Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is likely to downsize the portfolios of heavyweight cabinet ministers during the cabinet expansion to be held in June. The move, sources said, aimed to bring in fresh faces and work culture, besides refurbishing the Maharashtra government’s image. The plan is likely to be executed in the second week of June.
The Centre has already given consent to the CM, who has been firefighting after his ministers got into trouble over allegations ranging from corruption charges to violation of norms.
While Revenue and Agriculture Minister Eknath Khadse is facing allegations of land deal and phone call to underworld fugitive Dawood Ibrahim, other ministers who have got into trouble include Education Minister Vinod Tawde for a fake degree, Rural Development Minister Pankaja Munde for alleged violation of norms in chikki contract and Food and Civil Supplies Minister Girish Bapat over tur dal price rise.
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A senior BJP functionary said, “Last week, Fadnavis discussed his concerns with cabinet colleagues. He has categorically conveyed that each one will have to exercise caution in their administrative duties to avoid unnecessary controversies in public. And defence cannot help wipe out the perception in the public mind.”
According to sources, while Fadnavis did issue a clean chit to his senior-most colleague Khadse, there was an underlying note that they would have to mend fences. “And it cannot become a pattern as it reflects badly on the image of the government and the BJP,” said a party source. Insiders said the central leadership had asked the chief minister to exercise his discretion to weigh the merit of the matter and its ramifications. “Thus, there was no pressure from the Centre or the party,” said a leader.
The downsizing of portfolios is to accommodate new ministers on the one hand and ensure justice is given to the department that has been neglected for the last 19 months. At present, Khadse holds 10 ministries, including revenue, relief and rehabilitation, Wakf Board, minorities welfare, animal husbandry, excise, dairy development and fisheries. Sources indicated he might be divested of agriculture portfolio, which would be handed to a new candidate.
Vinod Tawde holds half a dozen portfolios, namely school education, youth welfare, higher and technical education, medical education, Marathi bhasha and cultural affairs.
Pankaja Munde holds crucial portfolios like rural development, women and child development, water conservation and Employment Guarantee Scheme. There are indications that at least one portfolio will be taken away from her.
The sources said all those ministers with multiple departments who had not delivered results as expected would be considered for downsising, irrespective of allegations. Senior minister Prakash Mehta holds housing, mining and labour ministries. The sources said he might be relieved of the labour portfolio.
There are 30 ministers, of which 20 belong to the BJP and 10 to the Shiv Sena. The maximum cabinet size can be of 42, which means 12 more ministers can be inducted.
According to the Sena-BJP formula, Shiv Sena has claim to two MoS berths and BJP 10. In a 42-minister cabinet, BJP will have 30 and Sena 12. It has worked on the strength in assembly, with BJP having 123 MLAs and Sena 63.
There is a possibility of BJP giving at least two ministerial berths to its alliance partner Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana and Rashtriya Samaj Party. The cabinet expansion will have at least five to six new faces from the ruling BJP. The remaining two to three berths would be saved for another reshuffle to be held in March 2017.