Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee made sure to defer to the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council's priorities as he presented the Union budget for 2011-2012 on Monday.

The Minister took care to mention that the Food Security Bill, the NAC's top priority, was almost ready and would be brought before Parliament later this year. He also took on board the NAC's concerns on the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS): he announced that the government had indexed the wage rates notified under the MGNREGS to the Consumer Price Index for agricultural labour, thus enhancing significantly the wages of the beneficiaries across the country.

Mr. Mukherjee doubled the remuneration for anganwadi workers and helpers, whom he described as the “backbone of the ICDS.”

These interventions come in the wake of NAC members raising the issue of inadequate wage rates for MGNREGS workers, and the setting up of a separate Working Group within the NAC on ICDS reforms.

Similarly, Ms. Gandhi recently wrote to Tribal Affairs Minister Kantilal Bhuria expressing her concern at the condition of Primitive Tribal Groups (PTGs) on the Andaman and Nicobar islands, compelling him to make a visit there.

In his budget speech, Mr. Mukherjee announced that the allocation for PTGs would be enhanced from Rs. 185 crore in 2010-11 to Rs. 244 crore in 2011-12. Incidentally, the NAC has a Working Group looking specifically at Denotified and Nomadic Tribes and another on Tribal Development.

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