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.
The portfolio was 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.
Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala issued an official notification reallocating the portfolios on the advice of the Chief Minister.
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 said 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, some times 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 said the Chief Minister has told him to take up the responsibility of the health department along with Medical Education and to work effectively in the fight against coronavirus and to provide the best health facility for 6.5 crore people in the state.
"I thank him (CM) for the trust he has shown in me and will live up to his expectation," the Minister said, adding 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.
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 taking back the Backward Classes Welfare department, the additional portfolio that Sriramulu was holding, has come as a surprise.
As the re-allocation of portfolios were declared, Sriramlu met Yediyurappa at his official residence.
Deputy Chief Minister 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.
He also welcomed the move to entrust the responsibilities of Health and Medical Education departments to Sudhakar and said it will be helpful for better management of the pandemic.