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Bhagwant Mann rejigs Punjab Cabinet, clips Meet Hayer’s wings

Punjab Cabinet minister Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer Tuesday lost four key departments, including the key portfolios of mines and geology, water resources, and science and technology, as Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann carried out a rejig, the fifth such reshuffle since he formed his Cabinet on March 16 last year.

Hayer, who was considered closest to the CM in the Cabinet, is now left with the sports and youth services department. Mann allocated the departments of mines and geology, water resources, and conservation of land and water to Chetan Singh Jouramajra, who already is holding several key portfolios

CM will keep the portfolio of science, technology and environment, which is being seen as an important development considering the flak that the Punjab government is getting for not being able to check paddy stubble burning, blamed as major contributor to pollution in Delhi in winter months. With At a time when Supreme Court has been pulling up the government on crop residue issue, Mann taking over the portfolio of science, technology and environment will bring him in direct line of fire.

The rejig order, cleared by Governor Banwarilal Purohit, came at a time when Mann is campaigning in poll-bound Rajasthan.

A two-time MLA from Barnala seat, Hayer, whose wedding to a doctor on November 7 saw several Opposition leaders in attendance, was given a free hand to format the sports policy and enhance the award money to the winning athletes, sources said. Such was his connect with Mann that all the files of his department were cleared without any delay, a source close to Hayer said.

Festive offer

The order divesting Hayer of key portfolios came hours after former ministers and Congress leaders Pargat Singh and Navjot Singh shared video showing alleged illegal sand mining on the land belonging to amateur wrestler Jagadish Bhola, who is currently in jail after being booked in a drug case. The Enforcement Directorate had earlier attached the said land.

Hayer, however, had told reporters that the pits seen in the video were four to five years old, a claim that both Pargat and Sidhu had sought to debunk asking if the minister was not able to “see thousands of fresh tire marks on the land”. “The truth cannot be hidden from the people by putting the blame on the previous governments,” Pargat said in post in Punjabi on X.

Immediately after Hayer was stripped of the portfolio, Pargat, asked the “new mining minister Jouramajra to take action instead of making excuses like the old minister” and “also deposit Rs 20,000 crore mining guarantee promised by AAP (national convenor) Arvind Kejriwal in Punjab treasury”.

Sidhu, meanwhile asked if Hayer was being made a scapegoat. “Changing the mining minister is acceptance of the blatant theft of the state resources…is the minister being made scapegoat? Who is patronising the mafia? Who is the supervisor-in-chief of the system that robs Punjab of more than Rs 50,000 crore yearly? A CBI probe will brinng out the truth. Both the CMs of AAP (Mann and Kejriwal) are under the scanner,” Sidhu said.

Another former minister and Shiromani Akali Dal senior leader Bikram Singh Majithia too had earlier in the day accused the AAP government of providing “patronage to illegal mining” saying “it had endangered infrastructure projects posing threat to national security” He alleged that “the AAP government was converting illegally mined material into legal by taking a fee of Rs 6 per cubic feet from truckers carrying illegal sand.”

He claimed that a “bridge on the Sutlej river at Anandpur Sahib was on the verge of collapse due to rampant illegal mining downstream, which had exposed its piers”. He further claimed that several defence projects had been threatened by illegal mining along the border with Pakistan, “a fact that had been raised by the Punjab and Haryana High Court also.”

He said Kejriwal had guaranteed to raise Rs 20,000 crore annually from sand mining. “The state has been able to raise only Rs 400 crore even though sand mining activity has increased 10-fold during the AAP regime,” he added.

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The mining portfolio has been changed twice this year. It was on January 7 that Mann had divested Harjot Bains of the portfolio and handed it over to Hayer, before taking it away just 10 months later.

The biggest beneficiary of the last two Cabinet rejigs has been Jouramajra, who was earlier divested of health and family welfare after he was seen allegedly forcing Dr Raj Bahadur, the then Vice Chancellor of Baba Farid University of Health Sciences, Faridkot, to lie down on a dirty mattress at a hospital. Already holding defence services welfare, freedom fighters, horticulture, information and public relations, and conservation of land and water, was also handed over the public relations department after it was taken away from Aman Arora.

This is the fifth time that Mann has carried out a reshuffle in his Cabinet. The rejigs have seen Mann dropping Dr Vijay Singla, Dr Inderbir Nijjar and Fauja Singh Sarari from the Cabinet, while inducting six others The Cabinet now has 16 people in it. There are a total 18 berths in the cabinet, including that of the chief minister’s.

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