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Azad's toughest challenge is to prune ministerial council

By M I Jehangir in Srinagar
Last updated on: November 02, 2005 10:25 IST
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Ghulam Nabi Azad, who takes over as Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Wednesday, has his task cut out for his three-year term in the top post, but the most difficult challenge for him will be to downsize the jumbo-sized coalition ministry.

Communist Party of India-Marxist state secretary M Y Tarigami had introduced a bill during the budget session of the assembly in 2004 to amend the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir paving the way for reducing the number of ministers to 10% of the strength of the assembly.

Had the bill been passed, or should it be passed in near future, the maximum number of persons who can be inducted into the council of ministers will be only nine as the strength of the state assembly is only 87.

The new chief minister will really have to think how to reduce the number of ministers from existing 35 to nine given the demand of coalition partners.

Coalition politics did not allow Azad's predecessor Mufti Mohammed Sayeed to prune the ministerial council. He was rather forced to increase the size to appease sulking ruling coalition MLAs.

Tarigami's bill did not find much favour with the treasury benches and it was referred to a select committee of the assembly.

Despite passage of nearly 20 months, the select committee is yet to table its report before the assembly and it would be at least another four months before the bill could be tabled.

The state assembly would meet in February 2006 for the budget session.

Tarigami said the objective of bringing the amendment was to reduce the size of council of ministers to 10% of the strength of the assembly and to make strict provisions against defection and consequential disqualification of concerned members from the House.

Demands had been made from time to time in certain quarters for strengthening and amending anti-defection law as in the seventh schedule to the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir on the ground that these provisions had not been able to achieve the desired goal of checking defections, he said.

Azad has also warned all officials including ministers against indulging in corrupt practices.

Opposition National Conference has welcomed Azad's statement and urged him to curb large scale corruption prevailing at all levels in the state.

"It is a welcome promise, but Azad should begin with his own party by inducting people with clean image into the cabinet and limiting it to 10% of the legislature strength as otherwise it will be just another hollow promise," NC provincial president Mehboob Beig said.

He said the outgoing chief minister had "needlessly" constituted a committee to look into downsizing of the ministry, but the members were never allowed to meet so that they could put forth their suggestions to the government on the issue.

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M I Jehangir in Srinagar
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