Mamata inducts two ministers, clips wings of Chatterjee

Kolkata, Dec 26 : Days after pulling up "non-performing" ministers, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Thursday took away the cream industries and commerce portfolios from Partha Chatterjee - considered the number two in the cabinet so far - and handed it to Finance Minister and former corporate lobbyist Amit Mitra.

Chatterjee, Trinamool Congress secretary general, will now be left with parliamentary affairs, IT and electronics departments.

The ministerial reshuffle, which saw two new faces inducted, comes nearly a week after Banerjee in a closed-door meeting, expressed deep anguish over the poor performance of several of her ministers and bureaucrats.

Binay Krishna Burman, a lawmaker from Mathabhanga in north Bengal's Cooch Behar district, is the new forest minister, replacing Hiten Burman, who stepped down citing health issues and illness.

However, political circles feel Hiten Burman got the stick for "non-performance".

Sashi Panja, legislator from Kolkata's Shyampukur, was sworn-in by Governor M.K. Narayanan as minister with independent charge and allotted the women and child welfare portfolio, so long held by Sabitri Mitra - another minister who failed to satisfy Banerjee.

Mitra is now left with only social welfare portfolio. Panja was working as parliamentary secretary till now.

Minister of State for Cottage and Small Scale Industry Swapan Debnath was promoted as a minister with independent charge. He would continue to hold the same charge, besides animal husbandry that was snatched from another "poor performer" Noor Alam Chowdhury. The latter has been shifted to planning.

The reshuffle - the most extensive since Banerjee took over in 2011 - is being seen as part of her efforts to speed up the government's functioning and deliver results ahead of next year's Lok Sabha polls.

But the change that caught the most attention is Chatterjee losing the industry portfolio to Mitra, a former secretary general of industry lobby FICCI.

Banerjee was apparently cut up with the affairs in the industry department over its failure to utilise the funds allotted, rope in investment and ensure speedy clearance of pending projects.

The chief minister is now seemingly pinning hopes on Mitra's ability to use his contacts to draw the much-needed big ticket investment in the state.

However, speaking to media after the swearing-in, Banerjee attributed the change of portfolios to Chatterjee's "inability to devote time as he had too many responsibilities".

"Partha Chatterjee has too many ministries and can't give enough time. He is too much burdened. He even has to spend time with me, as he has the responsibility of the group of ministers. Being the general secretary, he has to devote time for the party as well," said Banerjee, flanked by Chatterjee and Mitra.

"So we have decided to make things lighter for him. He will also assist me in discharging duties of the portfolios I hold," she added.

"Some ministers have too many portfolios while others have too little, so this is an attempt to bring parity," she said.

On the other hand, Chatterjee said: "The chief minister has done what she has felt right. I have nothing to say. It is for the people to say whether I performed."

Banerjee said day-to-day work of environment and PWD - under ailing minister Sudarshan Ghosh Dastidar - would be looked after for the time being by Upen Biswas and Shankar Chakrabarty respectively.

"But Dastidar will continue to head the two departments. This arrangement will continue till he is fit."

The strength of Banerjee's council of ministers has now gone up to 44.

--IANS (Posted on 26-12-2013)

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