PM Modi's New Cabinet Meets For First Time, Clears Housing for Poor

In its first decision, the Cabinet has cleared plans to build 3 crore houses for the rural and urban poor under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.

New Delhi:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who took oath at the head of a coalition government yesterday, is holding his first cabinet meeting at his residence in Delhi. On agenda is advising the President to formulate the 18th Lok Sabha. In its first decision, the Cabinet has also cleared plans to build 3 crore houses for the rural and urban poor under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. This morning, PM Modi signed his first file authorising the release of around Rs 20,000 crore to about 9.3 crore farmers. All eyes, though, are on the long-awaited allocation of portfolios.

Thirty cabinet ministers, new and old, took oath last evening at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Five Ministers of State with Independent charge and 36 junior ministers were also sworn in.

The cabinet meeting is taking in the backdrop of grumblings from allies -- Eknath Shinde's Shiv Sena, Ajit Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party, Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam Party and Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal United -- all of them carrying wishlists.

While the Sena wants more cabinet berths -- it has been given only one so far -- Mr Pawar's party, which won only one seat, is unhappy with the BJP offer of a junior minister berth with Independent charge.

The Sena, which added seven seats to the NDA tally, has asked for three berths in PM Modi's Council of Ministers, but has indicated that it is willing to wait till the next expansion. Its leaders, though, have made their unhappiness clear in statements that the party has distanced itself from.

The candidate for the post is Praful Patel, who was a cabinet minister in the erstwhile Manmohan Singh government. The NCP is now arguing that anything less than a cabinet berth will be a demotion for Mr Patel.

On its part, the BJP has said the size and shape of the Council of ministers is not final. Despite the mammoth size of the cabinet, there is room to expand. The Council can accommodate another nine ministers, though how many of them can be added to the cabinet is unclear.

The TDP and the JD(U) are both angling for the post of the Lok Sabha Speaker -- a position of supreme importance in a coalition government. In case of a split in a party, it is the Speaker who decides who stays and who gets disqualified under the anti-defection law.

The allies, though, keeping in mind the fragile nature of a coalition government, have repeatedly said that their support to the government is "unconditional".