Hyderabad: The New Year began with fresh trouble within the ruling Congress in Andhra Pradesh following change in portfolio of a minister from Telangana, triggering strong protests from his cabinet colleagues from the region.
While ministers of AP Cabinet hailing from Telangana cried foul over late last night`s decision of Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy, he shot back asserting that allocation of portfolios to ministers was his sole prerogative.
At a time when the party was vertically split along Telangana and Seemaandhra lines, Civil Supplies Minister D Sridhar Babu was divested of the additional portfolio of Legislative Affairs and, in lieu, given charge of the Commercial Taxes Department.
The Legislative Affairs charge was given to S Sailajanath, as an addition to the School Education portfolio he has been holding.
Sridhar Babu belongs to Telangana and Sailajanath to Seemaandhra. Ironically, Sridhar Babu was one of the most trusted lieutenants of the Chief Minister ever since they worked together as government whip and chief whip respectively between 2004 and 2009 when Y S Rajasekhara Reddy was the CM.
"Change in portfolio of the minister was purely for administrative convenience and that`s my prerogative. Revenue from commercial taxes saw a sharp decline and we wanted to boost it up. So, the minister was given charge of the crucial department," the Chief Minister told reporters in an informal chat at his camp office.
Commercial taxes contributed 26 per cent to the state revenues two years ago but fell to 15 per cent last year and further to 9.5 per cent this year, he pointed out.
Interestingly, the CM himself had been holding charge of the Commercial Taxes Department for the past three years.
Sridhar Babu, on the other hand, was said to have offered to quit the Cabinet in protest against the "insult to people of Telangana" but his colleagues dissuaded him from taking any hasty step.
Taking umbrage to the divesting of Legislative Affairs portfolio, ministers from Telangana region led by Panchayat Raj Minister K Jana Reddy met Governor E S L Narasimhan here today and lodged a strong protest and lashed out at the Chief Minister for seeking to derive "sadistic pleasure."
The portfolio rejig seemingly sought to alter the regional equations at a time when the state Legislature is set to take up a crucial debate on the draft AP Reorganisation Bill-2013, referred to by the President, from January 3.
The minister holding charge of legislative affairs plays a key role in ensuring floor co-ordination and a smooth debate as the House stands vertically divided on the state bifurcation issue.
A seething Sridhar Babu asserted that he would not take charge of the Commercial Taxes Department. He also maintained that he acted responsibly during the tabling of the draft Bill in the Legislature last month and always followed rules and procedures as Legislative Affairs Minister.
At a meeting at Jana Reddy`s residence after meeting the Governor, Sridhar Babu reportedly offered to resign from the Cabinet.
"But we asked him not to do so as it will serve no purpose at this stage," Jana Reddy said. Jana Reddy termed the Chief Minister`s decision "undemocratic" and against the "spirit of the Constitution" but hastened to add that they were not questioning his prerogative.
Finance Minister Anam Ramanarayana Reddy (from Seemaandhra), who too met the Governor separately, said change in portfolios of ministers was the CM`s prerogative.