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Monday, September 20, 2021

Tripura: Biplab Deb govt expands cabinet, inducts three new ministers

With a series of protests against Biplab Deb, including slogans of ‘Biplab Hatao, Tripura Bachao’ in July last year, the new ministers’ induction is seen by many as an effort to quell discontent.

Written by Debraj Deb | Agartala |
Updated: August 31, 2021 10:02:07 pm
Newly inducted ministers Sushanta Chowdhury, Ramprasad Paul and Bhagaban Das. (Express Photo)

Three new ministers were inducted into the Biplab Deb-cabinet in Tripura Tuesday afternoon in the first-ever cabinet expansion of the BJP-led government in the state.

MLAs Sushanta Chowdhury, Bhagaban Das and Ramprasad Paul were inducted as ministers in the state’s 12 member-cabinet, albeit, still leaving one seat vacant.

Governor Satyadeo Narain Arya administered the oath of office to the new ministers at the Raj Bhawan at 3:40pm.

Speaking to reporters later this afternoon, Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb said the decision was taken to strengthen the government in order to serve the people in a better manner.

Meanwhile, hours after the three ministers took oath and were inducted into the Biplab Deb government, revised portfolios were announced. A notification issued by Chief Secretary Kumar Alok said, “….the Governor of Tripura has on the advice of the Chief Minister been pleased to allocate the business of the Government by assigning to the charge of the Departments to the ministers with immediate effect”.

As per the revised charges of departments, Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb has let go of Industries and Commerce, urban development, Home (jail, fire and emergency services) and labour departments, while senior minister Ratan Lal Nath was stripped of the Welfare of OBC and minorities portfolio. Minister Santana Chakma, the lone woman minister in the Biplab Deb cabinet, got the Urban Development department, but the charge of animal resource development department was shifted from her to the newly-inducted minister Bhagaban Das along with Scheduled Caste (SC) welfare and labour portfolios.

OBC and minorities welfare berths went to the newly-inducted minister Ramprasad Paul alongwith Home (Jail, Fire and Emergency Services) and the department of Cooperation.

Meanwhile, new minister Sushanta Chowdhury got Information and Cultural Affairs, Youth Affairs, Sports and PWD portfolios.

A slight internal reshuffle of portfolios was also made among the sitting ministers.

Mevar Kumar Jamatia, who still holds tribal welfare department, was stripped of the forest department’s charge, which went to NC Debbarma, chief of BJP’s Tripura tribal ally Indigenous Peoples Front of Tripura (IPFT). NC Debbarma’s charge of Fisheries Department was given to Mevar Kumar Jamatia in exchange.

The BJP-IPFT government led by Deb took oath on March 09, 2018, after securing a landslide victory with 44 of 60 seats in the state assembly.

While there were twelve seats available, Deb had inducted nine ministers, leaving three chairs empty. However, reportedly out of leadership differences, Health Minister Sudip Roy Barman was dropped a year later. Since then, four seats in the cabinet have remained vacant.

With a series of protests against Deb, including slogans of ‘Biplab Hatao, Tripura Bachao’ in July last year, the new ministers’ induction is seen by many as an effort to quell discontent.

The decision comes amidst a visit by BJP’s national secretary Dilip Saikia, the party’s Northeast Zonal secretary Ajay Jamwal, Tripura in-charge Vinod Sonkar and organisational general secretary Phanindranath Sarma. The visit, which came in the heels of Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Union Rural Development minister Giriraj Singh’s visits, was said to be aimed at “strengthening the organisational base”.

First to take his oath of office Tuesday, Ramprasad Paul from Suryamaninagar assembly constituency in West Tripura, is a first-time legislator. Paul had won against CPIM candidate Rajkumar Choudhury with a margin of 4,567 votes. An RSS leader, 53-year-old Paul was once known to be a close aide of Sudip Roy Barman. He also joined Roy Barman in the visit to New Delhi in October 2020 but later said the visit was on organisational issues. Lately, he was found to have veered away from Roy Barman.

Expressing his feelings on being sworn-in as a minister, Paul said, “I’m happy as well as a bit scared. This is a big responsibility and I hope to fulfil it properly in the interest of the people.”

Securing 22,815 votes, Bhagaban Das from Pabiacherra assembly constituency in Unakoti district became a first-time MLA in 2018, defeating CPIM candidate Samiran Malakar with a margin of 5,827 votes. MLA Bhagaban Das was one of the ten MLAs with the lowest-declared income. As per his affidavit filed before the 2018 polls, he had assets of Rs 1,97,619. Das is a long-time RSS pracharak and a legislator from an SC-reserved seat.

Das said he would work on the lines of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s slogan of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’. He also said he would work to fulfil all duties given to him in his new portfolio.

Sushanta Chowdhury, 41, is a first-time legislator too. Having contested on a BJP ticket from Majlishpur assembly constituency in West Tripura district in 2018, he was considered one of the ‘giant slayers’ as he defeated the then sitting heavyweight MLA and transport minister Manik Dey with a margin of 3,890 votes.

Chowdhury was one of the six youngest MLAs in the 2018 assembly election and also one of the top 10 MLAs with high-declared income. However, he was also one of those with high liabilities. Once known to be a close aide of Roy Barman, Chowdhury joined BJP in 2017 from Trinamool Congress and was given his first election ticket in a seat where Manik Dey had won for five terms straight.

However, Chowdhury won, securing 23,249 votes, coming out as one of the biggest surprises in the poll results. Earlier in October 2020, he joined Sudip Roy Barman in a visit to New Delhi, in what he said at the time to be an effort to remove Tripura chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb from his post.

However, it was later said to have been a visit to discuss “organisational issues”. Earlier this year, Chowdhury was seen praising Deb for his efforts in Covid management and development. Chowdhury is seen as a youth leader with much potential.

After being sworn-in, Chowdhury said he would work for the overall development of everyone in the state and appealed to the people to keep faith in the state government.

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