Former Finance Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg on Saturday said that one of the reasons he took voluntary retirement was because Union minister Nirmala Sitharaman insisted on his transfer from the ministry and that he did not wish to work anywhere else.

“Mrs. Sitaraman asked for and insisted on my transfer from the Ministry of Finance in June 2019 itself, within one month of her taking over as FM,” Garg wrote in a blog post.

He said that Sitharaman had a “different personality, knowledge endowment, skill-set and approach for economic policy issues” as well as for the officers working with her. “It became quite apparent very early that working with her was going to be quite difficult and it might not be conducive to undertaking necessary reforms for the attainment of the objective of building a $10 trillion economy of India,” he wrote.

Garg said that Sitharaman had joined the ministry with a “preconceived notion” about him. “She did not seem to have confidence in me,” the former finance secretary wrote. He added that not only their personal relationship had soured but their professional relationship also was not productive as well.

“She was not quite comfortable working with me as well. Serious difference also developed on some key issues like economic capital framework of RBI [Reserve Bank of India], package for dealing with problems of non-banks, resolution of non-banks, partial credit guarantee scheme, capitalisation of non-banks like IIFCL [India Infrastructure Finance Company Limited] and other financial entities and the like.”

— Former Finance Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg

Garg had in July 2019 formally sought voluntary retirement from his service after the government issued orders transferring him to the Ministry of Power. He said that then Additional Principal Secretary PK Mishra had offered him to choose any job in the government or outside the government in regulatory bodies. “Both of us agreed that the best course would be for me to make way for the new FM to ‘function smoothly’,” he said.

Garg also said that he had decided to take the voluntary retirement in June to work for economic reform agenda outside the government.

He said that another reason for quitting was the distracted economic policy from what was required to attain the stated goal of building a $10 trillion dollar economy by the early 2030s.

“The government did talk about making India a $5 trillion economy by 2024-25 after the elections and winning a great majority,” he said. “But the reform agenda and the investment plan for attaining the goal of $10 trillion economy articulated in the Interim Budget 2019-20 however, got side-tracked and was virtually forgotten.”

The former finance secretary further claimed the government had turned populist. He said that the government was making announcements aimed at pleasing specific constituencies as per its 100 days programme. “While the real economic reform agenda seemed like getting relegated to a side-show, the non-economic priorities started assuming primary space.” he claimed.

Although, Garg criticised Sitharaman, he praised former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his blog post. He said that Jaitley’s focus on broader policy matters and left the running of the departments and implementation of policies to the secretaries. “It was the best of the time personally and professionally to work with Shri Arun Jaitley,” he said.

“Shri Arun Jaitley, with whom I spent most of my time in the Ministry of Finance, was a mastermind with an uncanny ability to sift through massive amounts of information and government files to discover the pith and substance of the public policy issue involved. He also had right temperament and ability to forge consensus. By devising the most acceptable solutions and then engendering wider acceptance for the same, Shri Jaitley was able to get solutions for most divisive and intractable solutions accepted by all. The GST [Goods and Services Tax] reforms are a case in point.”

— Former Finance Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg