Mamata inducts two new ministers

Last Updated: Mon, Jan 16, 2012 11:40 hrs

Kolkata, Jan 16 (IANS) The nearly eight-month-old Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal ministry was expanded Monday with the induction of two ministers of state amid mounting criticism of her government's handling of health, panchayat, education and its hands-off land acquisition policy for setting-up industries.

Governor M.K. Narayanan administered the oaths of office and secrecy to Arup Biswas and Chandrima Bhattacharya at the Raj Bhavan. Biswas, who touched Banerjee's feet after taking oath, would be minister of state with independent charge.

Banerjee, several members of her cabinet, members of the diplomatic corps, and some industry chamber representatives were among those present during the solemn but brief function.

With Bhattacharya's induction, the number of women in the 42-member ministry has now gone up to four. While Banerjee is the state's first woman chief minister, Trinamool's Sabitri Mitra and Congress's Sabina Yeasmin had been sworn in May 20 last year.

Key portfolios - transport and public works department - have been vacant since early December, when Subrata Buxi resigned on his election to the Lok Sabha in a bypoll from Kolkata South.

"I also wanted to induct Sasi Panja. But she is now in North Bengal's Cooch Behar. She will be taken in later," Banerjee had earlier told reporters at another programme.

In late December, Banerjee had shifted out Panchayat and Rural Development Minister Chandra Nath Sinha to the newly-formed statistics and programme implementation department after union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh wrote to the chief minister about her government's poor record in implementing the 100-day work programme.

The poor state of affairs in government hospitals - reflected in a series of crib deaths, incidence of rats nibbling at patients, death of a pregnant woman after she was allegedly refused admission, and a case of theft of a newborn - have triggered widespread criticism. Banerjee herself holds the health portfolio.

In education, campus violence has given a bad name to the government. Several college principals have been beaten up or subjected to mental torture, with the finger of suspicion in most cases pointing at cadres of Banerjee's Trinamool.

The state government's policy statement that it has no role to play in land acquisition for industrial projects and entrepreneurs need to buy it outright from land owners has also drawn the disapproval of business captains.

In an interview last December, Banerjee had complained that she was not getting cooperation from a couple of her ministers and hinted at a cabinet reshuffle in January.

"One or two ministers are not cooperating with me. We have to think about it. Let me see," the chief minister had said.