Virbhadra begins sixth term as Himachal chief minister (Third Lead)

Last Updated: Tue, Dec 25, 2012 11:20 hrs

Shimla, Dec 25 (IANS) With more than 20,000 supporters cheering him on, Congress veteran Virbhadra Singh was sworn in Tuesday as Himachal Pradesh chief minister for a record sixth term. Nine cabinet ministers were also sworn in.

Governor Urmila Singh administered the oath of office and secrecy to Virbhadra Singh, 78, who has been chief minister of the hill state for more than 16 years, at the Ridge.

Virbhadra Singh, who had been chief minister in 1983, 1985, 1993, 1998 and 2003, took the oath in Hindi.

The others who took oath were eight-time legislators Vidya Stokes and Kaul Singh, four-time legislator G.S. Bali, six-time legislator Sujan Singh Pathania, five-time legislator Thakur Singh Bharmouri, three-time legislator Mukesh Agnihotri, three-time legislator Sudhir Sharma, three-time legislator Parkash Chaudhary and one-time legislator Dhani Ram Shandil, who is also a Congress Working Committee member.

The chief minister told reporters later that two vacancies in the cabinet would be filled shortly and the portfolios would be allocated in a day or two. "I will soon resign as the state party chief."

Virbhadra Singh is a member of the Lok Sabha, which he will now quit.

The Congress last week won a majority with 36 seats in the 68-member assembly.

The new faces in the cabinet are Agnihotri, Sharma, Bharmouri, who is from the tribal belt, and two-time Lok Sabha member Shandil, a Dalit.

Virbhadra Singh has kept Congress secretary and legislator Asha Kumari, believed to be his strong critic, out of the cabinet.

The former state education minister, Kumari is accused of grabbing government forest land worth crores of rupees by tampering with revenue records.

Outgoing BJP chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and his erstwhile cabinet colleagues were conspicuously absent from the ceremony.

There was also no minister from the Congress-led central government at the event.

The new cabinet has three ministers from Kangra, the largest district with 15 assembly seats, two from Shimla district, two from Mandi and one each from Chamba, Una and Solan districts.

After the oath-taking ceremony, the chief minister administered the oath of office and secrecy in the state secretariat to three young legislators as chief parliamentary secretaries. They are Neeraj Bharti, Rajesh Dharmani and Vinay Kumar.

Virbhadra Singh took oath at 10.40 a.m. as the state's 13th chief minister. He first assumed office April 8, 1983, replacing Thakur Ram Lal.

Belonging to the erstwhile princely state of Rampur Bushahr, Virbhadra Singh entered politics at the age of 28.

The venue of the oath-taking ceremony, the Ridge, was once the only promenade for the British colonial rulers when Shimla was their summer capital.

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