To review two years and discuss unorganised sector

The reconstituted Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) will meet on Friday to review the first two years of NAC 2 (June 2010-June 2012) as well as to listen to presentations by the Union Ministries of Labour and Employment and Financial services on a set of recommendations to the Central government on ensuring social security for the unorganised sector, the Council sources told The Hindu.

The NAC’s two new members, Mihir Shah, who is also a member of the Planning Commission, and Ashish Mondal of the Action for Social Development, Bhopal, will get the opportunity to suggest to the NAC how they wish the Council to move forward.

The NAC made four recommendations to the government relating to upgradation of social security measures for those working in the unorganised sector. These relate to maternity benefits of Rs. 1,000 given for six months to pregnant and nursing mothers under the Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana in 52 districts being universalised (it is also part of the NAC’s suggestions in its Draft National Food Security Bill); widening of the health insurance cover under the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana, now given to those below the poverty line, MGNREGA workers, domestic workers and street vendors, to all those in the unorganised sector; enhancing the life and disability insurance, as well as the pension scheme. The officials of the Labour and Financial Services Ministries will on Friday tell the NAC whether these suggestions are feasible, given the financial implications of these recommendations.

But, clearly, as the UPA heads for its last two years, the NAC wishes to continue emphasising the need to make greater outlays for the social sector – something that had paid it electoral dividends in 2009 – despite the enormous financial constraints.

The NAC members will also be given a report of the NAC 2’s first two years, a compendium of the work done and the status of the recommendations it has made to the government over the last two years. While the report – of which The Hindu has a copy – is impressive in the range of issues that the NAC 2 has addressed, the fact is it does not appear to have had much luck in pushing through its recommendations, unlike in the UPA 1.

For instance, in these two years, the NAC has recommended two draft laws — the National Food Security Bill and the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011. The Food Bill was sent to the government on July 6, 2011. Its present status? The Department of Food and Public Distribution prepared the National Food Security Bill based on the NAC proposal with certain modifications and introduced it in Parliament on December 22, 2011. The Bill stands referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on January 5, 2012. As for the Communal Violence Bill, that was submitted to the government on July 22, 2011; it still remains under consideration of the Home Ministry.

Manual scavengers

The NAC has also suggested essential elements of new legislation to prohibit the employment of manual scavengers, protect the livelihood rights of street vendors, enhance the rights of persons with disabilities, and land acquisition. It has provided inputs for draft Bills to protect children against sexual offences, prevent sexual harassment of women at the workplace; suggested amendments to existing laws on prohibiting child labour; made recommendations on social sector policies relating to the Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan and Tribal Sub-Plan, denotified, nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes, the Jarawa tribe, domestic workers, shelters and other services for the urban homeless, unorganised sector workers, and on improving the sex ratio at birth. It has also made suggestions to strengthen the implementation of existing laws, such as the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, the proposed Amendments to RTI Rules, the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Reforms, and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).

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