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State cabinet expansion before monsoon session

Monday, June 18, 2018
By Prashant Hamine

What had become an annual joke of sorts before any session of the state legislature, may finally become a reality. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is most likely to effect a small cabinet expansion of sorts before the commencement of the monsoon session in July. The expansion has been necessitated with the demise of his senior cabinet colleague and Minister for Agriculture Pandurang Fundkar and the resignation of Shiv Sena's Minister for Public Health Dr Deepak Sawant.

The sudden demise of senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Minister for Agriculture Pandurang Fundkar on May 31 late last month has caused the vacancy from the BJP quota in the state cabinet. Whereas, senior Sena Minister for Public Health Dr Deepak Sawant tendered his resignation after being denied the ticket by the party to contest the June 21 election to the Mumbai division Graduates constituency in the Legislative Council. However, Fadnavis is reported to have asked Sawant to continue to hold the charge for the time being. The term of Dr Sawant as the Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) is set to expire on July 7.

Sources in the BJP disclosed that senior BJP legislator Dr Sanjay Kute (Jalgaon Jamod) is most likely to be inducted into the cabinet to fill the vacancy caused by the demise of Fundkar. Kute (49) is a third time legislator from same Buldhana district as was the late Fundkar. The BJP will have to also contend with the vacancy caused by the demise of the late Fundkar who was the member of the Legislative Council. He was elected from the Elected by MLAs (EMLA) constituency on April 25, 2014 and his term was to end on April 24, 2020.

Meanwhile, sources in the Sena disclosed that the party leadership has not taken any decision on the replacement for Sawant. The latter might well be asked to continue in the cabinet till the time a replacement is found. By law a minister who is not a member of either of the two houses of the state legislature can continue to discharge his ministerial duties till six months within which he or she has to get himself elected as member of either of the two houses in the state legislature. The Sena denied ticket to Sawant and instead nominated its old guard Vilas Potnis for the June 21 Council polls, following strong resentment from the party cadres to renomination of Sawant.

If Sawant is allowed by the Sena to continue in the state cabinet, then he will be the second such minister, after former Republican Party of India (Athawale faction) leader Gangadhar Gade from Aurangabad, to do so. Gade was a Minister of State for Public Transport in the 1999 cabinet headed by late Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. Gade, after remaining in the post for six months had to resign after he failed to get elected as member to either of the two houses of the state legislature.

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