PM's new team gets cracking, opposition questions Reddy's removal

PM's new team gets cracking, opposition questions Reddy's removal

A day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh unveiled a fresh look of his government, the new ministers got cracking Monday, with some making known their intent to push through reforms.

However, the opposition, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was not impressed, specially criticising the shifting of S.Jaipal Reddy from the oil ministry and Salman Khurshid's elevation to external affairs.

Probably realising that the UPA-II government has less than 18 months to boost its sagging image before it meets the electorate as per schedule in May 2014, some of the ministers took over their new responsibility Monday, which was otherwise a restricted holiday in view of the Balmiki Jayanti.

While new External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid had hit the ground running Sunday within hours of his being sworn-in, those who took charge of their ministries Monday included new Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, who said that the government was open to revise the passenger fares.

"We are open to revising passenger fares if it is needed to improve services... the aim is not to earn profits," Bansal told IANS shortly after taking charge.

He said he would discuss the issue with the full Railway Board Tuesday and then take it up with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

"We want to run the railways on sound financial principles," he said on the issue over which the UPA had differences with its former ally, the Trinamool Congress.
Besides Bansal, others to assume charges of their ministries  Monday included M. Veerappa Moily, who has been given petroleum.

Moily said he would work to turn the challenges faced by the oil sector into opportunities.
"Decisions will be quickened and efforts will be made not to keep things pending. There is $50 billion worth of foreign investments waiting," he said.

Jaipal Reddy got science and technology, but reports suggested that he was unhappy over his removal from the oil ministry and did not take over his new ministry.

Among the ministers of state who took charge were Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari, who got independent charge of information and broadcasting, a ministry earlier held by Ambika Soni.

Tewari said his job was not to regulate the media, but to ensure a level playing field for everyone and highlight the policies of the government.

Jyotiraditya Scindia took over as the new minister of state with independent charge of the power ministry, a portfolio earlier held by Shushilkumar Shinde, now the home minister.
"It is a daunting challenge, and I look forward to the support and guidance of ministry officials and colleagues in other departments," the young MP from Madhya Pradesh told reporters soon after.

Describing the power sector as "extremely strategic and important" for the nation's economy, Scindia said: "It is a very important ministry and it is a very big challenge, a very big charge."

The rejig that sought to jettison perception of passivity in governance  comes just ahead of two critical assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat.

BJP leader M. Venkaiah Naidu, meanwhile, sought an answer from the government for Reddy's removal from the oil ministry, saying there are allegations that he was shunted out due to pressure from an industrial group.

"A person like him was suddenly removed and was placed in unimportant science and technology. People and media are saying this was done due to the pressure of industrial groups. The government should give an answer about this. This is an important issue. What was the reason behind his removal?" he said.

Samajwadi Party's Ram Gopal Yadav was critical of Khurshid's elevation and continuance of Sriprakash Jaiswal in the government.

"Khurshid has been upgraded in a way and made external affairs minister. If a minister is accused of graft, he should be removed from government. Another minister, whose name figures directly in the coal blocks allocation scandal, is still in government though there was talk that he would be removed," Yadav said, adding that "good people should have been promoted".

India Against Corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal too joined those slamming the government over the new ministers.

"Jaipal Reddy - known to be honest - kicked out. Salman Khurshid - corrupt - promoted.  That's UPA," he tweeted.

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