Odisha CM drops higher education minister Rohit Pujari from council of ministers

The move comes a few days after cabinet reshuffle

Rohit-Pujari Rohit Pujari | via Facebook

In an unexpected move, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, on Friday, dropped Higher Education Minister Rohit Pujari from the council of ministers over "nonperformance".

After an annual review showed the higher education department at the bottom of the list, the chief minister recommended to Governor Ganeshi Lal to drop Pujari from the council of ministers.

For the past few weeks, Patnaik has been reviewing the performances of various departments after which the minister and secretary of each of the departments that were reviewed had been giving details in press conferences. As both Lok Sabha polls and assembly elections are less than a year away, the review of the departments is significant.

Interestingly, Pujari's sacking has come a few days after the cabinet reshuffle. On May 29, three ministers—Bikram Arukh, Sudam Marandi and Sarada Nayak—were inducted into the cabinet. Marandi and Nayak were ministers in the previous Patnaik government. Marandi, a former Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader, belongs to north Odisha's Mayurbhanj district. Nayak is a legislator from Rourkela steel city constituency in western Odisha's Sundergarh district. The induction of these two was a political necessity.

Arukh, who had resigned as assembly speaker a few days ago, was made the finance minister. The post of the speaker remains vacant.

Two ministers—Samir Dash, who was minister for school and mass education, and Srikant Sahu, minister for labour—had resigned from the cabinet at the behest of the CM in the wake of a few allegations.

Pujari, a two-term MLA from Rairakhol constituency in western Odisha's Sambalpur district. Two days ago, his private secretary had been replaced. Pujari, a former state youth congress president who joined BJD and became MLA in 2014, was the deputy chief whip of the government in both terms and had joined as a minister a year back.

Recently, Pujari courted controversy by suggesting that people above the age of 60 should not be given tickets to contest elections, angering the seniors in the party. Even BJD supremo and CM Patnaik will come under that category if Pujari's suggestion is to be taken seriously.

There are also claims that he had mishandled some files related to court judgements which led to the shifting of his private secretary. This may have led to the sacking of Pujari.

Nayak, cabinet minister for food supplies and consumer affairs and cooperation, has been given additional charge of higher education after Pujari was dropped.

After Pujari's removal Bishupada Sethi, IAS, principal secretary, higher education department, has been shunted out. He has been posted as officer on special duty of general administration and public grievances department, an ignominious posting. It is being interpreted that both the minister and the secretary have lost their jobs on nonperformance, an indirect message to ministers and secretaries of all departments in the election year.

Pujari said he had lent maximum effort to his job. May be the chief minister, who had given him a lot of assignments before, had more expectations, he added.

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