Vidya Stokes gets Irrigation, Public Health

The newly-inducted Ministers in Himachal Pradesh were on Saturday allocated portfolios with Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh retaining the key Ministries of Finance, Home, Personnel, General Administration, Planning, Education and Tourism.

The second-in-command, Vidya Stokes, has been given Irrigation and Public Health, Horticulture and Information Technology while Kaul Singh Thakur, the former PCC chief who was also a top slot contender, has been given Health and Family welfare, Revenue, Law and legal Remembrance Departments.

The Minister from Kangra, G. S. Bali, has been allocated Food and Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs, Transport and Technical Education. Also from Kangra, Sujan Singh Pathania, who is considered close to the Chief Minister, has been given Agriculture, Multipurpose Projects, Power and Non-conventional Energy. Thakur Singh Bharmauri, representing the tribal belts of Chamba, Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti, has been made Forest and Fisheries Minister.

A close Virbhadra confidant from Una district, M. K. Agnihotri got the key portfolios of Industry, Labour and Employment, Information and Public Relations and Parliamentary Affairs.

The youngest face in the government, Sudhir Sharma, has been given Urban Development, Housing and Town and Country Planning, while Prakash Chaudhary has been made in-charge of Excise and Taxation and Printing and Stationery.

Col. (Retd) Dhani Ram Shandil, whose name was reportedly considered for the top slot in the new government, has been allotted the low-profile Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and Welfare.

There are 10 Ministers in the Cabinet including the Chief Minister and two posts are vacant. Karan Singh from Kullu and Anil Sharma from Mandi are expected to be made Ministers, according to party sources. Mr Karan Singh is the younger brother of Himachal Lokhit Party president Maheshwar Singh and a close relative of Virbhadra Singh. He had remained a Minister in the previous Dhumal-led BJP government from 1998-2003. He later joined the Congress party.

Mr Anil Sharma is the son of former Union Minister Sukh Ram and was also a Minister in the 1993 Virbhadra-led Congress government. He was also a Rajya Sabha member from Mr. Sukh Ram’s Himachal Vikas Congress.

Another Chief Ministerial candidate, Asha Kumari, has refused to take any Ministry this time. She was Education Minister in the last Congress government.

But reportedly in an interesting move, a section of the Congress leadership is trying to get clearance from the party high command for making Lokhit Party president Maheshwar Singh the Speaker of the new House. The Congress has a wafer-thin majority (36 out of 68) in the Vidhan Sabha and the move can embarrass the BJP since Mr. Maheshwar Singh was a former BJP State president and Lok Sabha MP from Mandi-Kullu.

Mr. Virbhadra Singh’s wife Pratibha Singh is the most probable Congress candidate for this Parliamentary seat which has fallen vacant after Mr. Singh becoming the Chief Minister.

  • Two more, including Sukhram’s son, likely to join Ministry

  • Move to make Lokhit Party president Maheshwar Singh as Speaker