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136 ministers get pink slip as India downsizes

Source: PTI
Last updated on: July 06, 2004 21:03 IST
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Capping days of frenetic confabulations and suspense, 136 ministers, mostly belonging to the Congress in over half a dozen states, were today shown the door on the last day of government downsizing exercise to meet the provisions of the 97th Constitutional Amendment.

The first sign of dissidence came to the fore in Congress-ruled Punjab where Deputy Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, a known detractor of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, is understood to have resented the composition of the
new ministerial team and conveyed her discontent to senior All India Congress Committee leaders in New Delhi.

While the smoothest and numerically less tedious exercise was carried out in Goa and Chhattisgarh, the focus was on
Meghalaya (27), Maharashtra, which is facing an election, and Nagaland (22 each) and Arunachal Pradesh (21)  where the largest number of ministers found themselves out of the government.

The bulk of the ministers -- 89 to be precise -- who had to make way were in four north-eastern states of Meghalaya,
Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland where frequent change of political alignments had kept the size of the ministries too big.

In Maharashtra, 22 ministers, four of cabinet rank and 18 ministers of state, were axed to bring down the size of its
65-member jumbo ministry to 43.

While effecting the downsizing exercise, Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde also elevated five ministers of state to
cabinet rank, three from the Nationalist Congress Party and two from the Congress. They will take the oath of office tomorrow.

The cabinet ranked ministers dropped include two each from the Congress and the NCP. The number of ministers of
state removed include six each from the Congress and the NCP and three independents each from the Congress and the NCP quota.

With this exercise, the number of cabinet rank ministers rose to 28 from the previous 27 and the strength of ministers
of state became 15 from the previous 38.

The dropped cabinet ministers include Shivajirao Patil Nilangekar, Babasaheb Dhabekar (both Congress), Dilip
Valse-Patil and Digvijay Khanvilkar (both NCP).

Shinde described the downsizing exercise as a "painful experience" and said all the ministers had done a good job.

He said the Congress has not applied any criteria for removing its ministers. However, Deputy Chief Minister
Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil, who is also a senior NCP leader, said his party has removed only those ministers in whose
constituency the party had fared badly in the Lok Sabha polls.

Asked whether the dropped ministers would be accommodated somewhere else, Shinde said, "We have not thought about it."

In Uttaranchal Congress Chief Minister N D Tiwari faced trouble in pruning the ministry size in the face of
stiff resistance from a section of the party, as he dispensed with five members from his cabinet -- three of them belonging to the camp of his rival and Pradesh Congress Committee president Harish Rawat -- cutting
its strength to 12.

Those removed are Irrigation Minister Shurvir Sajwan, Cooperation Minister Mantri Prasad Naithani, Rural Development minister Surinder Singh Negi, Social Welfare Minister Ram Prasad Tamta and minister of state for industrial development Kishor Upadhyay. Except Naithani and Tamta, all other ministers are Rawat supporters.

Peeved over their removal, Sajwan and Upadhyay accused Tiwari of being responsible for the Congress debacle in Lok Sabha elections in Uttaranchal and trying to weaken the party in the state.

Sajwan said he and Upadhyay would meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi in connection with the political
situation arising out of the cabinet pruning exercise.

Echoing Shinde, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister V B Singh termed as 'painful' exercise the ministry right-sizing
as he dropped three members from his cabinet bringing down the strength of his ministry to 12.

Health Minister Chandresh Kumari, Revenue Minister B B L Butail and Tourism Minister Vijay Singh Mankotia had to go after the chief minister returned to Shimla from Delhi this morning.

Murmurs of dissidence also emerged from the National Democratic Alliance-ruled Nagaland where Chief Minister Nieuphiu Rio dropped 22 ministers including the Janata Dal-United state chief Huska Sumi who was not included in the reconsituted team, prompting him to allege "violation" of pre-poll "commitment" by the ruling Democratic
Alliance of Nagaland.

In Chattisgarh, Chief Minister Raman Singh dropped five ministers to reduce the size of his ministry from 18 to 13 and
took away the revenue portfolio from prominent tribal leader Arvind Netam for `regrouping' tribals in what was viewed as a show of strength ahead of the pruning exercise.

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