As most of its members are not available

Even as the debate over the inclusion of human rights activist Binayak Sen in the Planning Commission's steering committee on health still continues, the first meeting of the committee — that will guide the panel on drafting the 12th Plan — has been re-scheduled due to the non-availability of a large number of members on Wednesday.

The meeting has now been fixed for June 22 as most members of the 40-member committee are travelling at present and have expressed their inability to attend, the Planning Commission said.

The Commission denied speculation that the meeting was postponed due to the stiff stand taken by the Chhattisgarh government on Dr. Sen's inclusion in the committee since he was convicted for life on charges of sedition and was facing trial.

It said there was nothing “extraordinary” in the State government's stand as there would only be no political representation at the meetings and officials would attend. There have been instances when the Chief Ministers and State Ministers have not been able to attend meetings.

Sen's credentials

Agreeing with the Commission's philosophy of taking all shades of opinion on board, Ravi Srivastava of the Jawaharlal Nehru University told The Hindu that even the Chhattisgarh government had not questioned the credentials of Dr. Sen as health activist. “Even the British medical journal The Lancet has appreciated Dr. Sen's contribution as a health activist,'' he said.

The Commission can pick up anyone who has contributed in any sector and Dr. Sen's contribution in the rural health systems as a civil society organisation for the past three decades is known to all.

‘No conflict'

“No one has ever questioned his credentials. And there is no conflict in his undergoing trial and his being on the steering committee, where he can contribute significantly,” Prof. Srivastava explained.

The Commission, on its part, claims that Dr. Sen's inclusion was part of a whole new approach of taking all shades of opinion on board, hearing them out but not necessarily agreeing with them.

“We will engage with all those who can contribute.”