By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 13 Jun: An overburdened Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat has unofficially indicated that he would finally like to expand his council of ministers soon. With the untimely death of his senior cabinet colleague, Prakash Pant, there are at present three vacancies in the council. Uttarakhand can have a maximum of 12 ministers including the CM in accordance with the present constitutional norms. Rawat was holding charge of 40 departments before the death of Pant. Pant was holding charge of seven departments including Finance, Parliamentary Affairs, Excise and Drinking Water. With the charge of all these departments taken over by the CM, he currently holds charge of 47 departments which include Home, Finance, Power, Health, PWD, Industry, Mining, Technical Education, etc. Hence, cabinet expansion is overdue now and probably can’t be delayed for much longer. The inability of the CM to allocate important portfolios does reflect on the performance of these departments, and in the past one year or so, the health department, the mining and power departments have regularly been in the news, mostly for the wrong reasons. And because they are under the charge of the CM, he has to take the blame for the poor or average performance of these departments. With an assembly session expected to be convened next month, there is little time for the CM to allocate some of the departments to new ministers. The way the late Prakash Pant managed the House as a Parliamentary Affairs Minister, it is not going to be easy to find a suitable replacement. Pant prepared well and was the major trouble-shooter for the government inside the House. He managed to rescue his cabinet colleagues too when they were unable to suitably respond to the queries of the members of the House. Not only this, he had acquired a thorough knowledge of the technicalities of the finance department and subjects like GST, etc. It is certain that the CM is going to miss him in the forthcoming session. Sources say the CM and the party have already started the exercise of selecting names for the ministries. They also indicate that the CM is now under pressure to fill up the other two vacancies, too, along with the one created due to Pant’s untimely death. With a brute majority of 57 in a house of 70, it may be considered fairly easy to take risks in appointment of ministers but, in reality, it is not turning out to be an easy task for the CM. Out of the 57, there are 20 MLAs who have been elected MLAs in the past too and many of them several times. The challenge is who to leave out. A way out could have been to appoint certain MLAs to Lal Batti posts, early on. This too did not happen and this makes the exercise that much more difficult. The challenge is not just to select the “best possible” names but also to have regional and caste balance in the cabinet. Sources claimed that one of the three probables is from Dehradun, since the CM and the Speaker also represent this district. With Prakash Pant gone, there is no representation from the border district of Pithoragarh. Haridwar and Nainital are also under represented. Pauri is well represented considering that it is the home district of the CM, too. Sources in the party admit that senior party MLA Munna Singh Chauhan could be a suitable Parliamentary Affairs Minister, but they also remind that since the cabinet expansion is the prerogative of the CM, it remains to be seen if he is picked. With a Brahmin minister being no more, at least one Brahmin minister is most likely to be appointed and that, too, from Kumaon, they further add. Since a deputy speaker is already there, so no further adjustment is possible on that chair. Sources further claim that some very senior MLAs are likely to be disappointed this time, too. The CM is expected to meet Home Minister and BJP President Amit Shah on Sunday and is also likely to discuss the cabinet expansion with him besides other things. If for any reason, a final decision is not taken by next month, the charge of Parliamentary Affairs may be given on interim basis to Urban Development Minister Madan Kaushik and he may be tested in the House for one session. However, sources further claim that neither Kaushik nor Satpal Maharaj are keen to hold charge of Parliamentary Affairs and that Kaushik is keen on Excise and Sugarcane and Sugar Industry, departments which has held in the past, too. Both these departments were held by Pant in this government. Maharaj, on the other hand, is keen to get charge of some important department like power, but is learnt not to be lobbying for the same, claim the party insiders. In a state government, the CM is generally expected to hold charge of a select few departments like Vigilance, Good Governance (Suraj), Government Estates, Personnel, and Corruption Eradication and hand over the charge of other crucial departments such as PWD, Health, Power, Industry, Mining, etc., to senior colleagues. Generally, if a CM is unable to allocate these portfolios to his cabinet colleagues, it is assumed that he is not willing to delegate authority since even if other ministers hold charge of any department, the CM always has the authority to overrule their decisions and the ministers act on behalf of the CM, anyway. Failure to allocate charge of the above mentioned portfolios to cabinet colleagues also leads to questions regarding integrity and the claims of zero tolerance. A chief minister has the authority to dismiss or seek resignation from any of his council colleagues, should questions arise regarding their integrity.