With Manmohan at helm, India’s new cabinet gets down to work (Roundup)

May 23rd, 2009 - 9:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, May 23 (IANS) India’s new coalition government got down to work Saturday as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh allotted portfolios to six of 19 ministers, reminding them that they had “promises to keep”.
Manmohan Singh presided over a 30-minute meeting of all his ministers at his Race Course Road residence in the morning before naming veteran Pranab Mukherjee as finance minister and handing over the foreign ministry to Fulbright scholar S.M. Krishna, both from his Congress party.

P. Chidambaram and A.K. Antony retained their home and defence portfolios while Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar also remains the agriculture, food and civil supplies minister. Pawar is also in charge of consumer affairs and public distribution.

Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee returned to the railway ministry after a long gap, and promptly went on to announce that she hopes to issue free rail passes to students and vendors.

Mukherjee, who returns to the finance ministry after 25 long years, promised all efforts to lift the economy out of the slowdown and said the regular budget would be presented in due course.

“The Indian economy remains resilient,” he told reporters. “All economic issues will be addressed. My priority is to put the economy back on track. Efforts will be made to insulate the Indian economy from the adverse impact of the financial meltdown.”

Mukherjee, the seniormost minister in the cabinet, immediately got the thumbs up from the industry.

“Pranab Mukherjee as finance minister will do full justice to his job and come up to the expectations of the people of India and its industry,” said the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham).

In his first media interaction after taking charge, External Affairs Minister Krishna asked Pakistan to take “credible action” to dismantle the terror infrastructure if it wants to resume dialogue with India.

Officials said that Manmohan Singh had a busy first full working day in his second five-year innings, at the head of a Congress-led coalition that convincingly won the general elections.

After the cabinet meeting, Manmohan Singh held meetings with his officials - in the morning and again in the evening.

Manmohan Singh, along with 19 cabinet ministers, took the oath of office and secrecy Friday evening, saying economy will be his top priority. On Saturday he told the cabinet meeting: “We have made a number of promises, and we have promises to keep.”

According to an official announcement, Manmohan Singh will look after all ministries apart from those allocated to the six senior cabinet ministers until more people are inducted into what will be a three-tier ministry.

According to officials in the Prime Minister’s Office, the portfolios of the remaining 13 of the 19 cabinet ministers sworn in Friday would be announced after differences between the Congress and DMK over allocation of ministerial berths are sorted out.

This, a senior minister told IANS, could happen by Tuesday, when a second round of oath-taking is expected.

Party insiders said the prime minister was not averse to inducting A. Raja and T.R. Baalu of DMK in the cabinet but was insistent that neither would get the telecommunications and shipping ministries.

Chidambaram announced after the cabinet meeting that the first session of the 15th Lok Sabha will begin June 1. The new MPs will be sworn in June 1-2 and the speaker of the Lok Sabha will be elected June 3.

President Pratibha Patil will address the joint session of parliament June 4. This will be followed by a debate and the motion of thanks.

The 216th session of the Rajya Sabha will begin June 4 and will continue till June 9.

“The previous government had taken a vote on account till July 31. It is our hope that the full budget will be passed by then. If it is not, another vote on account for a brief period can be taken,” said Chidambaram, who was finance minister till the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack after which he was shifted to the home ministry.

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