You have moved from the Department of Industries to the Department of Finance. How has your journey begun in the new assignment?
We had a fantastic beginning in the preparations for the 2024 Global Investors Meet. All our previous meetings with companies across the globe have started yielding results. And you can see investments flowing into Tamil Nadu.
Is it true that you were reluctant to take over as Finance Minister?
Actually it is not so; I was not reluctant. That I was reluctant is far from the truth. I am happy and thankful to the Chief Minister for having chosen me for this portfolio because this means a greater responsibility. And now I have to discharge my duties to the expectations of the Chief Minister. Of course, Finance is certainly new to me, but my experience in the Department of Industries and other departments will help me in the new role.
T. Udhayachandran, who served as the Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, has been shifted to the Finance Department as the Principal Secretary. Was this done at your request?
During the Hyundai MoU event last week, the Chief Minister clearly said the Cabinet reshuffle was done for administrative reasons. Likewise, the IAS officials were changed.
What are your priorities as the Finance Minister?
We will continue to work on improving the State’s finances and ensure the State is in a fiscally sound position. While implementing welfare schemes such as universal basic income, breakfast for school children and scholarship for girl students, we will drive up infrastructure spending. We will support sectors such as road and transport, metro rail and water supply. For example, Chennai Metro Rail Phase II is under implementation. We expect an annual expenditure of around ₹10,000 crore for the next few years. The expenditure on infrastructure should be at least twice what it is. We will strive to streamline revenue expenditure to create more space for capital expenditure. At the same time, we need investment from the private sector. Public-private partnership projects will be given priority. As announced in the Budget session of the Assembly, we are drafting a public-private partnership policy that would guide government agencies and encourage investors to take part in these projects.
How do you intend to take forward the State’s ambition of becoming a $1-trillion economy by 2030?
I will closely monitor and develop the road map for the target. My focus would be on an actionable plan with critical policy interventions, investment priorities and sector-specific plans. Boston Consulting Group is doing the study, which should be ready by the year-end.
How do you intend to integrate technology into your department?
The Integrated Financial and Human Resources Management System (IFHRMS) is implemented across the State, and many issues have been resolved. However, the system needs an upgrade. We will implement a major tech refresh, and I am targeting the end of this calendar year to complete the upgrade. Data analysis is a critical tool. The massive data that we get through the system would be analysed with a robust Business Intelligence tool. I have tasked our officials with preparing a dashboard to update data on the State’s finances and human resources on a real time basis. I hope to get this done in three months.
What is the update on the Sixth State Finance Commission’s recommendations?
The Commission has recommended major systemic reforms that need close monitoring. They include simplifying the mechanism for fund release to the local bodies, streamlining the audit of their accounts and strengthening their capacity with technology solutions. I will periodically review the implementation of the Cabinet decision by all the agencies.
The DMK promised in its Assembly election manifesto that it would restore the old pension scheme for State government employees. Would you be able to honour the promise, given its financial implications?
Our Chief Minister is more concerned about the welfare of the employees. Earlier this week, the dearness allowance for the government employees and pensioners was increased from 38% to 42%. With regard to the old pension scheme, the Government of India has appointed a committee. Various associations have made a representation to the government, which will take a call at the appropriate time.
The Chief Minister has ensured that the Archaeology portfolio is with you. You must be happy...
Archaeology is my passion. A lot of work needs to be done and I am happy to keep the portfolio. We have taken up important projects, and a lot of excavations are going on. One major project is the Porunai Museum in Tirunelveli. The other is the Chola Museum in Thanjavur. We are looking at more excavations and protection of monuments. Underwater exploration is going on [at Korkai] and we need to give it more importance. The department needs to be strengthened with more manpower and the right people. There has been a lot of public interest in archaeology.