Cabinet expansion tomorrow, CC meets today; Soz calls on CM

Excelsior Correspondent
JAMMU, Jan 13: Much awaited reshuffle/expansion in the Council of Ministry of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah led National Conference-Congress coalition Government would take place at 4 pm on January 15 (Tuesday) at Raj Bhawan.
Ahead of the Cabinet expansion, the Co-ordination Committee (CC) of the two coalition partners is meeting here at 3 pm tomorrow under the chairmanship of PCC (I) president and CC chairman Prof Saif-ud-Din Soz, who reached here this afternoon and had a half an hour long meeting with the Chief Minister at his residence.
Prof Soz confirmed to the Excelsior his meeting with Omar but declined to comment on whether he had submitted names of the Congress list of legislators for induction in the Council of Ministry.
Official sources said the Government has conveyed to the Raj Bhawan its plans for reshuffle/expansion of the Council of Ministry. Timing for oath ceremony of the new Ministers was decided at 4 pm as Governor NN Vohra would be returning here from New Delhi on January 15 morning after follow up treatment for the knee surgery, which he had undergone in November last year.
Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy and National Conference president Dr Farooq Abdullah might not be able to make it to the oath ceremony of new Ministers at Raj Bhawan.
Sources said the names of both National Conference and Congress leaders for induction in the Ministry and those to be dropped and given party assignments by the NC were likely to be finalized either late tomorrow evening or early Tuesday morning. They added that the names can be conveyed to the Raj Bhawan even an hour before the oath ceremony.
The Co-ordination Committee of National Conference-Congress coalition would meet at State Guest House at 3 pm here tomorrow few hours before the NC’s crucial dinner meeting at the Chief Minister’s residence in which all National Conference Ministers, Advisors and chairpersons of Commissions/Boards would resign to facilitate the CM to reshuffle the Minister and depute some Ministers for organizational set-up to strengthen it well ahead of 2014 Assembly elections.
The Co-ordination Committee comprised Prof Soz, chairman, Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand and Mangat Ram Sharma, former Deputy Chief Minister, all from Congress, Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather, Law & Parliamentary Affairs and Rural Development Minister Ali Mohammad Sagar and Choudhary Mohammad Ramzan, former Minister and MLA, all from NC.
Sources said among other issues, the CC could discuss the Cabinet reshuffle-cum-expansion and allocation of portfolios among the Ministers of two coalition partners.
The CC was also likely to debate the holding of Block Development Council (BDC) elections with reservations of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and women. It could take up the reports of two Congress legislators on incorporation of some provisions of 73rd amendment of the Constitution of India in the Panchayati Raj Act.
Sources said though Dr Farooq Abdullah was in New Delhi, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was in touch with him telephonically on reshuffle/expansion in the Council of Ministry, which would be followed by major changes in organizational structure of the National Conference.
However, a final decision on the names of Ministers, who would be dropped by the National Conference and the fresh faces to be inducted in the Council of Ministry, would be taken by the party high command either late tomorrow evening or early Tuesday morning. The Congress list of inductions and dropout was also likely to reach the Chief Minister at the same time.
Sources said the joint list of both the coalition partners for induction in the Ministry would be submitted to the Raj Bhawan. Prior to this, the Chief Minister would forward resignations of the Ministers to be dropped to the Governor for acceptance.
As reported, the National Conference Ministers, Advisors and chairpersons would resign at a dinner meeting at the Chief Minister’s residence.
As far as the Congress was concerned, sources said it proposed to induct three new faces-two in the Cabinet rank and one as MoS and drop one Cabinet Minister. The Congress had to drop one Minister if it opted for three inductions since it has two vacancies in its quota.
Sources said two Ministers-one in the rank of Cabinet and another MoS could be inducted from erstwhile Doda district and another from Kashmir Valley while one Minister might be dropped from Jammu region.
In his meeting with the Chief Minister, Prof Soz was reported to have discussed the Cabinet expansion/reshuffle.
The National Conference has 11 Ministers, eight of Cabinet rank and two Ministers of State besides the Chief Minister while the Congress has 10 Ministers, seven of Cabinet rank and three Ministers of State, two of them with Independent Charge. Agriculture Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir represented DPN.
As per the Constitutional provisions in Jammu and Kashmir, the State can have a maximum of 25 Ministers (20 per cent of total strength of both Houses of the Legislature). There were a total of 17 Cabinet Ministers in the State including the Chief Minister with nine belonging to National Conference and seven to Congress. DPN MLA Ghulam Hassan Mir is also a Cabinet Minister. In addition, there were five Ministers of State-three from the Congress and two from the National Conference. Of three Ministers of State from Congress, two (Aijaz Khan and Dr Manohar Lal Sharma) held the Independent charge of some Departments.
Omar Abdullah was presently holding the charge of Home, General Administration, Planning and Development, Power, Works, Education, Information, Civil Aviation, Hospitality and Protocol, Estates etc.
As against the Constitutional provision of 25 Ministers, there were only 22 Ministers in the State including the Chief Minister. Of three vacancies, two belonged to Congress and one to National Conference, as per the arrangement between two coalition partners.
They added that a major reshuffle of portfolios would also take place after both National Conference and Congress effected the changes in the Ministries. However, they said, the portfolios of NC and Congress would remain with the Ministers of the two parties.
The Chief Minister would shun the portfolios of Works and Education, which belonged to Congress. The Works portfolio had been lying with Omar after Congress Minister and MLA Inderwal Ghulam Mohammad Saroori was dismissed from the Cabinet in the wake of impersonation scam involving his daughter in MBBS/BDS exams of the ASCOMS. However, the CBI had later given clean chit to Mr Saroori.
The portfolio of Education was lying with the Chief Minister after Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed was divested of it following involvement of his son in the examination scam. Sayeed continued as Public Enterprises Minister.
The upcoming expansion in the Council of Ministry is being effected after nearly three and a half years. The last reshuffle had taken place on July 12, 2009 with the induction of 13 Ministers, eight of Cabinet rank and five MoS with two of them Aijaz Khan and Dr Manohar Lal Sharma getting Independent charge. Six Ministers each were sworn in from NC and Congress and one from DPN.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah along with nine Ministers had taken oath on January 5, 2009. Of 10 Ministers including the CM sworn-in that day, five each belonged to NC and Congress.
The July reshuffle had taken strength of the Council of Ministry including the CM to 23 with two vacancies-one each of NC and Congress. However, after the removal of Mr Saroori on August 24, 2010, the strength of the Ministry had come down to 22 taking total vacancies to three and Congress to two.