New Delhi, May 27:
A new Indian government took charge Tuesday with most ministers visiting the offices of their allotted portfolios, some even to two-three offices, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who began with an early meeting at his South Block office.
One of the first official directives issued by Modi was to ensure best treatment for those injured in Monday’s Gorakhdham Express rail accident, besides announcing a grant of Rs.200,000 to the families of each of the 25 people killed in the mishap.
“Modi has directed the railway ministry to ensure that the relief operations following the Gorakhdham Express rail accident are carried out smoothly,” an official statement said, adding the injured, numbering some 100, will be given Rs.50,000 each.
Modi himself assumed charge at 8 a.m. at his South Block office and held a meeting with his principal secretary, Nripendra Mishra, and other officials in his secretariat.
The Prime Minister’s Office fixed 5.50 p.m. as the time for the first cabinet meeting.
Modi then shifted to Hyderabad House for a series of meetings with visiting dignitaries from neighbouring countries who had flown in to witness his inauguration as India’s 15th prime minister at a grand, well-attended event the evening before.
The dignitaries included Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Maldives President Abdullah Yameen, Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, Mauritius Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam, Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala and Bangladesh speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury.
Soon after taking charge of his finance portfolio, Arun Jaitley said he was only holding additional charge of the third portfolio, defence, and that it would be handed over to a new person once there is a cabinet expansion. Jaitley also holds the portfolio of corporate affairs.
Otherwise, he said the immediate task at hand was to restore the confidence of domestic and overseas investors, besides reviving economic growth that has fallen to its lowest in a decade, containing inflation and repairing public finances.
Jaitley also had a chat at South Block, the office of the defence minister, where he said there was no issue now in the appointment of Lt. Gen. Dalbir Singh Suhag as the next army chief by the previous government during its last days in office.
“I believe there should be no controversy about the appointment of any person,” said Jaitley, who will be a member of Modi’s Cabinet Committee on Security, along with Rajnath Singh, given home ministry, and Sushma Swaraj, who will oversee external affairs.
According to sources, Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj were to join office Wednesday. There were also murmurs in the corridors of power that some of the alliance partners, not happy with the allotted portfolios, had asked their ministers to wait.
Among the other ministers, Ravi Shankar Prasasd had to visit three offices. A lawyer himself, Prasad first visited the office of the law ministry, then Sanchar Bhavan that houses the communications ministry and later to IT department’s Electronics Niketan.
He, too, made an important statement. “For good governance, a good legal regime is very necessary,” he said, adding his government will be investment-friendly, with fair and transparent policy. He also promised to set right the mess in the telecom sector.
In the backdrop of the Gorakhdham Express accident, Rail Minister D.V. Sadanand Gowda’s first remarks covered safety, even as his deputy, Manoj Sinha, visited the spot with his senior cabinet colleague Kalraj Mishra, allotted small enterprises.
Among others who took charge, Ram Vilas Paswan promised to ease the flow of foodgrain at fair price shops and curb inflation, as part of the challenges posed by his consumer affairs ministry, while oil minister Dharmendra Pradhan focused on energy security.
Promising “100 percent” transparent administration, Harsh Vardhan, the new health minister, said he would take advice from international experts on ways to improve the country’s health system.
“I would hold consultations with domestic and international experts on how to improve the health system in our country,” Harsh Vardhan said after taking charge of the health and family welfare ministry at Nirman Bhavan here.
As many as 46 ministers, including Modi, took oath of office Monday and their portfolios were announced the next morning. The prime minister has himself retained, among other portfolios, personnel, atomic energy, space and “all important policy issues”.