Sonia-led panel aims at salvaging govt's image

NAC to focus more on welfare schemes

The NAC, which sets the UPA government’s agenda in the social sector, is also likely to go ahead to draft the National Food Security Bill on the basis of its recommendations, virtually brushing aside the objections of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council’s report.

 It is also set to prevail over the government to make the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act more effective and likely to be more assertive in blocking the efforts by the Department of Personnel and Training to insert some limiting clauses in the rules framed under the Right to Information Act.

With the UPA regime being accused of governance deficit by the BJP and other opposition parties, the NAC seems set to expand its own role to look into issues like urban poverty as well as land acquisition to build industry and infrastructure and resettlement and rehabilitation of the displaced people.

The NAC’s renewed assertiveness and its move to have greater say in formulating the programmes of the Government came at a time, when the Congress top brass is understood to be of opinion that the UPA-II must now focus on its social sector agenda in order to offset the effects of the slew of scams and recover lost grounds.

In its meeting on Saturday, the NAC decided that its Working Group on Transparency and Accountability would now focus on ‘critical issues’ related to MGNREGA, particularly delayed payments, redressing of grievances and quality of assets created by the programme.

The group would also work on the proposed Lokpal Bill – the long-awaited and much-debated anti-graft legislation, which returned under focus after the mess in preparations for Commonwealth Games in Delhi, irregularities in Adarsh Society in Mumbai and the 2-G spectrum allocation scam came up one after another to put Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Government in a tight spot.

A Group of Ministers headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is already working on the Lokpal Bill. A committee under the Cabinet Secretary K N Chandrasekhar is also examining the Bill, which the Government might introduce in the Parliament soon.

The GoM members, however, are understood to have divergent views on the tricky issue of bringing the Prime Minister under the purview of the Lokpal, which will possibly be a three-member body of former Supreme Court judges or equivalents.

Forest rights

The NAC in its meeting on Saturday also finalised its recommendations for an operational guideline to be issued by the Centre to the State Governments for more effective implementation of the Forest Rights Act and also suggested changes to be made in the rule to ensure that the legislation really benefits the forest dwellers.

“The purpose of these recommendations is to ensure that the key features of this law – the democratic process of recognizing rights, the protection to a range of livelihood rights, and the powers of communities to protect and conserve forests – are not undermined,” the NAC said in a statement issued after the meeting on Saturday.

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