Among the states with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, Madhya Pradesh is fighting the battle against the virus without any ministers as Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who assumed office on March 23, is yet to form his Cabinet.
As the central state has witnessed rapid growth in the number of coronavirus cases, crossing the 400-mark on Thursday, clamour for Cabinet formation has gradually grown.
Social media users have wondered why the state is yet to appoint ministers despite an exponential rise in the number of cases. State capital Bhopal has so far reported 94 cases and Indore 213. Fresh cases have also been reported from Dewas, Dhar, Betul, Hoshangabad, Shajapur, Sheopur and Raisen.
A workaholic, Chouhan has been busy round-the-clock, conducting field visits, addressing field officers, devising strategy with his core team of officers, and conversing with the public through video addresses. His Twitter handle has remained active with information and important advisories.
A senior official from the CM's Secretariat, on the condition of anonymity, told News18 that when the Cabinet is still to be formed, powers of all the ministers are automatically vested with the Chief Minister and that Chouhan regularly approves all department files presented to him.
Chouhan also directly communicates with field officers through video conferences and with department heads through personal meetings. However, after several officers from the Health Department contracted the infection, Chouhan has been relied on video conferences rather than physical meetings.
Chouhan maintained that he had assumed office on March 23 at 9pm and within an hour had started conducting meetings on the developing pandemic. There was hardly any time to form his Cabinet, he had said.
Chouhan said the BJP high command has decided that the Cabinet will be formed after the lockdown ends, adding his party colleagues, MLAs and MPs are there to help him out.
“I start my interactions with different sections of the society at 6am and my meetings last well past midnight,” said Chouhan, adding that he has a devoted team of bureaucrats and the support of 7.5 crore citizens.
But the opposition Congress has time and again raised the issue of the cabinet formation. It has also slammed former party colleague and ex-health minister Tulsiram Silawat who was part of the group of rebel MLAs that deserted the party just before the outbreak in the state. Silawat later joined BJP and is hopeful of a ministerial berth in the Chouhan government.
The absence of a Cabinet has led to administrative slackness, which is evident in departments like health, said Congress spokesperson Bhupendra Gupta. Close to 40 employees in the department, including senior officers, have tested positive so far.
How many meetings can a single person take in a day, asked Gupta, claiming close to five lakh people in rural areas are waiting for home and relief measures.
Party media cell in-charge Narendra Saluja said the Cabinet formation could not take place as the BJP government has a huge task of accommodating the new entrants into the Cabinet. Keeping in mind the gravity of the situation, district-wise assignment of charges to ministers could have come in handy in fighting the disease, he added.
Twenty-two Congress MLAs, including six ministers, had resigned and joined the BJP, bringing down the Kamal Nath government on March 20.
While Nath hasn’t commented so far on the Cabinet formation, he has been regularly pointing out anomalies and shortcomings in the fight against the pandemic.
Chief Secretary Iqbal Singh Bains and the state publicity department are yet to respond to related queries.