Naveen sacks ‘non-performer’ Pujari, principal secretary Sethi also replaced
Sources maintained that Pujari may have been shown the door to create a vacancy so that senior leader and Bhatli MLA Sushant Singh can be accommodated.
BHUBANESWAR: In a sudden political move, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on Friday dropped minister of state for higher education Rohit Pujari from his council of ministers and handed additional charge of the department to food supplies and consumer welfare minister Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak.
The principal secretary in the higher education department Bishnupada Sethi was also transferred and posted as the officer on special duty in the general administration department. Director of social welfare and Women and child development department Aravind Agrawal was appointed in his place.
While Pujari’s sacking came just 18 days after the cabinet reshuffle on May 22, sources said, such a drastic step was taken by the chief minister as the minister’s performance as in charge of a crucial department was not up to the mark.
Naveen had recently completed the performance review of all departments. The performance of the higher education department was found to be below expectations. The huge pendency of files with the minister had also become an issue. The minister’s OSD and private secretary were also replaced recently on that account, sources said. Pujari, however, told mediapersons that he had given his best as minister. “I think more was expected from me and I was not able to deliver,” he said and added that he has no regrets over losing his place in the council of ministers.
“The chief minister has blessed me many times by making me the BJD district president, Odisha Lift Irrigation Corporation chairman and giving ticket twice to contest the Assembly election,” he added. However, political observers feel that there is more to it than meets the eye. The reasons behind his ouster were more political than performance.
The two-time MLA from Rairakhol had recently courted controversy by making a statement that people above 60 years of age should retire from politics. This remark was purportedly aimed at BJD veteran Prasanna Acharya who is speculated to be eyeing to contest the 2024 Assembly elections from the constituency.
However, sources said, party managers here were not amused over such a statement as it gave rise to several interpretations. Not only Pujari lost the confidence of the higher-ups for unwittingly creating such a controversy, but a powerful faction of the BJD in the region also wanted him to go.
Besides, Pujari’s organisational skills were also under scanner following the changed political equation in the area after the murder of health and family welfare minister Naba Kishore Das in January. He was also not included in the star campaigners list for the Jharsuguda bypoll held on May 10.
Sources maintained that Pujari may have been shown the door to create a vacancy so that senior leader and Bhatli MLA Sushant Singh can be accommodated. Singh was reported to be unhappy after he was not inducted into the cabinet in the recent reshuffle. The leadership tried to placate him by making him the organisational in charge of the western Odisha districts except for Sundargarh.