Ministers spell out priorities on first day in office (Roundup)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

NEW DELHI - Several ministers who took charge of their new portfolios Thursday spelled out their priorities following the cabinet reshuffle.

New Rural Development Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh termed his new assignment as “a promotion” while Minister of State for Sports (Independent Charge) Ajay Maken expressed his gratitude to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for giving him a crucial ministry.

Interacting with reporters in his new office, Deshmukh said the Supreme Court’s observation on his links with moneylenders who harass farmers was an “isolated incident”. He also denied any link between his portfolio and farmer suicides in Maharashtra.

“One isolated incident cannot be connected with other things,” he said.

The court last month had raised questions on the former Maharashtra chief minister’s alleged links with money lenders in the state’s Vidarbha region.

Deshmukh was the chief minister of Maharashtra from 1999 to 2003, and then from 2004 to 2008, and was accused of not doing enough to stop the suicides.

Deshmukh was moved from heavy industries and public enterprises to rural development ministry in the reshuffle Wednesday.

“It is a promotion as the ministry concerns 80 percent of the country’s population,” he said, adding that the change of portfolios was the prerogative of the prime minister.

Ajay Maken thanked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for elevating him to the “crucial” sports portfolio and spoke comprehensively about his priorities which include improving performance of the country in the 2012 London Olympics compared to its show in the previous edition of the games in Beijing.

He backed his predecessor M.S. Gill’s controversial age and tenure restrictions for sports federations but said he wanted to adopt a “non-confrontational” approach while implementing the ruling.

Maken also expressed his desire to see former players and young administrators with a sporting background at the helm of the federations.

He said the issue of non-payment of bills to the Australian companies for their work during the Commonwealth Games would be sorted out within 10 days.

“I have directed secretary sports to speak to the government nominees in the Organising Committee to thoroughly verify legitimate payments and I have given them 10 days time to sort out the issue,” Maken said.

Australia Thursday raised the issue of millions of dollars owed to its firms by the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee with visiting External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, who assured them that he would take it up with the sports ministry.

Newly-appointed Road Transport Minister C.P. Joshi Thursday said his ministry will promote the use of new technologies to help develop good quality roads and ensure greater transparency in its functioning.

“Making quality roads and greater transparency in the functioning of the ministry will be my main priority. It is a challenging portfolio,” said Joshi, who earlier headed the rural development ministry.

He emphasised on the need for creating a feedback mechanism and to make improvements based on the feedback received from the grassroot level.

Joshi said he was keen on using new technology for real time monitoring of the road projects.

Tusharbhai Choudhary took charge as minister of state for road transport and highways.

Gurudas Kamat, who was shifted from the telecom ministry in the latest government reshuffle, Thursday assumed charge as minister of state for home affairs.

Kamat, who is a five-time Congress MP from Mumbai, later called on Home Minister P. Chidambaram.

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