Saturday, September 30, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Sushma likely to get berth
Cabinet expansion today even as Rao quits
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Sept 29 — Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will undertake the long awaited expansion-cum-reshuffle of his Union Council of Ministers here tomorrow. President K.R. Narayanan will administer the oath of office and secrecy in Rashtrapati Bhavan at 5 p.m.

Sources said that the re-induction of former Union Minister Sushma Swaraj along with BJP spokesperson Venkaiah Naidu and the party’s MP from North Goa, Mr Shripad Naik, appears to be a certainty.

Mrs Swaraj has consistently refrained from being an office-bearer of the BJP on the ground that she would like to work for the party as an ordinary worker. She has been sulking for not having caught the eye of Mr Vajpayee for a ministerial berth after having put up a tough fight against Congress President Sonia Gandhi from the Bellary constituency in Karnataka. Ironically, Mrs Gandhi gave up the Bellary seat in preference to Amethi, having won both the seats in last year’s general election.

Speculation is rife that Mrs Swaraj might be brought back as the Union Information and Broadcasting Minister.

Mr Naidu and Mr Naik will be the fresh faces in Mr Vajpayee’s government. Mr Naidu is being rewarded for having served the BJP as its spokesperson and championed the party’s cause despite carping criticism of the NDA government’s policies and programmes.

The new and first Dalit President of the BJP, Mr Bangaru Laxman, virtually let the cat out of the bag this afternoon when he said that Mr Naidu was being relieved of his responsibilities as the party organisation’s main spokesperson.

There is also an element of expectation that Ms Uma Bharati, at present undergoing penance in Kedarnath, might reappear in the immediate future as a member of Mr Vajpayee’s Council of Ministers. 

She has made it known that she will return to the Capital from Kedarnath only after October 8.

Interestingly, octogenarian Union Minister of State for Agriculture S.U.P.B.K. Satyanarayana Rao sent in his resignation to the Prime Minister, heeding Mr Vajpayee’s advice for austerity.

Mr Rao said in his resignation letter sent to Mr Vajpayee in the evening that ministers of state did not have “sufficient work which can adequately justify the expenditure incurred on their offices. After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that by resigning from the Union Council of Ministers I would be saving the exchequer some avoidable expenditure.”

The Prime Minister wanted to weed out some ministers who were holding ornamental posts without making any significant contribution. It is apparent that Mr Vajpayee wanted to balance out the representation from Andhra Pradesh by taking younger and more energetic individuals as ministers.

However, the Prime Minister’s subtle hints to certain members of his Union Council of Ministers has failed to evoke a wider response except for Mr Rao. What indeed provoked Mr Rao to make his exit from the Union Council of Ministers was Mr Vajpayee’s letter of September 23 addressed individually to all his ministerial colleagues.

If Mrs Swaraj is made Information and Broadcasting Minister again, then Mr Arun Jaitley in his capacity as Minister of State with Independent charge will only be left with Law, Justice and Company Affairs.

Mr Vajpayee drew pointed attention in his letter about the fiscal challenge which the government is facing. He observed that containment of the high rate of growth in non-developmental expenditure of the government and implementing fiscal prudence and austerity are critical elements in the strategy to meet the fiscal situation.

“There are existing guidelines of government and some additional instructions are being issued by the Finance Ministry for introducing austerity measures. I would urge you to ensure compliance of these instructions in your respective ministries and departments,” he said.

Mr Vajpayee exhorted the ministers to get an example to others by practising austerity in their official lives. This will help create the required climate and have the desired impact on the government as a whole.

He said certain limits of expenditure have been prescribed for furnishing of the minister’s chamber in office and official residence. There are also limits of entitlement of use of official car and telephones.

“We need to observe these limits scrupulously. Government orders should also not be circumvented by requesting public sector undertakings etc to provide facilities which are otherwise not admissible. Existing guidelines also provide for austerity in foreign travel and ensuring that only absolutely unavoidable foreign travel is undertaken. Ministers must ensure that expenditure on this item in their respective ministries is minimised. There are also instructions and rules concerning official hospitality which need to be strictly observed. It must be ensured that there are no additions to personal staff in excess of the prescribed scale. Here also attempt to circumvent the orders by borrowing staff from public sector undertakings should be avoided.”

Mr Vajpayee implored his ministers to explore other measures for practising fiscal prudence and austerity in their respective ministries and departments. “I look forward to your cooperation in this matter,” the Prime Minister added. 

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