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Sonia council gets new life, not head

New Delhi, Dec. 29: The term of the National Advisory Council (NAC), which was to have ended on December 31, has been extended by six months from January 1 through an executive order.

However, there is still a question mark on who will head the body after Sonia Gandhi resigned this March following the office-of-profit controversy.

Arun Bhatnagar, the NAC secretary, said the first meeting would be called in early January 2007 after consulting members and finalising the agenda.

“We expect the meeting to focus on a review of the poverty alleviation programmes,” he said.

The council was set up by the UPA government with the basic objective of monitoring the implementation of its common minimum programme.

Of the 12 original members drawn from the economic, civic and social streams, three have quit in the recent past, apart from Sonia.

They were Aruna Roy, the spearhead of the right to information campaign, Jean Dreze, who was involved with the rural employment guarantee scheme, and Jai Prakash Narayan, an advocate of electoral reforms.

Aruna and Dreze primarily gave inputs for the NAC’s poverty-redress agenda. They also helped prepare the Right to Information Act and the draft bills on rural employment guarantee and the rights of unorganised sector workers, which were sent to the government.

With the trio’s exit, many feared the council might lose its “cutting edge”.

But that did not happen. The thrust of the meetings, held after Sonia quit, was on the Centre’s social sector initiatives and how they have been implemented.

The NAC has given its version of the relief and rehabilitation bill, which the Centre is working on. The legislation will help those displaced by mega development schemes, special economic zones and so on.

The NAC’s blueprint is at variance with that of the Centre’s on crucial aspects such as land-for-land compensation. The bill should be ready once the differences are sorted out.

As the council goes about its job, Sonia appears in no hurry to return.

The NAC has been excluded from the list of offices of profit in an amended legislation that was passed by Parliament last May.

But the law was challenged in the Supreme Court by Trinamul Congress MP Dinesh Trivedi. The MP is also a member of a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) that was set up to study the amendments proposed by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

Congress sources said unless the apex court and the JPC pronounce their verdicts on the law, Sonia will not come back to the council.

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