NATIONAL

Shatrughan, Vinod Khanna outline priorities

New Delhi July 3. Curiosity got the better of journalists and there was a virtual stampede when filmstars-turned-Ministers, Shatrughan Sinha and Vinod Khanna, took charge of their assignments in the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Tourism and Culture here today. The veteran politician, Sharad Yadav, was also thronged by his followers as he took over ``the challenging Ministry'' of Food and Consumer Affairs today.

``Shotgun Sinha'', as Mr. Sinha is popularly called, was cheered by the Ministry employees when he walked into his office accompanied by his wife, Poonam. Asked whether there would be any religious ceremony, she shot back, ``It was done at home. There is puja everywhere.''

Mr. Sinha said his priority would be to introduce medical insurance scheme, ensure that one-third of the poor were treated free of cost, that there was a 200 per cent increase in the availability of medicines to the poor, that the OPDs functioned in the evenings and the galloping population was checked immediately. Referral institutions such as the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences would be restored to their past glory.

To a question, Mr. Sinha apologised for appearing in a liquor advertisement 20 years ago. ``It was a mistake. I had immediately realised and apologised even then. Since then I have not appeared in any advertisement for any drink, not even a cold drink,'' he said amid laughter.

He said his predecessor, C.P. Thakur, was a good doctor from Bihar and the reforms initiated by him would continue. ``But you don't have to be a doctor to handle the Health Ministry just as you don't have to be a General to handle Defence or a Police Commissioner to handle Home. Don't judge me by results but by my sincerity, intention and implementation.''

Exuding similar confidence, Mr. Khanna said the Ministry's priority would be to market India for enhancing foreign tourist arrivals. This had suffered a decline of 17 per cent due to adverse advisories by several countries following the recent tension with Pakistan.

He said that if the Government could provide the facility and infrastructure, then the Indian film producers need not go abroad in search of locales as India had good locations. ``We will study this,'' he said adding that he and Mr. Sinha would represent the industry in the Government.

He said he had a few film assignments to complete, after which he would not sign any more films. ``As it is, my producers tell me that I am not very regular. I sign films and go to (Rajneesh) ashram or get into politics.'' But while in Government, once he was allotted work by his senior colleague, Jagmohan, he would involve himself in it fully.

On taking charge, the veteran leader, Sharad Yadav, said the challenge before him was to ensure that the surplus foodgrain reached the Below Poverty Line population with coordination and cooperation of State Governments.

To a question, he said it was felt that his party, the JD(U), had not got proportionate representation in the Government, ``but it is the Prime Minister's prerogative,'' he added.

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