An aggressive National Advisory Council (NAC), emboldened by the recent appointment of a “friendly” Food Minister, took a formal decision on Saturday to finally go ahead with framing a food security Bill based on its own recommendations, though they were disfavoured by the Rangarajan panel, set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
While the Sonia Gandhi-led NAC wants 75 per cent of the population, divided into the priority and general categories, given legal food entitlements, the Rangarajan panel has rejected the idea of legal food entitlements for the general category.
“We have been given the full mandate to go ahead with framing the Bill based on our own recommendations,” NAC member Harsh Mander, who heads the Working Group on the National Food Security Bill, told The Hindu, after the council's 10th meeting here. The NAC's view is that its job is “to advise” the government, and not “be influenced” by its predilections. Once the council submits its recommendations, it will then be for the government to accept them fully, partially, or not at all, NAC sources said.
Since the last meeting, a detailed Framework Note and an Explanatory Note covering the main features of the proposed Bill have been placed on the NAC's website to elicit public comments by March 7 so that the draft Bill can be ready by the time it meets next on March 24.
Simultaneously, the NAC appears to have won two mini-victories, since its last meeting, one with the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) and the other with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.
Following a meeting between NAC member Aruna Roy and DoPT representatives, the NAC sources said, differences over the draft rules to the Right to Information Act were further narrowed. The Tribal Affairs Ministry, too, has agreed to issue operational guidelines to the States on the Forest Rights Act (FRA) after NAC members met Tribal Affairs Minister Kantilal Bhuria recently, the sources said.
In a press statement, the NAC has recommended that the Ministry issue operational guidelines to plug loopholes in the FRA so that its key features, “the democratic process of recognising rights, the protection to a range of livelihood rights, and the powers of communities to protect and conserve forests, are not undermined.”