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Overview:

The National Advisory Council (NAC) is a 14-member committee comprised of ex-bureaucrats, members of civil society, academics and lawyers. The Prime Minister of India, in consultation with cabinet ministers, appoints the members. Their role is to help write legislation for the government. The ruling party introduces the draft written by NAC in the parliament. After a series of debates in parliament, the legislation is passed and implemented nationwide. The body has been instrumental in drafting important laws like the Right to Information Act and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. 

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History:

When the Indian National Congress party was out of power in 2003, leader Sonia Gandhi campaigned for the coming elections on a platform of poverty alleviation and employment programs. After leading the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance to victory in the 2004 elections, she needed drafting committees to write the policies she had promised.

 

Soon after Manmohan Singh was sworn in as prime minister, Gandhi wrote to him and asked him to set up the National Advisory Council in June 2004.  In the first iteration of the NAC, Gandhi chose 10 members drawn from the ranks of former bureaucrats, members of civil society, academics, industrialists and lawyers. Gandhi appointed herself the chairperson.    

 

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or NREGA, was the first major piece of legislation that NAC drafted, doing so in consultation with grassroots organizations working on poverty alleviation.

 

But when the bill was tabled in the parliament on 21 December 2004, civil society members of NAC raised several questions. The most notable was: Why had the bill been weakened to promise just 100 days of unguaranteed employment instead of the 365 days of guaranteed work first promised in the NAC’s draft?

 

This change was made at the behest of Law Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who felt that guaranteeing a full year of employment would burden the exchequer. The change enraged NAC members Aruna Roy and Jean Dreze, who went public with their opposition. The criticism morphed into a public demonstration on the day the Parliament was discusing the bill.  Civil society activists began lobbying alongside Dreze and Roy to restore the promise of a whole year of guaranteed employment. They also included the Communist parties, who were part of United Progressive Alliance, and the national and regional parties, which the Congress enlisted as part of their ruling coalition. 

 

The Communists agreed to support the activists’ version of the bill, but the top rung Congress ministers resisted the activists’ version.  Their argument was that for such a massive employment scheme, the country needed money and if they passed the activist version of the bill, it would burden the country financially. 

 

Following the lead of their fellow activists, Jean Dreze and Aruna Roy met with Gandhi at her home. Gandhi promised they would find a middle way. She consulted the cabinet’s ministers and was able to persuade them to retain the guaranteed employment clause. Dreze and Roy also had to compromise, settling for just 100 days rather than the full year for which they’d hoped. The bill was passed on 15 June 2005 and the scheme was implemented across India over a three-year period.

 

The Congress Party gained political leverage after NREGA nationwide implementation. The scheme became Congress’s signature legislation. In public gatherings, the party’s leadership began touting the legislation as proof of their dedication to poor voters. Meanwhile, civil society activists countered Congress’ claim that it was the driving force behind the legislation, and pressured Parliament to ensure that the promise of guaranteed employment wasn’t excised from the bill. 

 

The tussle between the NAC civil society contingent and the government members has continued. Gandhi had also promised an effective anti-corruption measure called Right to Information (RTI). The NAC was already working on the RTI bill, which, like NREGA, was also diluted when it was sent the to the Parliament. The law ministry eliminated the provision for penalizing officials who hid information. 

 

In early 2005, Roy and Dreze confronted Gandhi over the adulterated bill, threatening to resign from the NAC.  Gandhi assured them that she would support the original draft of the bill.  On October 12 2005, after fifteen minutes of discussion, the RTI law passed in the parliament to great fanfare.  Congress claimed credit for the legislation.

more
What it Does:

National Advisory Council (NAC) works as a bridge between the Indian civil society and the government. Founded by the Congress party on June 4 2004, NAC’s role is to devise social policies for the betterment of India’s poor. The committee has 13 members from various backgrounds: politics, science and civil society. NAC has worked on legislation that ranges from securing minorities from communal attacks to empowerment of lower castes. Bills are drafted in working groups. Depending upon the complexity of the bill, working groups vary in size from three to ten members.

 

The selection process is entirely political. The Prime Minister of India, in consultation with his or her cabinet ministers, appoints members on the basis of their expertise in particular fields. For instance, Aruna Roy, a social activist who ran an NGO that focused on providing employment to drought-hit farmers, was appointed to the NAC in 2004 because the government needed a strong employment model for rural India.

more
Controversies:

The Departure of Jean Dreze

The Belgian-born development economist left the NAC after completing work on the food security bill. During his tenure, Dreze advocated access to food, employment and information for India’s poorest citizens. Dreze resigned from the NAC in the summer of 2011, reportedly over the government’s inability to guarantee access to food for all Indians under the Food Security Bill.

 

Is the NAC Too Closely Aligned with the Congress Party?

Since the council is largely influenced by the members who have worked closely with the government, there have been accusations that the drafts of bills authored by NAC often toe the Congress party line. In 2011, civil society activists who were unaffiliated with NAC, such as Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia and Prashant Bushan, made these accusations publicly. Kejriwal, Sisodia and Bushan have been the driving force behind the ostensible grass roots agitation and hunger strike staged by Anna Hazare, an octogenarian social activist and self-appointed moralist who espouses extreme right-wing positions on social issues.  After a fast at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, he became a leading anti-corruption crusader.   

 

Sonia Gandhi’s Dual Roles

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who heads the opposition coalition, realized that Congress was gaining political leverage through the NAC. In Early 2008, the BJP questioned Sonia Gandhi’s credibility as the Chairperson of NAC.  The BJP mounted a legal challenge, which grew to be called the “Office of Profit” controversy. As per the Indian Constitution, no government official is entitled to hold two positions of power simultaneously. Since Gandhi was already a Member of Parliament, representing the Raebareli constituency in Uttar Pradesh, she resigned from the NAC to silence the BJP.

more

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Founded: 2004
Annual Budget:
Employees: 14
Official Website:
National Advisory Council (NAC)
  • Latest News
Bookmark and Share
Overview:

The National Advisory Council (NAC) is a 14-member committee comprised of ex-bureaucrats, members of civil society, academics and lawyers. The Prime Minister of India, in consultation with cabinet ministers, appoints the members. Their role is to help write legislation for the government. The ruling party introduces the draft written by NAC in the parliament. After a series of debates in parliament, the legislation is passed and implemented nationwide. The body has been instrumental in drafting important laws like the Right to Information Act and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. 

more
History:

When the Indian National Congress party was out of power in 2003, leader Sonia Gandhi campaigned for the coming elections on a platform of poverty alleviation and employment programs. After leading the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance to victory in the 2004 elections, she needed drafting committees to write the policies she had promised.

 

Soon after Manmohan Singh was sworn in as prime minister, Gandhi wrote to him and asked him to set up the National Advisory Council in June 2004.  In the first iteration of the NAC, Gandhi chose 10 members drawn from the ranks of former bureaucrats, members of civil society, academics, industrialists and lawyers. Gandhi appointed herself the chairperson.    

 

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or NREGA, was the first major piece of legislation that NAC drafted, doing so in consultation with grassroots organizations working on poverty alleviation.

 

But when the bill was tabled in the parliament on 21 December 2004, civil society members of NAC raised several questions. The most notable was: Why had the bill been weakened to promise just 100 days of unguaranteed employment instead of the 365 days of guaranteed work first promised in the NAC’s draft?

 

This change was made at the behest of Law Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who felt that guaranteeing a full year of employment would burden the exchequer. The change enraged NAC members Aruna Roy and Jean Dreze, who went public with their opposition. The criticism morphed into a public demonstration on the day the Parliament was discusing the bill.  Civil society activists began lobbying alongside Dreze and Roy to restore the promise of a whole year of guaranteed employment. They also included the Communist parties, who were part of United Progressive Alliance, and the national and regional parties, which the Congress enlisted as part of their ruling coalition. 

 

The Communists agreed to support the activists’ version of the bill, but the top rung Congress ministers resisted the activists’ version.  Their argument was that for such a massive employment scheme, the country needed money and if they passed the activist version of the bill, it would burden the country financially. 

 

Following the lead of their fellow activists, Jean Dreze and Aruna Roy met with Gandhi at her home. Gandhi promised they would find a middle way. She consulted the cabinet’s ministers and was able to persuade them to retain the guaranteed employment clause. Dreze and Roy also had to compromise, settling for just 100 days rather than the full year for which they’d hoped. The bill was passed on 15 June 2005 and the scheme was implemented across India over a three-year period.

 

The Congress Party gained political leverage after NREGA nationwide implementation. The scheme became Congress’s signature legislation. In public gatherings, the party’s leadership began touting the legislation as proof of their dedication to poor voters. Meanwhile, civil society activists countered Congress’ claim that it was the driving force behind the legislation, and pressured Parliament to ensure that the promise of guaranteed employment wasn’t excised from the bill. 

 

The tussle between the NAC civil society contingent and the government members has continued. Gandhi had also promised an effective anti-corruption measure called Right to Information (RTI). The NAC was already working on the RTI bill, which, like NREGA, was also diluted when it was sent the to the Parliament. The law ministry eliminated the provision for penalizing officials who hid information. 

 

In early 2005, Roy and Dreze confronted Gandhi over the adulterated bill, threatening to resign from the NAC.  Gandhi assured them that she would support the original draft of the bill.  On October 12 2005, after fifteen minutes of discussion, the RTI law passed in the parliament to great fanfare.  Congress claimed credit for the legislation.

more
What it Does:

National Advisory Council (NAC) works as a bridge between the Indian civil society and the government. Founded by the Congress party on June 4 2004, NAC’s role is to devise social policies for the betterment of India’s poor. The committee has 13 members from various backgrounds: politics, science and civil society. NAC has worked on legislation that ranges from securing minorities from communal attacks to empowerment of lower castes. Bills are drafted in working groups. Depending upon the complexity of the bill, working groups vary in size from three to ten members.

 

The selection process is entirely political. The Prime Minister of India, in consultation with his or her cabinet ministers, appoints members on the basis of their expertise in particular fields. For instance, Aruna Roy, a social activist who ran an NGO that focused on providing employment to drought-hit farmers, was appointed to the NAC in 2004 because the government needed a strong employment model for rural India.

more
Controversies:

The Departure of Jean Dreze

The Belgian-born development economist left the NAC after completing work on the food security bill. During his tenure, Dreze advocated access to food, employment and information for India’s poorest citizens. Dreze resigned from the NAC in the summer of 2011, reportedly over the government’s inability to guarantee access to food for all Indians under the Food Security Bill.

 

Is the NAC Too Closely Aligned with the Congress Party?

Since the council is largely influenced by the members who have worked closely with the government, there have been accusations that the drafts of bills authored by NAC often toe the Congress party line. In 2011, civil society activists who were unaffiliated with NAC, such as Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodia and Prashant Bushan, made these accusations publicly. Kejriwal, Sisodia and Bushan have been the driving force behind the ostensible grass roots agitation and hunger strike staged by Anna Hazare, an octogenarian social activist and self-appointed moralist who espouses extreme right-wing positions on social issues.  After a fast at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, he became a leading anti-corruption crusader.   

 

Sonia Gandhi’s Dual Roles

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who heads the opposition coalition, realized that Congress was gaining political leverage through the NAC. In Early 2008, the BJP questioned Sonia Gandhi’s credibility as the Chairperson of NAC.  The BJP mounted a legal challenge, which grew to be called the “Office of Profit” controversy. As per the Indian Constitution, no government official is entitled to hold two positions of power simultaneously. Since Gandhi was already a Member of Parliament, representing the Raebareli constituency in Uttar Pradesh, she resigned from the NAC to silence the BJP.

more

Comments

iqmeamobvusuk 9 months ago
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Founded: 2004
Annual Budget:
Employees: 14
Official Website:
National Advisory Council (NAC)
  • Latest News