Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Monday said that the raging Covid-19 pandemic is the first challenge that the new state government will tackle.
Speaking to reporters soon after taking oath as the 15th chief minister, Sarma also appealed to Ulfa (Independent) chief Paresh Barua to give up arms and come forward for talks to resolve all issues to ensure peace in Assam.
“We will have our first cabinet meeting tomorrow, when we will take stock of the Covid-19 situation in the state and discuss measures that can be adopted to contain the spread of the virus,” Sarma said.
He described the current pandemic situation as “alarming” in the backdrop of daily new infections crossed the 5,000-mark on Sunday. “It is important that Assam contains the pandemic because otherwise cases will start rising across the Northeast,” he said.
As the former health minister, Sarma had earned praise for his deft handling of the pandemic last year, but faced criticism when he declared during the recently concluded elections that Covid-19 no longer existed in Assam and people did not need to wear masks.
Stating that his government is committed to peace and progress, he said that peace had been restored in the Bodo and Karbi Anglong areas in the last five years and hoped that the militant groups still active in the state would also come forward for a negotiated settlement.
“I appeal to Paresh Barua to hold talks in the interest of permanent peace in the state…Murders and kidnappings serve no purpose. Problems can be solved through talks,” he said
He further said that the government would fulfil all the poll promises made by the NDA within a set timeframe.
On the controversial National Register of Citizens (NRC), he said the government will reverify 20 per cent of the border areas and 10 per cent of the other areas.
“If it turns out that there is no anomaly in the latest NRC, the government will accept it, but if not then we will ask the Supreme Court to take necessary action,” he said.
The final NRC excluded about 19 lakh people in Assam leading to massive hue and cry.
Earlier, governor Jagdish Mukhi administered the oath of office to 52-year-old Sarma and the 13 minister in a ceremony at Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra in Guwahati.
There are several new faces in the ministry including BJP state president Ranjit Dass and Urkhao Gwra Brahma of UPPL.
The other ministers are: Pijush Hazarika, Atul Bora, Keshab Mahanta, Ajanta Neog, Bimal Bora, Jogen Mohan, Ashok Singhal, Chandra Mohan Patowary, Ranoj Pegu, Sanjay Kishan and Parimal Suklabaidya.
BJP national president J P Nadda was among those who attended the function. Also present were chief ministers of Meghalaya, Tripura, Manipur and Nagaland.
Himanta’s mother, wife and two children were also in attendance.
Among the four states and one Union territory that recently went to polls, Assam is the last to have a government in place, thanks mainly to the dilemma that the BJP leadership had over who should be the chief minister as it found it difficult to choose between Sarma and former chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
The question over the top post was settled after the BJP legislature party on Sunday unanimously selected Sarma as the leader with Sonowal himself proposing his name. his proposal was seconded by Ranjit Dass and Nandita Garlosa.
The BJP-led NDA won 75 seats in the 126-member house with the Congress-led Opposition winning 50 and the other going to jailed activist Akhil Gogoi, who contested from Sibsagar.