JAMMU, Feb 15: Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is likely to expand her Council of Ministry anytime this week to fill two vacancies, both of which belonged to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The expansion is likely to lead to reshuffle of some portfolios within the PDP while the position of its coalition partner, the BJP is expected to remain unchanged.
PDP MLA from Amirakadal in Srinagar district, Altaf Ahmad Bukhari, who was Works Minister in Mufti Mohammad Sayeed regime but was dropped by Mehbooba Mufti along with three other PDP Ministers, is all set to stage comeback in the Council of Ministry as a Cabinet Minister.
Official sources told the Excelsior that Mehbooba had in her meeting with Governor NN Vohra yesterday discussed the expansion of her Council of Ministry and sought the date on which Vohra would be available to administer oath of office and secrecy to the new Minister(s).
“If everything goes well, the Cabinet expansion could take place on February 17,” sources said.
While induction of Bukhari in the Ministry is almost certain, another PDP leader could make it to the Ministry as there were two vacancies and both of them belonged to the PDP.
One of the sections in the PDP is in favour of giving representation to the Chenab Valley (erstwhile Doda district) to strengthen the PDP base in that area, where the party has no MLA. Of six Assembly seats in erstwhile Doda district, BJP has 4 and Congress 2.
Moreover, PDP has only one Minister from Jammu region (Choudhary Zulfkar Ali, Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs Department) while it has given adequate representation to the Kashmir valley. However, possibility of the PDP taking another Minister from the Valley is also not ruled out.
Sources said induction of Altaf Bukhari was aimed at keeping an eye on by-election to Srinagar Lok Sabha seat shortly as party has lone Minister of State Asiea Naqash in the Council of Ministry from Srinagar district. Bukhari represents Amirakadal and was Works Minister in Mufti Sayeed led PDP-BJP Govern-ment. However, Bukhari along with Javed Mustafa Mir, then Revenue Minister and two Ministers of State Mohammad Ashraf Mir and Abdul Majid Padder were dropped by Mehbooba Mufti when she took over as the Chief Minister on April 4, 2016 after the death of her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
Sources, however, ruled out the return of Javed Mustafa Mir in the Cabinet.
The PDP wants to strengthen its base in Srinagar district, where party leader Tariq Hamid Karra, had resigned from the party and quit his Lok Sabha seat, leading to by-poll. With Karra now siding with the Congress, the PDP wants to put up a good show in the by-poll.
Sources, however, ruled out any exclusion from the Council of Ministry-either from the PDP or the BJP saying all 22 Ministers would continue.
“The BJP will be untouched in the expansion in the Council of Ministry as it has already completed its quota of 11 Ministries in the Council. It has eight Cabinet Ministers including Sajjad Lone of People’s Conference and three Ministers of State, one of them, Sunil Sharma with Independent Charge of Transport.
The PDP too has eight Cabinet Ministers and three Ministers of State including one, Farooq Andrabi, with Independent Charge of Haj and Auqaf.
Taking into account, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, total strength of the Ministry comes out at 23. Under Jammu and Kashmir laws, there can be maximum of 25 Ministers (20 per cent of the total strength of both Houses of Legislature). There are two vacancies in the Council of Ministry.
In Mufti Sayeed regime, PDP had 14 Ministers including the Chief Minister and BJP 11.
The BJP had dropped two Ministers (Sukhnandan Choudhary and Pawan Gupta, Independent) while switching over from Mufti Sayeed regime to the Government headed by Mehbooba Mufti. It had replaced them with Sham Choudhary and Ajay Nanda. However, the PDP had dropped four Ministers but inducted only two new faces (Zahoor Ahmad Mir and Farooq Ahmad Andrabi), keeping two vacancies for it.
Sources said the induction of one or two Ministers in the Council of Ministry would lead to change of some portfolios but the change would be confined to the PDP only and the portfolios of the BJP will remain unchanged.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has been holding additional charge of various Departments including Home, GAD, Planning, Tourism, Hospitality and Protocol, Estates, Civil Aviation, Information etc.
The portfolio of Works Department, then held by Altaf Bukhari, is presently with PDP veteran leader Abdul Rehman Veeri.