Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan on Wednesday resigned from the Union Cabinet ahead of the much-awaited cabinet reshuffle later in the evening. The Minister of state for health Ashwini Kumar Choubey also stepped down a little later.
The resignations come at a time when the central government is at the receiving end of criticism over its handling of the brutal Covid second wave that left lakhs dead and many more desperate for oxygen and hospital beds.
The new health minister will have several challenges ahead as the government battles to avoid a third Covid wave.
Among the pressing challenges is vaccinating all Indians above the age of 18 as soon as possible. This at a time when vaccine supply constraints are being highlighted by countless state governments.
At a bigger level is the need to ramp up the health infrastructure across the country even as health spend in the union budget still lags behind in comparison to the developed countries of the world.
Other top ministers to resign include labour minister Santosh Gangwar and Union Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank', the latter citing health reasons according to sources. The Minister of state for education, communications and electronics and information technology Sanjay Dhotre too has stepped down.
Gangwar, who held the position of Minister of state (Independent Charge) for labour and employment, resigned from his post early Wednesday morning. When asked whether he has resigned from the post of Labour Minister, Gangwar answered in the affirmative. "Yes I have resigned," he said. He, however, said he is not aware of what his new role in the government will be.
Union Chemicals and Fertilizers Minister DV Sadananda Gowda also confirmed that he is quitting.
Minister of state for women and child development Ministry Debasree Chaudhuri and Minister of state for environment, forest and climate change Babul Supriyo, both from Bengal, have also resigned. Chaudhuri was elected to the Lok Sabha from West Bengal's Raiganj constituency in the 2019 general elections.
Meanwhile, ministerial probables including BJP's Narayan Rane, Sarbananda Sonowal, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Ajay Bhatt, Bhupender Yadav, Shobha Karandlaje, Sunita Duggal, Meenakshi Lekhi, Bharati Pawar, Shantanu Thakur and Kapil Patil, JD(U)'s R C P Singh, LJP's Pashupati Paras and Apna Dal's Anupriya Patel met Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his residence today morning.
Some ministers of state, including G Kishan Reddy, Parshottam Rupala and Anurag Thakur, were also there, and they may be elevated, sources said.
The first rejig in PM Modi's second term will see 43 taking the oath of office on Wednesday evening.
The full list of those taking the oath is below:
With agency inputs)