New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday nominated 14 members to the second National Advisory Council (NAC), which will set the government’s social agenda.
NAC serves as an interface between the government and the Congress party, which heads the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), and is chaired by Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
The first NAC, formed during the UPA’s 2004-09 reign, was credited with introducing a number of schemes that boosted economic inclusion and helped the alliance win a second term in last year’s parliamentary elections.
The members of the new NAC include scientists, academics, intellectuals and civil society activists. Four members of the previous NAC—Aruna Roy,Jean Dreze, N.C. Saxena and A.K. Shiva Kumar—have been renominated. The new names include agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan, Planning Commission members V. Krishnamurthy and Narendra Jadhav, vice-chancellor of North-Eastern Hill University in Shillong Pramod Tandon, activists Mirai Chatterjee and Farah Naqvi, and bureaucrat-turned-activist Harsh Mander.
Team recast: UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Pankaj Nangia/Bloomberg
Member of Parliament Ram Dayal Munda, entrepreneur Anu Aga and Madhav Gadgil of the Agharkar Research Institute, Pune, have also been nominated.
“No agenda has been drawn up yet. We will firm up something when we have our first meeting,” said N C Saxena. The meeting is expected in the third week of June.
The first NAC was associated with the UPA’s signature social sector reforms such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The new panel is expected to give priority to draft legislations such as the Food Security Bill, which promises cheaper foodgrains to the poor; the Women’s Reservation Bill, which proposes to reserve lawmaking positions for women; and the Communal Harmony Bill, which seeks to improve relations between religious communities.
In a press conference last week, the Prime Minister had said NAC wasn’t a “super cabinet but an advisory body” which “made very effective contribution to... social development.”
NAC’s revival can help UPA, which has been under fire from the Opposition as well as some allies over rising prices of food and other essential commodities, renew its image as a government committed to inclusive growth and social welfare.
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) expressed its scepticism over NAC’s ability to do this. “The burden of the one year’s non-performance and scandals are enough to sink the Congress regime,” BJP vice- president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said. “The toiling masses are reeling under price rise and no amount of intellectual association or the NAC can bring relief to the UPA government now.”
An analyst also said the panel may not be as useful as it was in its first term.
“The last time the NAC was formed, it was against the backdrop of big social sector schemes like NREGA, RTI Act and so on. However, now in some senses this is not what is required since the architecture is already in place with programmes like Right to Education, the rural health mission, and NREGA already being implemented,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president, Centre for Policy Research, a Delhi-based think tank. Mehta said the need now was to see how these schemes are implemented, and it was not clear what NAC, which only plays an advisory role, could do. Still, “with the revival of the council, the government is sending a signal that it is committed to its social sector agenda,” he added.
Santosh K. Joy and PTI contributed to the story