The Himachal Pradesh council of ministers was expanded Thursday with the induction of three new members, taking the Cabinet strength to 12. This is the first expansion of the Jai Ram Thakur-led government since it came to power in 2017.
Those inducted as Cabinet ministers include Paonta Sahib MLA Sukh Ram Chaudhary, Nurpur MLA Rakesh Pathania and Ghumarwin MLA Rajinder Garg. Governor Bandaru Dattatreya administered the oath of office to the new ministers at a function at the Raj Bhawan. Covid-19 protocols were in place at the event. Those present included Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, newly-appointed BJP state president Suresh Kashyap, Cabinet cabinet ministers and senior government officials.
While Chaudhary and Garg took oath in Hindi, Pathania took oath in English.
A reshuffle of portfolios can now be expected, CM Thakur later said, adding that he himself holds a number of departments and would like to see his burden eased. “It’s now a well-balanced council of ministers,” he said.
The three ministerial posts had been lying vacant for long. One of the posts fell vacant in February, when Vipin Parmar resigned as the health and family welfare minister to take over as the Speaker of the state legislative Assembly. The post of the Speaker had fallen vacant following the appointment of Parmar’s predecessor Rajeev Bindal as the state BJP president. The other two posts fell vacant last year. Minister for Food and Civil Supplies Kishan Kapoor resigned after being elected as the MP from Kangra parliamentary constituency, and power minister Anil Sharma resigned after his son was declared a Lok Sabha candidate from Mandi by the Congress.
Assembly session in September likely
The CM said that the monsoon session of the Assembly may be convened in September but only if the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic eases in the state.
Responding to a query, Thakur said that the budget session was adjourned midway on March 23 when there were only two coronavirus cases in the state. Now there are over 2,400 total cases and around 1,050 active cases. “All this has to be considered,” he added.
As per norms, the Assembly session has to be convened at least once in six months, he said, adding that the budget session had been adjourned on March 23, so the next session should be convened before September 23. Normally the monsoon session is convened after August 15. “We will consider convening it in September if the cases reduce,” he added.
More than 20 MLAs from the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress had submitted a memorandum to Speaker in May demanding a special session to discuss the Covid-19 situation. In June, a similar demand was raised by the lone CPI(M) MLA Rakesh Singha.
Know the ministers
Sukh Ram Chaudhary
56-year-old Chaudhary represents Paonta Sahib and is a resident of Amargarh village in Paonta. According to information maintained by the state Assembly, he holds an ITI diploma (electrical) and worked in the HP State Electricity Board before joining politics. In the BJP, he has held the posts of Sirmaur district president and state president of the party’s Kisan Morcha.
He is serving his third term as an MLA, first getting elected in 2003. He was re-elected in 2007 and 2017, and served as a chief parliamentary secretary during his second term. Currently, he is also the chairperson of the welfare committee and a member of the library and member amenities committee.
According to his election affidavit, he was booked in a corruption case in 2011 in which the court took cognizance in 2017, but has never been convicted of any offence. The total assets of Chaudhary, his wife and dependents amount to around Rs 1.74 crore while their liabilities stood at around Rs 23.78 lakh, as per the affidavit filed in 2017.
Chaudhary said that he is a sports enthusiast and loves to play hockey, kabaddi, cricket and other games.
A three-time MLA, 55-year-old Pathania represents the Nurpur constituency in Kangra. He is a resident of Jach village in Nurpur and according to his affidavit, his highest educational qualification is pre-university examination from a college in Pathankot.
He began his political career in 1991, and has held the posts of district president and state secretary of BJP Kisan Morcha, and member of the party’s state executive. He was first elected to the assembly in 1998 on a BJP ticket, and re-elected in 2007 as an independent candidate. He also served as the chairperson of Tourism Development Corporation during his first term. He is currently into his third term as an MLA, and has been nominated as the chairperson of the public administration committee. He is a member of the Public Accounts & Rule Committee and Library & Member Amenities Committee.
According to his election affidavit, he has three criminal cases pending against him in which the court has taken cognizance, but has not been convicted of any offence so far. The total assets of Pathania, his wife and dependents amounted to around Rs 3.46 crore while their liabilities stood at around Rs 72 lakh, as per the affidavit filed in 2017.
Pathania said that he is interested in swimming and athletics.
54-year-old Garg is a first-time MLA from Ghumarwin in Bilaspur. He is a postgraduate in science (botany) and an agriculturist and horticulturist by profession.
Garg joined the RSS and the ABVP in the early 1980s and held several positions in the student organisation. He reported for a Hindi daily newspaper from 2000 to 2006, following which he became the convenor of BJP’s training cell for four years. He also served as a member director of the HP State Education Board and the HP Technical Education Board. He was the member of BJP’s national training cell from 2009 to 2011.
After being elected to the 13th Vidhan Sabha in 2017, Garg was nominated as a member of the Subordinate Legislation and General Development Committees.
The total assets of Garg, his wife and dependents amounted to around Rs 2.7 crore while his liabilities stood at around Rs 3.46 lakh, as per the affidavit filed in 2017.
Garg said that he is passionate about kabaddi.
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