NATIONAL POLITICS: Centre hurdle for Sonia cell

NATIONAL POLITICS: Centre hurdle for Sonia cell – tackling India’s inequitable distribution system ?!!

Sonia Gandhi - setting India's house in order ?!! (HN Files)

FROM THE TELEGRAPH SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

New Delhi, Sept. 13: The Sonia Gandhi-headed National Advisory Committee is increasingly finding itself at odds with various arms of the Manmohan Singh government, the latest issue being the scope of the Equal Opportunity Commission.

Under the initial plans, the commission was to lay down the codes for equal opportunity in all spheres of life, in both the private and public domains, across all distinctions including caste, religion and gender.

But a group of ministers (GoM), headed by defence minister A.K. Antony, later limited the commission’s mandate to religious minorities alone in order to prevent a turf war with the panels for human rights, women, Dalits and tribals.

Now, at a time the minority ministry has begun redrafting the equal opportunity commission bill along the GoM’s guidelines, the National Advisory Committee (NAC) has decided to make a fresh start on the subject. It has sought the original proposals from the ministry so that these can be discussed at the council’s next meeting on September 24.

Sources said the NAC move came at the insistence of its member Farah Naqvi and minority rights activists. Naqvi had openly expressed displeasure at the GoM decision.

A minority ministry official said: “Once the GoM decision came, we began working on the bill’s draft. Now that the NAC wants to discuss it all over again, the already delayed commission will be delayed further.”

Another issue pitting the council against the government is that of the below-poverty-line (BPL) census. Council members N.C. Saxena and Harsh Mander have asked the rural development ministry to finish the headcount by September 2011, which the ministry says is an impossible deadline.

A ministry official said: “We have made it clear that the exercise can start only after next April when the pilot projects would be over. The survey cannot be rushed through, especially when there are sharp differences among various agencies on the number of poor families.”

He added: “These NGO types can demand anything as they are not aware of how the government machinery functions.”

Told that both Saxena and Mander are former IAS officers, he said they were enjoying their current role of activists. “For many former bureaucrats, it has become fashionable to criticise the government’s way of functioning once they are out of the service,’’ he said.

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