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Food and harmony on Sonia’s plate

New Delhi, June 10: Food security and communal violence will top the reborn National Advisory Council’s (NAC) agenda.

The NAC met the first time this morning after it was reconstituted on March 29 with Sonia Gandhi back at the helm as the chairperson. Like the NAC-I, the council’s second incarnation represents a mix of civil society activists, former bureaucrats, academics and an industrialist with a social conscience, Anu Agha.

Sonia and her team realised the council was in for as long a haul in pushing through its versions of the food security and communal violence (prevention, control and rehabilitation of victims) bills as it had been over NREGA, the rural job plan. Accordingly, they prioritised the two bills in their areas of social concern.

Sonia wants the food security act to guarantee a monthly quota of 35kg of cereals at Rs 3 a kg to a household and a multi-layered classification of target groups that transcends the accepted BPL definition. The aim is to ensure nutritional requirements for the most vulnerable groups such as infants, small children and the aged through mid-day meals. Also planned are state food commissioners to redress grievances.

But the UPA’s empowered group of ministers had diluted the proposals. For instance, the draft bill cleared by the ministerial panel in March delinked food security from nutritional needs and recommended an omnibus definition of BPL families, without any provision for the most vulnerable.

The communal violence bill appears to have holes, too. Activists have debunked it as a “draft in bad faith”. It was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in December 2005 and sent to the parliamentary standing committee on home affairs. The panel’s report was tabled in Parliament in 2006 without significant changes.

Campaigners like Farah Naqvi, who was drafted to work in the NAC, demanded amendments to the bill.

Naqvi proposed that as a first step, communal violence should be defined sharply — as a targeted attack against persons or groups on the basis of their religious identity that can be inferred directly or from the nature and circumstances of the assault. She also pressed for the inclusion of sexual violence during such attacks, besides rape, and for enshrining the concept of reparation as an inviolable, legally enforceable right of the victim.

Other NAC focus areas include natural resource management, poverty elimination, job generation, land rights and land reforms, health security and medical insurance.

Later, Sonia and the other members met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who lauded the previous council’s “historic” role in shaping the NREGA and the information act.

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