Chandy expands Cabinet, floats green ministry

Thiruvananthapuram, Jan 4 | Updated: Jan 5 2006, 05:30am hrs
Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has stretched his 19-member Cabinet to the maximum permissible limit of 20 members, carving out an independent ministry for environment. A Sujanapal, Congress MLA from Kozhikode was sworn in a minister by Governor RL Bhatia here on Wednesday.

Following the Union government's model in having a separate environment ministry at state-level to highlight the growing importance to environmental affairs, Mr Chandy told reporters after the Cabinet meeting. "Atleast two committees of Kerala Assembly on environment affairs had recommended the formation of a separate ministry," Mr Chandy said.

Despite getting inducted at the fag-end of the Congress-led UDF government, Mr Sujanapal has become Kerala's first environment minister. Till now, pollution control and environment affairs had been add-ons to the health or forest ministry.

The chair of forest minister had been left vacant ever since Mr Chandy's forest minister KP Vishwananthan had resigned over an adverse remark from the High Court in a sandalwood smuggling case. Mr Sujanapal's induction to the Cabinet replaces Mr Vishawanthan and as expected, he has assumed charge of forest portfolio too. The other portfolios handed over to the new minister are programme implementation, post and telegraph and backward classes welfare.

Mr Sujanapal, 56, hails from north Kerala, three districts of which, had been left unrepresented till now in the Chandy Cabinet. Apart from an untainted reputation, the softspoken new environment minister brings to the government a flair for art and letters. He has authored six books and has held exhibition of his paintings.

.. and Chandy gets grumbles

Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has also left a simmering trail of discontent, after the Cabinet reshuffle. Not too subtle was state health minister K K Ramachandran's protest, when he walked out of the Cabinet meeting at the hint of losing reins of the state pollution control board.

Mr Ramachandran is understood to have put in his papers. Neither the Chief Minister or Mr Ramachandran confirmed the resignation. All that Mr Ramachandran, seen at his office, at the time of the Cabinet meeting, would tell reporters was that he was "minister right now".

"You should ask him," retorted Mr Chandy, when reporters, after the Cabinet meeting, pressed queries on the minister's resignation and walkout from the Cabinet meeting.

Mr Chandy has lightened himself of responsibilities too. Inter-state waters, a portfolio conventionally held by the Chief Minister, has been transferred to state irrigation minister Tiruvanchiyoor Radhakrishnan.