The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cabinet revamp runs into Bill block

New Delhi, May 7: The next round of Cabinet shuffle that official sources said could take place on May 12 before the Prime Minister left for his Manali holiday has run into a minor hitch — of the government’s own making.

The obstacle is none other than the Constitution amendment Bill, which seeks to restrict the size of a ministry to 10 per cent of the strength of Parliament.

The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 5 and has been referred to a standing committee to “evolve a wider political consensus” before being put to discussion and passed.

The government’s original plan to induct quite a few ministers in this round of revamp, billed as the last before the 2004 general elections, could be scuttled because the strength of the Union council of ministers is already 77. Ten per cent of the strength of Parliament — which has 795 members, 545 in the Lower House and 250 in the Upper House — is 80.

Earlier, there were plans to induct representatives of not just the Trinamul Congress but of the National Conference, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the group of Independents which recently bolstered the National Democratic Alliance’s numbers.

The Centre also wanted to induct members of the BJP, though at the last revamp, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said the next round would be limited to the allies.

With the Bill limiting inductions to only three, the endeavour to juggle interests has begun. While official sources were still confident about Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee’s return, there was a question mark over the induction of National Conference and BSP representatives.

A section of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh had asked the leadership to bring the BSP aboard the NDA coalition to secure their alliance before the Lok Sabha polls and thwart the effort to bring former chief minister Kalyan Singh back to the party.

The Bill has also effectively put a spanner in the government’s plan to lighten the load of some “overburdened” ministers.

Four such ministers were identified: Arun Jaitley (law and justice, commerce and industry); Ananth Kumar (urban development, poverty alleviation and rural development); Arun Shourie (communications, information technology and disinvestment); and Jagmohan (tourism and programme implementation and statistics).

Even if these ministers are relieved of one ministry each, it would mean four new vacancies, which, in turn, would exceed the 80 ceiling.

The plan so far was to take communications and IT from Shourie and give it to Sushma Swaraj, who has parliamentary affairs and health. Official sources said health was to be restored to C.P. Thakur, who is in charge of small-scale industries and Northeast development.

An exception was to be made in the case of Swaraj as, traditionally, the parliamentary affairs minister has an additional responsibility. In this game of musical chairs, Jaitley was to have reportedly relinquished charge of commerce and industry but got back company affairs, which is now with finance minister Jaswant Singh.

In turn, commerce and industry was to have gone to the finance minister.

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