Cabinet strength goes up to 21, MoS down to 4
JAMMU, Apr 30: Eight Ministers today took oath, seven in Cabinet rank and one as the Minister of State, as PDP-BJP Government carried out its one of the major reshuffle in the Council of Ministry, filling up all 25 vacancies while the coalition partners increased strength of the Cabinet Ministers to 21 as against previous 19, leaving only four Ministers in the MoS rank.
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Several bigwigs today got berth in the Cabinet including Legislative Assembly Speaker Kavinder Gupta, State BJP chief Sat Sharma `CA’ and PDP’s Mohammad Ashraf Mir, who had defeated then Chief Minister and National Conference working president Omar Abdullah in Sonwar Assembly segment of Srinagar district in 2014 elections.
Prior to his induction in the Ministry as Deputy Chief Minister, Kavinder Gupta resigned from the post of Speaker. His resignation was accepted by Deputy Speaker Nazir Ahmad Gurezi. Gupta also replaced outgoing Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh as BJP Legislature Party leader in the party meeting this morning. Dr Nirmal Singh will replace Gupta as the new Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.
Governor N N Vohra administered oath of office and secrecy to eight Ministers in the jam-packed Jammu Convention Centre, which was chosen as the venue due to closure of Raj Bhavan offices in view of bi-annual Durbar move. Oath ceremony lasted just 19 minutes.
Five BJP Ministers took oath as Cabinet Ministers. They included Kavinder Gupta, MLA Gandhi Nagar, Sat Sharma `CA’, MLA Jammu City West, Sunil Sharma, MLA Kishtwar, Dr Devender Manyal, MLA Samba and Rajiv Jasrotia, MLA Kathua. BJP MLA from Doda, Shakti Raj Parihar took oath as the Minister of State.
Sunil Sharma was presently working as the Minister of State with Independent Charge of Transport and was today elevated as Cabinet Minister. Rest all five BJP MLAs have made it to the Council of Ministry for the first time.
Two PDP Ministers including Mohammad Khalil Band, MLA Pulwama and Mohammad Ashraf Mir, MLA Sonwar, took oath as Cabinet Ministers. Band had earlier served as Minister of State in PDP-Congress coalition Government while Ashraf Mir was also Minister of State in Mufti Mohammad Sayeed led PDP-BJP coalition from March 2015 to January 2016.
BJP State president Sat Sharma ‘CA’ told the Excelsior after his inclusion in the Cabinet that he would quit as party chief keeping in view the `one man one post’ norm of the party. However, he said, he would resign only when the new party president is elected as the post can’t be kept vacant.
The oath ceremony was attended among others by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, BJP national general secretary, Ram Madhav, Avinash Rai Khanna, senior BJP leader and number of Ministers and legislators including majority of dropped Ministers.
Prior to the oath ceremony, Governor NN Vohra accepted resignations of five Ministers including four from BJP and one from PDP.
They included Dr Nirmal Singh, Deputy Chief Minister, Incharge Power and Housing & Urban Development, Industries & Commerce and Forest, Ecology and Environment, Bali Bhagat, Minister for Health and Medical Education, Sunil Sharma, Minister of State for Transport (Independent Charge), Priya Sethi, Minister of State for Education and Tourism, all BJP and Minister for Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Law & Justice, Abdul Haq Khan, PDP.
Official sources said Sunil Sharma’s resignation as Minister of State with Independent Charge was necessitated before taking oath as the Cabinet Minister.
Prior to these resignations, there were three vacancies in the Council of Ministry following resignations tendered by Forest Minister Choudhary Lal Singh and Industry & Commerce Minister Chander Prakash Ganga over Rassana incident and removal of Dr Haseeb Drabu as the Finance Minister by the PDP.
With inclusions and exclusions, strength of the Council of Ministry has completed the maximum quota of 25. As per the Constitutional provision, Jammu and Kashmir can have maximum 25 Ministers.
PDP now has 14 Ministers including the Chief Minister and BJP 11 including Sajjad Ghani Lone of People’s Conference. At the time of formation of first-ever PDP-BJP Government, PDP had 11 Cabinet Ministers and three Ministers of State while BJP had eight Cabinet Ministers and three Ministers of State. Both the parties have now increased their strength in the Cabinet by one Minister each and lowered number of MoS from three to two each.
PDP’s strength in the Cabinet stood at 12 and BJP’s nine.
There is no vacancy now left in the Council of Ministry headed by Mehbooba Mufti.
With today’s expansion, seven out of 10 districts in Jammu region have got representation in the Ministry. While Jammu district has highest number of three Cabinet Ministers including Kavinder Gupta, Sat Sharma `CA’ and Sham Choudhary, Kishtwar, Samba, Kathua and Rajouri districts have one Cabinet Minister each from BJP including Sunil Sharma, Dr Devender Manyal, Rajiv Jasrotia, and Abdul Ghani Kohli. Reasi and Doda districts have one Minister of State each including Ajay Nanda and Shakti Raj Parihar.
Udhampur, Ramban and Poonch districts remained unrepresented in the Ministry from Jammu region. Udhampur district has two BJP MLAs out of three and Ramban one out of two. Poonch district has no BJP MLA.
With the induction of veteran Mohammad Khalil Band, MLA Pulwama as Cabinet Minister, PDP has strengthened its presence in its stronghold of South Kashmir. It has also increased its strength in Srinagar district by giving representation to MLA Sonwar Mohammad Ashraf Mir as the Cabinet Minister. The PDP already has two Ministers from Srinagar district including Syed Altaf Ahmad Bukhari, Incharge Finance and Education and Minister of State for Health and Power Asiea Naqash.
This was third reshuffle of Mehbooba Mufti Ministry, which had been sworn-in on April 4, 2016 after the sudden demise of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. In the first reshuffle on February 17, 2017, Mehbooba had re-inducted Syed Altaf Ahmad Bukhari as the Cabinet Minister and assigned him the charge of Education Ministry. On December 28, 2017, Mehbooba had inducted her brother Tassaduq Mufti and re-inducted Javid Mustafa Mir as the Cabinet Ministers and entrusted them with the charge of Tourism, Relief, Rehabilitation and Disaster Management Ministries respectively.
This was, however, first reshuffle of the BJP Ministers since Mehbooba Mufti led PDP-BJP coalition Government took over.
The BJP had on April 17 asked all its eight Ministers, except then Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh in the PDP-BJP Government to submit their resignations to facilitate Cabinet expansion.
The party, however, had not forwarded the resignations to the Governor then.
Prior to this, Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga had resigned as Cabinet Ministers over Rassana incident row and charge of their Departments including Forest and Industry & Commerce, was assigned to the Deputy Chief Minister.
Gupta, 59, who joined RSS when he was 13 served as Mayor of Jammu for three consecutive terms from 2005 to 2010. He was elected as an MLA for the first time in 2014 from Gandhi Nagar constituency and was unanimously elected as Speaker of the Assembly.
BJP State chief Sat Sharma ‘CA’ said he will fulfill the demands and aspirations of the people. “Apart from the party, I have been given a task as a Minister. I will meet the expectations of the party,” Sharma said.
Born in 1961 and a Chartered Accountant by profession, he belongs to a family with roots in the RSS.
Both Gupta and Sat Paul Sharma were jailed during Emergency.
Both Kavinder Gupta and Sat Sharma are first time MLAs from Jammu City including Gandhi Nagar and Jammu West Assembly segments. Gupta had earlier served as Jammu Municipal Corporation Mayor for three terms.
Rajiv Jasrotia, Devender Manyal, Sunil Sharma and Shakti Parihar, four other BJP Ministers, are also the first time MLAs.
Jasrotia will be BJP’s face in Kathua district, where party earlier had two bigwigs in the Cabinet including Dr Nirmal Singh, MLA Billawar as the Deputy Chief Minister and Choudhary Lal Singh, MLA Basohli as Forest Minister.
Dr Devender Manyal, MLA Samba will not only replace Chander Prakash Ganga, MLA Vijaypur, in Samba district as the Cabinet Minister but also Bali Bhagat, former Minister for Health and Medical Education as BJP’s lone Scheduled Caste face in the Ministry.
Sunil Sharma and Shakti Parihar, who will represent Kishtwar and Doda districts, are committed party leaders, who kept the party flag high when militancy was at its peak in the erstwhile Doda district.