Srinagar: Altaf Bukhari replaced Naeem Akhtar as Minister of Education and Haseeb Drabu was divested of the culture ministry by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in her first expansion and reshuffle of her cabinet on Friday. Naeem Akhtar was made Minister of Public Works, which includes the department of Roads and Buildings (R&B). Abdul Rehman Veeri emerged as the most powerful minister after he was given charge of revenue, disaster management, relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction, and parliamentary affairs. The chief minister herself took charge of the culture ministry, leaving Haseeb Drabu with finance, labour and employment. MLA from Kreeri, Basharat Bukhari, was divested of all his ministries and was given the insignificant portfolio of horticulture ministry.
Bukhari was the only new minister inducted to the cabinet. He was sworn in at a simple ceremony in Raj Bhavan Jammu.
Bukhari, who was minister for public works in the government led by the late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, was inducted to the Council of Ministers apparently to give Srinagar a representation. Bukhari is the MLA from Srinagar’s Amira Kadal constituency.
“The prime reason to include him (Bukhari) in the CoM was that he would give representation to Srinagar, as parliamentary polls are scheduled to be held for Central Kashmir in the coming months,” a top government official told Reader. “There were two choices with the chief minister: to nominate either Bukhari or another former minister of state, Ashraf Mir, as representative from Srinagar. She chose Bukhari.”
The parliamentary seat for Central Kashmir fell vacant after Member of Parliament Tariq Hamid Qarra resigned from the membership of the Lok Sabha. Qarra, who is a founding member of the PDP and the general secretary of the party, was not happy with the PDP-BJP alliance, which he called “unnatural”.
Bukhari had been complaining of being sidelined by the party since he was dropped from the Council of Ministers.
Senior government officials said that the reshuffling of ministries is aimed at making the chief minister’s loyalists more powerful.
“Some ministers were cut to size because the chief minister thought they were involved in internal bickering. Veeri was loyal, so he was rewarded with more ministries,” an official said. “Naeem’s induction in the public works ministry is also important. He has been given charge of departments that have massive funds to spend on public works, including water and roads. Why Bukhari was not given the R&B ministry is still unclear.”
There were until now 23 ministers in the CoM, including Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. Bukhari’s induction has raised the number to 24, one short of the maximum number of 25.