NAC for dedicated courts to try offences under SC/ST Act

Here in National Advisory Council (NAC), Sonia Gandhi  recommended setting up of dedicated courts to try offences under the SC/ST Act on fast track basis besides defining ‘wilful negligence’ by public servants

The council also suggested that preventing Dalits and tribals from entering places of worship, imposing social boycott on them should be made punishable offences.

At its meeting here, the NAC deliberated on the proposals of its working group on Dalit issues to amend the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

Obstructing members of such groups from using community resources will also be made an offence under amendments proposed by the NAC to the 24-year-old law.

It wanted the government to make provisions in the Act to ensure that the cases are disposed of within three months from filing of the charge sheet.

The NAC also recommended that relevant IPC offences attracting punishment of less than 10 years committed against SCs and STs should be defined as offences under this act.

It also wanted expansion of the scope of presumption as to whether perpetrator had knowledge of the SC/ST identity of the victim, while committing the offence.

It further suggested strengthening State accountability by clearly defining ‘wilful negligence’ by public servants.

“Rules to the Act be amended to ensure that quantum of relief and rehabilitation is enhanced, and further that it is not calculated as a fixed amount, but adjusted annually to inflation. In addition, the compensation should be released expeditiously,” the NAC suggested.

Nandan Nilekani, chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India, made a presentation on the Aadhaar project and Direct Benefit Transfer.

Orient policies for women, NAC tells government

Orientation of social schemes and policies towards women can help control the declining sex ratio in the country, a member of the National Advisory Council’s (NAC) working group on gender and sex ratio said here Tuesday.

“The national policy on declining sex ratio needs to look at all the laws pertaining to women’s issues. We are implementing the PCPNDT (Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques) Act very badly for which we could have fast track courts, and institutional delivery data can be made available at the district level,” said Farah Naqvi, member of the seven-member working group.

The census reported a decline in the sex ratio from 927 females per 1,000 males in 2001 to 914 in 2011.

The recommendations, drafted jointly by Naqvi and A.K. Shiva Kumar, hold that while framing a national policy on the declining sex ratio at birth, the government should consider a broader framework of women’s empowerment and ensure inter-sectoral planning and action.

“There is a need for a review of the cash transfer scheme. We have too few schemes benefiting poorer girls, but what about out schematic interventions for the middle and upper income households,” asked Naqvi.

The group has also suggested a national communication strategy.

Aruna Roy: Jan Lokpal Bill impractical, undemocratic

Terming Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal Bill “impractical and complicated”, noted social activist and National Advisory Council ( NAC) member Aruna Roy said that giving widespread powers to an unelected body is a “threat to democracy”.

“Jan Lokpal is a bill impossible to implement. Also, it derails the checks and balances between the judiciary, executive and other organs of the democratic structure,” Roy, 65, who pioneered the right to information (RTI) movement in the country, told in an interview here.

“Not that we agree with the government Lokpal Bill. The Lokpal legislation should be thoroughly deliberated again by activists, lawmakers and all other stakeholders.

“We of course support the democratic right of Hazare to hold demonstrations and fast against the government. That is why we condemned the arrest of Hazare,” she said.

“But we have no meeting point with them, though we keep meeting each other at functions and meetings of common interest,” she added.

Asked about the huge public support Hazare has drawn, Roy said: “There have been huge gatherings in support of NGO-sponsored agitations, like the Narmada Bachao movement. It might not have got similar publicity, as live TV was not there then.”

Roy and her fellow activists in the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) have prepared an alternate version of the Lokpal bill, which will be presented to parliament’s standing committee.

Roy, a Magsaysay award winner, said the Jan Lokpal bill is a “giant, complicated exercise” as it tried to extend from the prime minister to a peon.

“It wants to bring the higher judiciary into its ambit, which otherwise should have been under the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010,” she said.

She felt that the suggestion of dual duties — curbing corruption and redressing grievances — under the Jan Lokpal was not feasible.

“The Jan Lokpal is a threat to democracy as a powerful, non-elected agency can lead to abuse of power and abuse of authority. Power corrupts and absolutely power corrupts absolutely,” she quipped.

“Grievance redressal should not be the role of the Lokpal; it should be the work of the executive.

“See, wages of lakhs of workers in the NREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) in Rajasthan have not been paid. But that is because the shortage of bank staff and other bureaucratic delays,” she said.

The massive organisational setup suggested in the Jan Lokpal will lead to corruption and inefficiency, she cautioned.

“You may be able to find 11 Lokpal members of integrity, but it is difficult to create a clean set-up of thousands of staffers and hold them accountable,” Roy said.

The government-drafted Lokpal is also deficient on several fronts, she added. Since it excludes cases under the state governments, there can be no probe against cases like the Adarsh housing society scandal, the Commonwealth Games scam and illegal mining in Karnataka.

She said excluding the prime minister and the higher judiciary was wrong. “This is a wrong practice. Nobody should be above the law,” she said, adding that there should be certain safeguards. “Like both the Lokpal and the Supreme Court should agree on a probe against the prime minister.”

Roy also suggested that the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill should be revised to facilitate effective action against the higher judiciary while the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) should be strengthened to probe junior officials.

The whistleblowers’ protection bill too should be revised to deal with the increasing attacks and threats against RTI activists, she suggested.

“The Lokpal bill should not become an issue of adamant stances, political rivalries and personality-driven agitations. What we need is a sincere, detailed debate for legislation of immense social significance and public concern,” she said.

Roy, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer from 1968 to 1974, resigned from the government as the clouds of Emergency were gathering. She took to social work in the Social Work Research Centre in Tilonia in Rajasthan, founded by her husband Sanjit ‘Bunker’ Roy, another Magsaysay award winner.

However, she professionally disassociated from her husband in 1983, reportedly for ideological reasons, and founded the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathana (Workers and Peasants Strength Union) in 1990 in Devdoongri in Rajsamand district of Rajasthan.

Roy’s campaign for right to information led to the enactment of the RTI Act – in Rajasthan in 2000 and five years later at the national level.

No regard for kids in draft food security bill: Activists

The draft National Food Security Bill, which has been approved by the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM), has scant regard for children and does not assure their right to food security, activists of the Right to Food campaign said Monday.

“It appears that the government does not consider the specific issues related to the food security of children, who form about 40 percent of the population, or the vast problem of malnutrition,” said a statement by the Working Group for Children Under Six (Jan Swasthya Abhiyan – Right to Food Campaign).

“While the National Advisory Committee (NAC) draft had at least given due consideration to food entitlements for children, this draft is a pathetic attempt to pass off some expansion of the targeted Public Distribution System ( PDS) as a national law protecting national food security,” it added.

The Sonia Gandhi-led NAC finalised its draft of the bill which seeks to entitle nearly 75 percent of India’s population to subsidised foodgrains.

The major highlight of the draft bill is that it guarantees subsidized food grain to at least 90 percent of the rural households, and 50 percent of the urban households.

The EGoM recently approved the draft of the National Food Security Bill (NFSB) prepared by the Department of Food and Consumer Affairs which is slated to be placed before the cabinet.

“By providing for maternity entitlements, the NAC draft recognised this as a critical legal entitlement for over 15 crore women working in the informal sector and the food security of very young children. However, the draft of the ministry has entirely struck it off,” the statement said.

“Similarly, the current legal guarantee of hot cooked meals for children attending anganwadis has been diluted by providing the option of ready-to-eat food in this draft which suggests that the bill is more about creating markets and protecting corporate interests than the interests of children,” it added.

The draft bill, the statement said, minimises the government’s responsibilities, restricts children’s entitlements and avoids any accountability.”Contrary to the government’s claim that this draft bill is based on the NAC draft, it actually removes or dilutes most of the core principles of the NAC’s modest proposal,” it said.