The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shears out to prune cabinet
- CPM to shed two ministers, asks Bloc and RSP to drop one each

Calcutta, Jan. 7: The CPM today set the ball rolling on downsizing the 48-member Left Front cabinet. It asked two key front partners, the Forward Bloc and the RSP, to send the name of one minister from each party within a fortnight who can be dropped.

In a Left Front committee meeting convened today to ratify the formation of rural bodies for development work through secret ballot, front chairman Biman Bose called on the Bloc and RSP leaders to take the decision at the earliest.

The CPM, too, has begun the exercise in right earnest by interacting with leaders from the districts. Jyoti Basu has stepped in to discuss the matter with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and other party leaders.

We have begun a serious exercise in dropping two ministers from the party in accordance with the central directive and a decision on this score will be taken at the earliest, Basu said this afternoon. At the same time, we have initiated discussions with the front partners, who, too, have to drop one minister each, he added.

The CPM patriarch and politburo member said the party is not opposed to downsizing the cabinet. If this is more economic and helps better governance, then it is welcome, he said.

The Centre recently sent a directive to all state governments asking them to restrict the size of ministries to 15 per cent of the total strength of the Assembly. In Bengal, there are 294 legislators and at least four ministers have to be dropped to comply with the directive.

In the 48-member cabinet, the CPM has 33 ministers, the Bloc and the RSP five each, the CPI two and the Forward Bloc (Marxist), the Democratic Socialist Party and the Socialist Party one each.

Front chairman Bose said the issue was discussed in the meeting but refused to give details. We are reducing the number of ministers in the cabinet but the details are yet to be worked out, he said.

The CPMs decision to drop only two ministers has irritated the smaller front partners. We are practically a minority in the cabinet and the CPM, having the highest number of representatives, should drop at least one more minister instead of only two, said a front leader, preferring anonymity.

The RSP, which held a bipartite meeting with the CPM yesterday, said it will send the name of the minister to be dropped to Alimuddin Street by January 22.

However, an RSP secretariat meeting minutes after the Left Front one to discuss the matter turned stormy with leaders from the districts unwilling to withdraw any of their representatives from the cabinet. Some of those present were learnt to have suggested that two junior ministers in the irrigation and public works departments be axed.

Bloc state secretary Ashok Ghosh said his party will discuss the matter in a day or two and send the name of one its ministers to be dropped at the earliest.

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