JAMMU, Feb 17: Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti today expanded her ten and half month old Cabinet by inducting PDP MLA from Amirakadal, Syed Altaf Bukhari as the Cabinet Minister and subsequently carrying out reshuffle of the portfolios involving five Cabinet Ministers of her party, leaving the coalition partners, the BJP, untouched.
Governor NN Vohra administered oath of office and secrecy to Bukhari in the lawns of Raj Bhavan here at 12.30 pm in simple and brief ceremony that just lasted three minutes. Bukhari, who was later assigned the charge of Education Department, staged comeback in the PDP-BJP coalition Government after he was dropped by Mehbooba when she took over affairs of the State on April 4, 2016 after the death of her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Altaf was Works Minister in Mufti Sayeed dispensation.
Mehbooba, carried out reshuffle in the portfolios of five Cabinet Ministers of the PDP after including Altaf Bukhari in the Cabinet. His inclusion has taken the strength of Council of Ministry to 24—13 from the PDP including the Chief Minister, nine Cabinet Ministers and three Ministers of State, one of them with Independent Charge while BJP has 11 berths in the Ministry including eight in the rank of Cabinet and three Ministers of State, one of them with the Independent Charge.
The Chief Minister left one vacancy in the Council of Ministry, which belonged to the PDP as BJP has exhausted its quota of 11 as per the power sharing agreement between the two coalition partners. BJP’s tally of 11 included Social Welfare Minister Sajjad Ghani Lone, a People’s Conference leader and an ally of the BJP.
Altaf Bukhari, who was Works Minister in Mufti Mohammad Sayeed led PDP-BJP coalition Government but was dropped by Mehbooba Mufti along with three others, got Education portfolio, which was held by another veteran PDP leader Naeem Akhter.
The Chief Minister has assigned the charge of Public Works Department to Naeem Akhter, which was with four-time MLA and PDP’s senior leader Abdul Rehman Veeri, who will be Incharge of Revenue, Relief, Rehabilitation, Disaster Management & Re-construction apart from Parliamentary Affairs, whose charge he was holding earlier also.
Basharat Bukhari, who was holding the charge of Revenue, Relief, Rehabilitation and Re-construction, will now be the Minister for Horticulture.
The charge of Horticulture was lying with the Chief Minister. While giving up the charge of Horticulture to Bukhari, Mehbooba has taken Culture Ministry from Finance Minister Dr Haseeb Drabu, who now will be the Minister for Finance, Labour and Employment.
Mehbooba now holds the charge of Home, GAD, Planning, Tourism, Information, Civil Aviation, Hospitality & Protocol, Culture and any other department, which hasn’t been assigned to any Cabinet Minister.
The portfolios of rest of the PDP Ministers and all BJP Ministers remained unchanged. The reshuffle of portfolios as well as expansion in the Ministry was confined to the PDP, which has been a major partner in the PDP-BJP coalition Government.
With the induction of Altaf Bukhari in the Cabinet, the PDP has the Chief Minister and nine Cabinet Ministers as against BJP’s eight (including Sajjad Lone). The two parties shared three each posts in the Ministers of State. The lone vacancy in the Council of Ministry also belongs to the PDP.
As per the power sharing agreement between the two, PDP will have 14 Ministerial berths (including the Chief Minister) and BJP 11 (including Sajjad Lone). PDP has 28 MLAs while BJP has 25. People’s Conference of Sajjad Lone, an ally of the BJP, has two MLAs.
Earlier, Altaf Bukhari was administered the oath of office and secrecy by the Governor in sprawling lawns of Raj Bhawan at 12:30 pm in the brief ceremony that lasted just three minutes in the presence of the Chief Minister, Speaker Kavinder Gupta, Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh and majority of members of the Council of Ministry. Ruling PDP and BJP legislators were also present in strength at the swearing-in ceremony of Bukhari, which was given a miss by the Congress, the second largest Opposition party after the National Conference.
No legislator or senior leader of the Congress attended the swearing-in ceremony. However, National Confere-nce senior leaders including Mohammad Shafi Uri, Devender Singh Rana, Javed Rana and Kamal Arora, all MLAs were present. Several senior bureaucrats including Chief Secretary BR Sharma, State Vigilance Commissioner Kuldeep Khoda and Chief Electoral Officer Shantmanu also attended the swearing-in ceremony among others.
Bukhari took the oath in English and swore on the name of Allah.
Bukhari’s re-induction in the Cabinet comes just days ahead of by-election to Srinagar and Anantnag Lok Sabha seats. Bukhari represents Amirakadal Assembly segment of Srinagar district. The election of both the Lok Sabha seats was going to be very crucial for the PDP in the aftermath of party MP from Srinagar Tariq Hamid Karra quitting the party as well as his Lok Sabha membership, leading to the by-election.
Mehbooba preferred to keep one vacancy in the Council of Ministry though there were many aspirants for the Ministerial berth.
As per Jammu and Kashmir laws, there can be maximum of 25 Ministers (20 per cent of the total strength of both Houses of Legislature). In Parliament and other State Assemblies, the strength of the Council of Ministry has been confined to 15 per cent of the total strength of the Lok Sabha or the Assembly.
She had dropped four PDP Ministers, who were part of the Council of Ministry headed by Mufti Sayeed, while taking over as the Chief Minister on April 4, 2016. The dropped Ministers included Altaf Bukhari and Javed Mustafa Mir (both in the Cabinet rank), Mohammad Ashraf Mir and Abdul Majeed Padder (both Ministers of State).