NATIONAL POLITICS: Aruna, Dreze terms for NAC return – Sonia brings back duo with promise of retaining voice on RTI, food right

NATIONAL POLITICS: Aruna, Dreze terms for NAC return – Sonia brings back duo with promise of retaining voice on RTI, food right

Aruna Roy


New Delhi, June 5: Aruna Roy and Jean Dreze, among the brains behind the Rural Job Scheme and Right to Information Act, agreed to return to the National Advisory Council only after a lot of persuasion, including meetings with Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh.

They had to be promised that the planned RTI amendments would not be enacted without a debate and that the national food security bill would be reviewed.

Sonia Gandhi - lending a helping hand ?!!

Officials said Sonia had insisted that National Advisory Council II (NAC-II) would not come into being unless Roy and Dreze were on board. Dreze and Roy, on their part, have made it clear their role as civil society campaigners for the “rightful” use of the RTI Act and the right to food would continue even after they became council members.

Roy and Dreze had been approached sometime after the advisory panel, dissolved in 2008, was revived last March with Sonia as its chairperson. But they conveyed they were unwilling to return, prompting Sonia and the Prime Minister to speak to them, government sources said.

Jean Dreze

Dreze, a visiting professor at the G.B. Pant Social Sciences Institute, Allahabad, and Roy, founder of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, had been the public faces of NAC-I.

The Belgian-born Dreze had conceptualised and drafted the first version of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, which was watered down a bit and enacted into law. The Rajasthan-based Roy had worked out the advisory council’s blueprint on the right to information, which later became law after a little dilution.

Dreze quit the panel in early 2006 while Roy resigned three months after Sonia left the council following the office-of-profit controversy. “Once she was out, I figured out that a headless body was meaningless,” Roy said.

Sources said Sonia had her own reservations about the RTI amendments the government was keen on pushing through and also about the current form of the food security bill. However, she needed institutional backing and “informed” ideological ballast for her views lest they be misconstrued as “personal interventions”.

The NAC is the perfect mechanism to achieve the first objective while the presence of Roy and Dreze would lend ideological weight to Sonia’s positions.

“Let us see how much we can do,” Roy today said, adding she had consented to return because the advisory panel had a “process to create democratic space for larger consultations”. Dreze could not be reached.

The RTI amendments and the proposed food security law, Roy said, were beefed up with “rational arguments”. So the panel would have to come up with stronger and “more rational” counter-arguments. “We have to fight all the negative policies creeping into the system,” Roy said.

Among the demands made by Dreze and Roy, who were part of an over-arching campaign relating to the right to food, are:

■ Ban food export until malnutrition is contained;

■ Meet domestic needs by domestic production;

■ Universalise the public distribution system;

■ Ban future trading in food commodities; and

■ Place a moratorium on genetically modified (GM) seeds, GM food imports and use of GM food in government food schemes; and

■ Beneficiaries of any nutrition-related scheme must be given food and not money.

Roy and another NAC member, Harsh Mander, have spoken out repeatedly against the proposed RTI amendments that screen out “vexatious and frivolous” applications and exempt “file notings” and the “discussions and consultations” that precede decisions. They argue that it is impossible to define “vexatious and frivolous” clearly, and such an amendment can be misused officially.


Exit after Sena entry


New Delhi, June 5: Social activist Shabnam Hashmi has resigned from the National Integration Council, India’s apex body to formulate policies against social divisions, to protest the inclusion of Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray on the panel.

In a letter emailed to the home minister today, Hashmi said she was “shocked” at Thackeray’s inclusion. “Mr Uddhav Thackeray’s whole political life is based on divisive and hate politics. His entry into (the) NIC is a cruel oxymoron,” Hashmi wrote.

“His brand of communal politics is against the secular and plural value system that the council upholds,” she said, arguing that Thackeray’s entry would “further derogate the high credentials and stature of the body forever”.

Thackeray and the Sena have frequently been accused of inciting violence against minority communities and non-Maharashtrian residents of Mumbai.


Cong double blow to Pawar


New Delhi, June 5: The Congress today cornered Sharad Pawar on his home turf by backing an Independent in the Maharashtra Rajya Sabha elections, while leaving him to fend for himself in the IPL-bid controversy involving his family.

Maharashtra Congress spokesman Kanhaiyalal Gidwani announced he had filed his papers as an Independent and claimed the party high command’s “go-ahead” for the move which could spoil the chances of one of the NCP’s two candidates.

“I have met the (Congress) in-charge for Maharashtra, A.K. Antony, who has given me the go-ahead after chief minister Ashok Chavan and (state Congress) chief Manikrao Thakre gave the nod,” Gidwani said.

Gidwani’s candidature could be the Congress’s way of paying Pawar back for joining hands with the Sena-BJP in 2006 to get industrialist Rahul Bajaj through as an Independent at the cost of Congress nominee Avinash Pande.

With the Congress and the NCP fielding two candidates each, and the BJP and the Shiv Sena one apiece, Gidwani’s entry means each needs 42 first-preference votes to be sure of a win in the 288-member House. The Congress has 82 MLAs and the NCP has 62.

The NCP’s second nominee, therefore, needs 22 votes from outside the party. If Pawar was expecting support from the 53 members not associated with the major parties, Gidwani said he was eyeing their votes too.

He said he planned to meet Pawar to seek support and would also request Raj Thackeray’s party, which has 11 MLAs, to back him.

The Congress also refused to come to Pawar’s aid over allegations that he had concealed his family’s links with an IPL franchise bid.

“The issue involves (cricket board) BCCI, Pawar and the inquiry going into the IPL. If there are any facts, give it to it (the inquiry). The Congress has nothing to comment. You should ask these questions to Pawar,” party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi said.

It has emerged that Pawar, his wife and his daughter Supriya Sule, an MP, control about 16 per cent shares in City Corporation, which had unsuccessfully bid for the Pune team. BCCI chief Shashank Manohar has said the IPL governing council did not know that City Corporation’s managing director, Aniruddha Deshpande, had bid in his individual capacity — the version given by Pawar and Sule to clear themselves.


Sonia stands firm, Anand gets RS ticket

Commerce Minister Anand Sharma


New Delhi, June 5: Sonia Gandhi today cleared commerce minister Anand Sharma’s Rajya Sabha candidature from Rajasthan, brushing aside a campaign by his powerful critics and ending speculation about his continuance in the government.

But she listened to those opposed to former Union minister Suresh Pachauri and changed her mind about nominating him.

This pattern came up again and again as the Congress handed out Upper House tickets: Sonia accepted state leaders’ pressure on some candidates but not when their advice went against someone really important to her plans.

Despite stiff opposition, she succeeded in giving tickets to all the four Union ministers in the fray: Ambika Soni, Jairam Ramesh, Sharma and M.S. Gill.

She had also green-lighted Pachauri, who had the backing of the Prime Minister and Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel. Sources said Manmohan Singh had been happy with Pachauri’s handling of parliamentary affairs in UPA I and would have liked him back in the cabinet. Pachauri, now Madhya Pradesh Congress chief, too was keen to shift to national politics after the Assembly poll rout.

However, powerful leaders from Madhya Pradesh, such as Digvijay Singh and Jyotiraditya Scindia, were against the idea. Many senior leaders from other states too thought that selecting Pachauri would lead to heartburn since he had already been given four Rajya Sabha terms.

“Someone who is around 56 years old has already been kept in the Rajya Sabha for 24 years without any electoral victory. Giving him a fifth term soon after the debacle in the Assembly elections would have sent a wrong signal,” a senior Congress official said.

Many felt this would give Rajya Sabha members a precedent to claim re-nomination again and again, stifling the opportunities for fresh blood.

Sonia eventually agreed to leave Pachauri out but allowed him the final say, as state Congress president, in the selection of the candidate.

Pachauri suggested Vijayalaxmi Sadho, a Dalit who had been a minister in the Digvijay government. Sadho had been nowhere in the race but was preferred over the names suggested by other lobbies in the state.

In Andhra Pradesh, too, Sonia yielded to state leaders and gave the ticket to N. Janardhana Reddy instead of her original choice, former minister Renuka Chowdhury.

But she overruled state leaders in many instances. Mohsina Kidwai was picked from Chhattisgarh despite former chief minister Ajit Jogi’s claims, and Sharma and Gill chosen in the face of stiff resistance from the Rajasthan and Punjab units.

A powerful lobby wanted Congress secretary Mohan Prakash nominated from Rajasthan instead of Sharma, who is from Himachal Pradesh, but Sonia had told the minister not to worry. She, however, listened to state leaders in the case of the two other candidates from Rajasthan.

Ask Ali Tak, an aide of chief minister Ashok Gehlot, got the nod and Narendra Budania was retained.


Rs 17000cr green plan on cards


Bhubaneswar, June 5: Vulnerable coastline, unpredictable agriculture production and recurring natural disasters leading to food scarcity and other climatic adversities like rising temperature across Orissa might get a breather with the state government readying a plan to launch a Rs 17,000 crore climate-change action plan (CAP) in five years.

While there would be 11 key sectors to address the complicated scenario, chief minister Naveen Patnaik launched the CAP draft action plan on World Environment Day today.

“Orissa, with this unique initiative in the country, will become a carbon conscious and climate resilient state,” he said.

The state government has already started the Orissa Wetland Development Authority and State Biodiversity Statutory Action Plan to intensify its crusade against the environmental and biodiversity degradation, he said at a state-level programme. The Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan, which has already been launched, would also provide a fillip to the endangered coastal ecosystem zone.

Chief secretary T.K. Mishra said time had come to understand the benefits of traditional agricultural practices and hoped that the Food and Agriculture Organisation would include Orissa as their future project destination besides Latin American and South Asian nations.

Calling for adoption of sustainable practices in industrialisation and other development initiatives, Mishra said “live and let live” should be the new mantra for a greener planet.

The CAP will stress climate-based agriculture, horticulture and conservation activities besides studies on frequent floods, coastal erosion, rise in sea level, biodiversity in coastal ecosystem.

As the future of Orissa will be more dependent on energy, the plan will focus on transmission and distribution loss, energy management plan, recycling of flyash, checking pollution, solar power and bio gas.

The draft document, which wants citizens to give feedback latest by June 25, will also include vital sectors like forests, health, industries, mining, transport, urban development and water management, among others.

Steel city pledge

In neighbouring Jharkhand’s Jamshedpur, Andhra Bhakta Kolata Samajam, a socio-religious body, promised to organise eco-friendly Ganesh Puja and Navratri celebrations, while Tata Steel Zoological Park evolved a new system to minimise entry of polythene items inside its premises.

Corporate giants, including Tata Steel, Jusco and Adhunik Group, also lined up programmes on the day. Social bodies like Devdoot and Singhbhum Kendriya Varisht Nagarik Samiti were also not left behind in observing the occasion.


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