10 ministers skip the refurbished Union Council's first meeting, which saw the prime minister and finance minister conduct a tutorial on the economy for the juniors. Our correspondent reports on what transpired at the meeting.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in a cheerful mood, smiling away, during the first meeting of the rejigged Union council of ministers at his residence on Thursday. But it was not all fun and laughter, there was serious business to be transacted after all.
So it was that the Union Council on Thursday received a tutorial on the economy not only from the prime minster but also from Finance Minister P Chidambaram who educated the junior ministers on foreign direct investment in retail and disinvestment.
In an obvious reference to the National Investment Board -- which is a crucial decision awaiting the Cabinet's nod -- Chidambaram wanted the ministers to cooperate with the speedy implementation and clearance of major projects from the environment angle.
When Chidambaram said this, many ministers looked at Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan, who nodded.
Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath, who recently took over the parliamentary affairs portfolio as well, sought permission from the prime minister to tell the Union council that senior ministers should allot time for members during the Parliament session and also interact with them irrespective of political affiliations, selecting each state in a fortnight.
The prime minster intervened and said that this suggestion should be implemented.
Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar intervened at the end of the meeting to suggest that the prime minister may please consider including ministers of state in the some of the Group of Ministers meetings when crucial decisions are taken.
Trying out this would be useful for the junior ministers to reply in Parliament as also to articulate during public discussions, Pawar argued.
Defence Minister AK Antony and Science and Technology Minister Jaipal Reddy were not present at the beginning of the meeting. A couple of ministers murmurred about their absence, but both arrived 15 minutes into the meeting.
Seeing Jaipal Reddy walk in led to a sigh of relief for some of the Congress ministers, against the backdrop of Arvind Kejriwal's charge on Wednesday that the former was shunted out of the petroleum ministry for not cowing down to Reliance Industries.
A few ministers hoped that Reddy's successor Veerappa Moily would not open up on the Kejriwal controversy to render the government side -- since he Moily was ready with some notes on the issue.
Newly-appointed minister of state Chiranjeevi was also late, entering the meeting after Jaipal Reddy.
Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh was not present at the council of ministers meeting, but he was not the only one.
Out of 32 Cabinet ministers, three did not turn up. Of the 12 ministers of state with with independent charge, only nine were present at the meeting, and 32 out of 36 ministers of state attended the crucial meeting.
The ones who were absent were either busy in electioneering or missed their flight, according to a source in the Cabinet Secretariat
Though there was no vote of thanks, when Prime Minister Manmohan SIngh said that the Union Cabinet will now take up its agenda the ministers of state gently withdrew from the meeting.