Friday, March 7, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Virbhadra sworn in as CM
Stokes, among 15, inducted into Cabinet
Tribune News Service

Shimla, March 6
A 16-member Congress ministry headed by the Chief Minister, Mr Virbhadra Singh, was sworn in here today.

Besides Mr Virbhadra Singh, 15 Cabinet ministers were administered the oath of office and secrecy by the Governor Dr Suraj Bhan, at a crowded public ceremony held on the sprawling lawns of Raj Bhavan. There was a virtual stampede as the Raj Bhavan premises overflowed with people who had descended on the state capital from all parts of the state to attend the ceremony. Some window panes were broken as supporters jostled with one another to greet the Chief Minister.

Capt Amarinder Singh, Punjab Chief Minister, who was one of the key campaigners for the Congress, was a special invitee to the function along with Mrs Mohsina Kidwai, general secretary of the Congress and in charge of Himachal Pradesh. The ceremony lasted 35 minutes.

Almost all senior Congress leaders have got a berth in the ministry. The Cabinet ministers are Mrs Vidya Stokes, Mr Kaul Singh, Mr Sat Mahajan, Mr Chander Kumar, Mr Rangila Ram Rao, Mrs Chandresh Kumari, Mr Ram Lal Thakur, Mrs Asha Kumari, Mr Brij Bihari Butail, Mr Raj Krishan Gaur, Major Vijay Mankotia, Mr Kuldeep Kumar, Mr Singhi Ram, Mr Harsh Mahajan and Mr G.S. Bali.

The portfolios will be distributed later.

While all the old guards have been accommodated, the younger lot is disappointed. There are only two new faces in Mr Singhi Ram, who has been elected for the sixth time, and Mr G.S. Bali, a second timer. Mrs Vidya Stokes has found a place in the ministry for the first time though she has held the post of Speaker. Similarly, Mr Harsh Mahajan and Mr B.B. Butail, who remained parliamentary secretaries in the Virbhadra Singh government earlier, have found a place in the Cabinet for the first time. Mr Harsh Mahajan and Mrs Asha Kumari, both 47 years old, are the youngest in the Cabinet, while Mr Sat Mahajan and Mrs Vidya Stokes, both 75 year old, are the oldest.

Mr Virbhadra Singh had initially indicated that he would have a small ministry to begin with. However, factional pressure forced him to have a bigger one. It is for the first time that 15 Cabinet ministers have been inducted.

Speculations regarding the creation of a post of Deputy Chief Minister to accommodate Mrs Stokes, who was a hot contender for chief ministership, proved wrong. Mrs Stokes said she was satisfied with the composition of the Cabinet and stated that there was no justification for a Deputy Chief Minister in the small hill state.

As many as three women, the highest ever, have been made Cabinet ministers. Incidentally, all three legislators with a royal background, Mr Virbhadra Singh, Mrs Chandresh Kumari and Mrs Asha Kumari, have found a place in the ministry.

Kangra, the biggest and politically significant district, has got the lionís share with six berths, followed by Shimla which has two ministers, besides the Chief Minister. Chamba and Mandi districts have two representatives each in the Cabinet while Una, Kulu and Bilaspur have one each.

Hamirpur, Solan and Sirmaur districts have not been given any representation. Mr Gangu Ram Musafir, who hails from Sirmaur, will be made the Speaker of the House.

Mr Virbhadra Singh and nine other ministers took oath in Hindi while Mrs Stokes, Mrs Chandresh Kumari, Mr Raj Krishan Gaur, Major Vijay Mankotia, Mr Harsh Mahajan and Mr G.S. Bali took it in English.

Mr Virbhadra Singh has taken over as the Chief Minister of the state for the fifth time. He has completed a tenure of 11 years two months and 18 days in four terms. His last stint was in March 1998 for 18 days as he failed to win the vote of confidence in the House.

Later, addressing a meeting of secretaries, Mr Virbhadra Singh said his government would review amendments made in the revenue laws, including kisan pass books. He said his government last time had taken decisions regarding encroachments by homeless which were struck by the Supreme Court. He said this should be examined in the light of the Supreme Court decision.

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