Business Today

India hunts for next Chief Economic Adviser, but big names are not really interested

Although the names of several economists, including Rathin Roy, Sanjeev Sanyal, Nagesh Kumar, and Surjit Bhalla, are doing the rounds, none of them has thrown hat in the ring yet.

twitter-logo Anilesh S Mahajan   New Delhi     Last Updated: July 16, 2018  | 00:00 IST
India hunts for next Chief Economic Adviser, but big names are not really interested

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government have begun the search for the country's next Chief Economic Adviser, or CEA, but the big names are playing hard to get. Nearly a fortnight after the invitation for applications, the Ministry of Finance hasn't got an encouraging response.

Although the names of several economists, including Rathin Roy, Sanjeev Sanyal, Nagesh Kumar and Surjit Bhalla are doing the rounds, none of them have thrown their hat in the ring yet. The Department of Economic Affairs, under the aegis of the Finance Ministry, on June 30 announced the vacancy with an advertisement. It's a break from the tradition of picking candidates after internal discussions.

Business Today spoke to top economists, in India and abroad, to check their interest in the job and found they were not particularly enthusiastic. Almost all of them agreed that the minimum qualification of a postgraduate degree, and not a doctorate, was undesirable. A doctorate degree and research papers are seen as important but not essential requirements for the position. The CEA is expected to dig deep into his subject and give inputs to the political leadership. "You can hire a foreign-trained or an Indian economist but seeking just a postgraduate is not appropriate," says a top economist believed to be in the reckoning.

These economists are also evaluating the risk of not getting selected after applying. "At this stage of our career, we may want to work for the country but there will be a huge reputation risk of losing out," another economist said. This is the last year of the NDA regime and there will be an interim budget -- it doesn't require presentation of the Economic Survey and there is little time to influence policymaking in a big way. "This makes the risk, riskier," the same economist added.

The Finance Ministry is believed to be considering working bureaucrats and technocrats instead of internationally reputed names for the role. That's because those with international experience, the government appointed in the past, faced criticism for not understanding India's ground reality. Kaushik Basu was the World Bank's Chief Economist earlier while Raghuram Rajan and Arvind Subramanian were both with the IMF. Also, Subramanian worked at Peterson Institute for International Economics at Washington DC.

The ideological parent of the BJP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates are against bringing economists with education and work experience abroad.

But, top officials in the government say they are talking to many economists. But will the big names send in their applications without the government assuring them they will be appointed? We'll have to wait and watch. July 20, the deadline for applying, is not far away.

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