NEW DELHI: It is obvious that the government went the extra mile to comply with the NAC’s orders as another instance shows. On September 14, 2011, without keeping the Prime Minister in the loop, Sonia wrote to Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh (26011/1/2011-NAC-2988) on strengthening the natural resource management component under the MGNREGA. “A note comprising the recommendations of the NAC are enclosed for appropriate action,” read the letter.
Subsequently, Jairam replied on September 28, 2011 indicating compliance. He also invited Deep Joshi, Aruna Roy and others from the NAC to be part of the consultative process. “We will now put the ideas contained in the discussion paper into practice,” Jairam wrote to Sonia.
Finger in all pies
The super cabinet’s domain was all-inclusive. A K Mohapatra, Secretary, Shipping, made a presentation on June 20, 2007, seeking the NAC’s help in resolving implementation problems in the port sector. According to the Minutes (File no.2), the importance of a well-planned strategy for the western sector, keeping in view the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor project, was underlined. So was the need for the timely acquisition of land for port and hinterland facilities and to block suitable areas for future development of ports. Mahapatra complained to the NAC that the government was planning to develop five new ports but was faced with problems like slow decision-making and inadequate global investments.
Was PMO reporting to NAC?
As far as the implementation was concerned, the powerful council had a direct hotline with the Prime Minister’s Office. File No. 11018/1/2012-NAC reveals that the body had been writing to the principal secretary in the PMO from time to time seeking updates on action taken by the government on its recommendations. However, in some instances, the PMO had indicated that action is being pursued at the level of the cabinet secretary.
On May 7, 2012, Rita Sharma wrote to Pulok Chatterjee, principal secretary in the PMO, seeking fresh updates on NAC recommendations. “Please refer to my letter dated 29.02.2012 requesting for an update on the status of implementation of about 19 recommendations made by the national advisory council since its constitution in March 2010. Shri L K Atheeq, Joint Secretary had then sent to me by email, update of five items,” Sharma wrote (DO NO. N.11018/1/2012-NAC-4700)
In UPA, Sonia had the last word
The files reveal that babus were uncomfortable with some of the NAC’s suggestions. On the Pre-Legislative Consultation Process, bureaucrats felt that the NAC’s recommendations sent to the prime minister by Sonia Gandhi on May 28, 2013 via Letter No.
N 18014/4/2011-NAC-8301 were not feasible. Subsequently the PMO wrote to the cabinet secretary with a copy to the NAC secretary, and the Department of Legal Affairs secretary, flagging the concerns. “The need for transparency in the pre-legislative process cannot be over-emphasised. It is felt that it should be possible to achieve a greater level of people’s participation and transparency without endangering the process by fixing appropriate time limits and isolating the responses of pressure/interest groups from those of the general public,” the PMO wrote.
The Department of Legal Affairs too railed against the NAC through a note (FTS No. 2077/LS/2013) saying the PLP is likely to increase the possibilities of substantial amount of lobbying from various pressure groups to influence the government and sometime PLP may lead to strong civil society interventions, which may effect dispassionate consideration of the proposals. However, a committee of secretaries under the chairmanship of Cabinet Secretary Ajit Seth decided to toe the NAC line.
“A meeting of the Committee of Secretaries was held on January 10, 2014 chaired by the cabinet secretary. The CoS agreed that the adoption of PLP would be desirable as it would make the process of law making and policy making more participative and transparent and would help in better laws being enacted through prior scrutiny by public/stakeholders. PLP being proposed by the CoS is by and large on the lines of NAC recommendations,” read the file note.
Meeting bills paid by ministries
Ministries were also asked to bear the expenses of an NAC working group meeting held to review and suggest ideas with the active participation of NGO activists and experts as revealed in a letter from Rita Sharma (26011/1/2011-NAC-1877) dated 20th April 2011 to rural development secretary B K Sinha. She had earlier informed him in March, 2011, that the NAC, in a meeting dated 26.2.2011, approved the constitution of a working group on natural resources management in convergence with MGNREGS. It had sought a detailed report from the ministry on the implementation of its guidelines. “It is requested that Ministry of Rural Development may host the proposed one day national consultation, including payment of TA/DA to non-official participants. Invitations to finalised list of participants will be sent by the NAC,” Sharma wrote to the rural development secretary.
On 30th August 2007, H C Gupta, former coal secretary, was summoned by the NAC to give a presentation on India’s coal sector. On October 17, NAC officer on special duty Dhiraj Srivastava asked him to provide hard copies of the background note and presentation by October 10, 2007. Gupta made a presentation at the NAC office on October 17 on the allocation of coal blocks, government attempts to boost coal production and the formulation of a new coal distribution policy.
The NAC was directing the government to carry out recommendations from experts and activists. File No. 1 relates details of a power ministry presentation made on October 29, 2005, on energy policy. Subsequently, NAC Chairperson Sonia Gandhi wrote to then prime minister Manmohan Singh voicing her concerns. “An important concern of the NAC is that there is apparently an institutional lacuna in respect of the formulation implementation and monitoring of an integrated Energy policy in all its aspects the most significant of which have been highlighted in the presentation,” Sonia wrote to Manmohan on November 5 (Letter No. 1380/CP/NAC/0520 (2005)).
The real durbar
The NAC routinely called bureaucrats to its office for briefings. In December 2013, it summoned senior officials of the finance ministry to discuss the impact of the new education cess. NAC Secretary Rita Sharma on December 9, 2013, wrote to the education secretary and the department of expenditure secretary to depute senior officers to brief the body on the cess collected. On March 28, 2014, the NAC summoned the panchayati raj and labour & employment secretaries for a presentation during its 37th meeting.