Union Minister Smriti Irani has lost her Information and Broadcasting portfolio in a cabinet reshuffle on Monday. The I&B ministry will now be fully handled by Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who worked as Irani’s deputy in the ministry until now.
This is the second time an important ministry has been taken away from Irani. Earlier she was shunted out of the HRD ministry to a relatively less high-profile Textiles Ministry. It seems Irani has had to pay a heavy price for her diktat aimed at gagging the Indian media. The I&B ministry headed by her had issued guidelines intended to cancel the journalists’ accreditation if they were accused of spreading fake news. The order had caused huge outcry among journalists, forcing Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene and subsequently withdraw the controversial order.
She had later initiated a consulting process on regulating the country’s online media. This had prompted at least 100 journalists from across the country to write to the prime minister expressing their anger against the move.
In another development, Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal has been given the charge of finance ministry until Arun Jaitley recovers from the kidney transplant that he successfully underwent at AIIMS on Monday.
Irani was also embroiled in a huge controversy involving Prasar Bharati Board after the PB chief, A Surya Prakash, sensationally slammed Irani for her ‘utter contempt’ towards the Board’s autonomy.
Prakash’s comments had come amidst reports of a serious fight between Irani and the PB members leading to a crisis-like situation within the country’s public broadcaster. The former journalist also went on to add, “Another directive that flies against the letter and spirit of the Act is the one issued on February 5, 2018 directing Prasar Bharati to terminate all contractual employees. Members of the Board have taken strong exception to this, too. What kind of an autonomous media corporation is Prasar Bharati if it cannot hire contractual and casual manpower who are paid out of its own funds? In fact, I regard such orders as gross contempt of the Act and of Parliament itself. I have never found another Act of Parliament being treated with such contempt by bureaucrats as the Prasar Bharati Act!”
The crisis affecting the PB and the I&B ministry follows another report on how Irani recently punished a host of senior bureaucrats in her ministry after one of them reportedly approached the Prime Minister’s Office against her transfer policy.
Irani had lost her HRD portfolio in 2016 following raging controversy surrounding her role in fuelling tension on the campuses around the country. Her poor handling of Rohith Vemula’s suicide was widely condemned.
Meanwhile, a statement from President Kovind’s office said that SS Ahluwalia, who held the MoS of Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation porfolio has been given the portfolio of MoS in the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology. KJ Alphons has been relieved of MoS in Ministry of Electronics and has been given MoS in the Tourism Ministry.
This is the fifth cabinet reshuffle since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took oath of office in May 2014.
Here’s the full press statement from the office of President Ram Nath Kovind.
The President of India, as advised by the Prime Minister, has directed the following reallocation of portfolios amongst the members of the Union Council of Ministers:-
(i)during the period of indisposition of Shri Arun Jaitley, Minister; the portfolios of Minister of Finance and Minister of Corporate Affairs held by him, be temporarily assigned to Shri Piyush Goyal, in addition to his existing portfolios.
(ii)Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore be assigned the independent charge as Minister of State in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, in place of Smt. Smriti Zubin Irani, presently Minister of Information and Broadcasting.
(iii)Shri S.S. Ahluwalia, Minister of State be relieved of the charge of Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation and assigned the portfolio of Ministry of State in the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology.
(iv)Shri Alphons Kannanthanam, Minister of State be relieved of the charge of Minister of State in the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology.