BENGALURU: Karnataka Minister B Sriramulu was divested of the Health and Family Welfare portfolio by Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa on Monday in a Cabinet reshuffle amid the COVID-19 pandemic with the former said to be miffed by the move.
The portfolio has been allocated to Medical Education Minister K Sudhakar.
Significantly, Yediyurappa also took back the Backward Classes Welfare department from Sriramulu, retaining it with himself, in the minor reshuffle.
He entrusted Sriramulu with the key Social Welfare department, hitherto handled by Deputy Chief Minister Govind Karjol in addition to the Public Works department.
State Governor Vajubhai Vala issued an official notification reallocating the portfolios on the advice of the Chief Minister.
Sriramulu getting the social welfare department portfolio is seen as a politically significant move by the ruling BJP as he belongs to the Scheduled Tribe (Valmiki) community.
However, the Chief Minister's decision of taking back the Backward Classes Welfare department, the additional portfolio that the Minister was holding, came as a surprise.
As the re-allocation of portfolios was declared, Sriramlu met Yediyurappa at his official residence.
He declined to speak to the media after the meeting.
Seemingly sulking over the reshuffle, Sriramulu later held discussions with his close associates over the next course of action and is even contemplating about visiting Delhi to meet the BJP central leadership, party sources said.
Sriramulu, who has time and again expressed his deputy chief ministerial ambitions, is miffed because of the timing of the move.
He was worried that the decision to divest him from the responsibilities of the health department amid the COVID-19 pandemic, will send a wrong message to the people about his capability, they said.
The Congress in Karnataka claimed that the change in the Health Minister was a proof of the government's "miserable failure" in handling the coronavirus pandemic.
"The Cabinet Reshuffle done by CM @BSYBJP is proof of this government's miserable failure in handling the COVID Pandemic.
The fact that the Health Minister has been changed adds credence to our charge that this Govt's incompetency has led to massive loss of life and livelihood," KPCC President D K Shivakumar tweeted.
Sudhakar is now in-charge of the overall Health related affairs in the state, which has been witnessing a spurt in COVID-19 cases.
The Chief Minister is understood to have taken the decision with an intention of one minister handling the related portfolios - Health and Family Welfare and Medical Education - amid the pandemic, official sources said.
Yediyurappa picked Sudhakar as he is a Medical doctor by qualification and has been handling COVID-19 related responsibilities, they said.
Also, in early weeks of COVID management, the government had drawn criticism from some sections over its strategy and handling with Sriramulu and Sudhakar seen "competing" with each other to lead from the front, sometimes creating confusion.
The opposition has levelled allegations of corruption in procurement of COVID-19 equipment, but the BJP government has rejected them.
Speaking to reporters earlier on Monday, Sudhakar thanked the Chief Minister for the trust shown in him and said that he would focus on bringing COVID-19 under control and work towards decreasing the fatality rate in the state.
Noting that the health and medical education departments were interlinked, Sudhakar said, for various reasons they were seperated in 2000, to make room for more Ministers then, and the Chief Minister has now rectified that ''mistake''.
He replied in the negative to a question whether changing the health minister amid corruption allegations in the procurement of Covid-19 equipment would send out a wrong message.
"I have said in the assembly that there is no corruption. However, keeping in mind media queries and Opposition claims, I will study once again," he said.
Sudhakar said he has spoken to Sriramulu, who held the health portfolio all these days, after getting to know about reallocation and that the latter was not sulking.
"Social welfare is a big department with an outlay of over Rs 25,000 crore and he (Sriramulu) had desired for the department in the past," he noted.
Deputy Chief Minister Govind Karjol, who also met Yediyurappa said, the Social Welfare Department was an additional responsibility he was handling along with PWD, and the Chief Minister has the complete authority to give it to any one, Sriramulu in this case as he himself is from the backward class community.