. Chasing a short deadline at a meeting of the Council in Srinagar in May, he got ministers to finalise the rates, often interrupting and steering discussions in the right direction.
Having been Modi’s principal secretary during his days as Gujarat chief minister, Adhia is seen to be one of the most powerful bureaucrats in the current regime. Many say that he shares a personal rapport with the PM that goes beyond someone who ran his secretariat.
The buzz is that 2018 will see him get an even more prominent role in the Modi administration.