Tainted former Uttar Pradesh Mines Minister Gayatri Prajapati, against whose reinduction a social activist had petitioned the Governor, was on Monday sworn in along with three others, in perhaps the last expansion of the Akhilesh Yadav ministry before the 2017 assembly polls.
Six MoS were also elevated in the expansion.
The oath of office and secrecy was administered by Governor Ram Naik at Raj Bhawan to Manoj Pandey, Shivakant Ojha and Ziauddin Rizvi, besides Gayatri. Rizvi was not able to take oath in June when the cabinet was last expanded as he was abroad.
Three Mos-Independent Riaz Ahmed, Yasir Shah and Ravidas Mehtrotra, and Ministers of State Abhishek Mishra, Narendra Verma and Shankhlal Majhi were elevated to cabinet rank.
Interestingly, Raj Kishore Singh, who too was dropped along with Prajapati, failed to stage a comeback.
Prajapati was sacked by Akhilesh two weeks back as part of efforts by the chief minister to refurbish the image of his government before the Assembly elections.
His action, however, triggered a political crisis and his re-induction was part of a compromise formula hammered out by ruling Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav to douse the flames in the Yadav clan.
But, hadly 48 hours before the swearing-in ceremony, activist Nutan Thakur petitioned the Governor against making him minister again. In her petition, she said Prajapati was removed as minister on serious corruption charges after the order of Allahabad high court for a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry.
Nutan said when Prajapati was removed as minister, he had lost the pleasure of the Governor. Hence, he cannot be reinducted in the Ministry unless the facts and reasons on which he had lost the pleasure of the Governor get removed.
The Akhilesh ministry now comprises 32 cabinet ministers, 9 MoS (Independent Charge) and 19 MoS.
This was the eighth expansion of the Akhilesh Yadav government since it assumed office in 2012.The UP council of ministers now has the maximum strength of 60 ministers.
Akhilesh had sacked Prajapati at a time when there were indications that the CBI was set to tighten the noose around Prajapati and officials of the state mining department.
The high court had asked the CBI to look into the role of government functionaries in allegations of illegal mining.
Prajapati was in news when Nutan had lodged a complaint with the Lokayukta, accusing him of corruption and gathering wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income. The Lokayukta had, however, dismissed the complaint on grounds that no such evidence was found against him.
But, as his sacking on September 12 set off a tsunami in the ruling party circles, the SP supremo had to chip in to end the impasse and as a compromise formula it was decided that he would be re-inducted, but with a different portfolio.
Akhilesh was said to be unhappy with the minister who was mired in controversy over allegations of promoting illegal mining.
The opposition, however, alleged that the sacking of the minister was just an eyewash to hide the corruption in mining sector.
Prajapati began as Minister of State for Irrigation in February 2013 and was given the lucrative portfolio of mining, directly under Akhilesh who handled that department as cabinet minister.
In July 2013, Yadav elevated Prajapati to MoS-independent charge and in January 2014, he was made a Cabinet minister.
IMAGE: Gayatri Prajapati takes oath as Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav looks on during oath taking ceremony in Lucknow. Photograph: Nand Kumar/PTI Photo