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Cabinet reshuffle: Bharti divested of Water Resources Ministry

New Delhi : In a Cabinet expansion-cum-reshuffle exercise, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has divested Uma Bharti of the Union Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation Ministry and allocated the same to Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Jairam Gadkari.

Bharti, who had been spearheading some of the Centre's flagship programmes including the ambitious Namami Gange and river inter-linking schemes, has been made the Union Drinking Water & Sanitation Minister.

Two of Bharti's deputies, Dr Sanjeev Kumar Balyan and Vijay Goel, have also been shifted out of the Water Resources Ministry at a time when the first project of the river inter-linking scheme is expected to be launched soon at the behest of the Prime Minister's Office.

While Goel is the Union Minister of State in the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs as well as Minister of State in the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Balyan has not found any place in the expanded Modi Cabinet.

Government sources said one of the reasons for moving Bharti out of the crucial Water Resources Ministry was the slow pace of implementation of schemes that have been part of Modi's pre-election promises to the electorate.

Also, in recent weeks, the first project to of the river interlining scheme, to link the Ken River with the Betwa River, had run into some opposition from Madhya Pradesh and finally the issue had to be resolved by the PMO.

Experts had also cautioned that despite the initiatives being spearheaded by Bharti, the Ganga rejuvenation programme would not be able to meet its deadline in 2019. Only in recent months, the pace of work to grant approval to projects under the ambitious hybrid annuity-based PPP (public private partnership) model has picked up.

In August, the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) had approved 10 projects in Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh worth about Rs 2033 crore.

While eight of these projects pertain to sewage infrastructure and treatment, one is for river front development and another one is for Ganga Knowledge Centres.

News reports indicate that noted water expert Madhav Chitale, who recently resigned from the membership of National Commission for Ganga Rejuvenation, had termed efforts to clean the Ganga as "inadequate and superficial".

The key ministry has now been handed over to Gadkari, who is considered one of the top-performing ministers, and has also been associated with the Namami Gange programme while heading efforts to develop India's internal waterways.

Gadkari will be assisted by two Ministers of State - Arjun Ram Meghwal and former top police officer Satya Pal Singh. While Meghwal is also Minister of State in the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, Singh has been given additional charge as Minister of State in the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

Bharti has been retained in a key ministry involved with water - Drinking Water & Sanitation and will be assisted by SS Ahluwalia and Ramesh Chandappa Jigajinagi as Ministers of State.

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