Congress completes one month in office with minor hiccups

Bangalore, June 15 (IANS) Karnataka's Congress government has completed one month in office without major mishaps but with some loss of face as it did not keep its word to launch an ambitious cheap rice scheme for the poor from June 1.

The embarrassment is more for Chief Minister Siddaramaiah at the personal level as he had announced the scheme's launch date shortly after assuming office May 13. He had taken the oath alone and inducted his ministers two weeks later.

The announcement, even before the ministry was formed, had led to grumbling in the party that Siddaramaiah was trying to hog all the limelight. However, the discontent did not build up as the focus of even those upset with him over the issue was on becoming a minister.

The opposition parties too, have not made much of the issue, though the scheme would now take off only by July 10, as no election is round the corner.

The reason Siddaramaiah gave for not keeping the June 1 promise was that the central government could not supply the additional rice required for implementing the scheme, which would cost the state government Rs. 4,300 crore a year. The scheme would benefit nearly nine million below poverty line (BPL) families in the state.

Both the chief minister and the party seem to be lucky, at least for now, as even the ministry formation did not lead to a major crisis, though a number of party legislators remain unhappy at not being inducted into the cabinet.

Prominent party leader D.K. Shivakumar, who has not been made a minister because of allegations of illegal mining, took his oath as a member of the assembly only Thursday, a day after the assembly concluded its first session.

Though Shivakumar explained that he had not taken oath earlier because of religious vows, speculation was that he had not done so as he was upset at not being made a minister.

Shivakumar, a sixth-time assembly member from Kanakapura on Bangalore's outskirts, has earlier been a minister and working president of the state Congress unit. He had lobbied for several days with the Congress leaders in New Delhi for a cabinet post.

There are four vacant slots in the council of ministers, which is now 30-strong, including Siddaramaiah. Karnataka can have a 34-member council of ministers as per constitutional norms.

It is not clear whether Shivakumar would be accommodated when Siddaramaiah fills the vacant slots. So far, there is no indication from the chief minister or the party when this will happen.

Siddaramaiah and the Congress have also been lucky on the issue of sharing the Cauvery river water. Apprehensions that Karnataka might be forced to release water to Tamil Nadu even though the storage in its reservoirs is fast depleting did not come true.

Tamil Nadu has been demanding 63 TMC feet (thousand million cubic feet) of Cauvery water from Karnataka for the month of June. However, its demand was rejected June 12 by the Cauvery Supervisory Committee after a meeting in New Delhi. The committee was set up by the central government on the Supreme Court's directive.

Siddaramaiah and the Congress party would be hoping that fortune would continue to smile on them, at least on the Cauvery issue, with the good monsoon season that started in the first week of June and would last till September-end.

(V.S. Karnic can be contacted at vs.karnic@ians.in)

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