NAC - National Administrative Confusion - Part 4

by Piyush Kulshreshtha

We have spent the first 3 Parts on NAC trying to understand aspects related to its Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, its formation & extra-constitutional features permitting back-seat driving of Legislations without the much required accountability to public & the drama around Office of Profit, which forced Sonia Gandhi to resign, made NAC go without a Chairperson for rest of its term till March 31, 2008, reinforcing her centrality to the very idea of NAC.

It’s a different thing that even though Sonia Gandhi was forced to resign from Lok Sabha as well as NAC due to the Office of Profit Controversy, her crony, Rajya Sabha MP Jairam Ramesh, who was member of NAC from June 2004 to March 2008, escaped Resignation in that high profile drama. It’s a different thing that Jairam Ramesh misses no opportunity in preaching rights & wrongs to the rest of the world, especially, the one that disagrees with his own opinion.

The matter in a Summary

Let’s look at what we have come to conclude about NAC, from a cursory glance on the subject.

 

  1. Sonia Gandhi is an ambitious woman. And NAC was formed because she could not realize her dream of becoming Prime Minister of India and the Congress Party and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh did not have the spine to say No to formation of an office that was extra-constitutional as well as had all the potential to put the entire Governance Mechanism of the Govt into complete Confusion
  2. NAC duplicated the job of Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation as well as Delivery Monitoring Unit in the PMO, if it really did “monitor the implementation of National Common Minimum Program”, as it was popularly purported to do. It’s a different thing that was almost the last thing on its agenda.
  3. The “real purpose” of NAC was to formulate “policies for the Govt on various issues” and “draft legislations” that the Treasury benches mechanically presented in the Parliament.
  4. National Advisory Council was “serviced” by Prime Minister’s Office. It didn’t report to the PM, its communication to PM was a one-way ticket. What it communicated to the Govt was the final word.
  5. Laws were being drafted by Sonia Gandhi’s NAC team that consisted of people who were not representatives of the people and, therefore, were not accountable to them, in whatsoever manner.
While Sonia Gandhi’s centrality to NAC has been demonstrated amply in earlier three parts of this series, NAC’s real area of interest, its near supremacy over the Prime Minister’s Office etc can only be seen through a slightly deeper look into their method of functioning.

The “real purpose” of NAC

NAC in its 1st and 2nd tenure has had nearly, 56 official meetings till date, a look at the agenda discussed in these meetings will tell you the “real purpose” of NAC. If there is anything else they claim to have done, well, at least they have not shared it with the people of the Country.
In these 56 official meetings of NAC, you’ll be surprised to know that
  1. 22 Meetings were held in 1st Tenure and 34 Meetings have been held in 2nd Tenure.
  2. All 56 have focused on Policy & Legislations related discussions & deliberations.
  3. Only 6 meetings have taken up something close to “monitoring of implementation of Common Minimum Programme”
  4. Every meeting is a work-in-progress of some completely “unsolicited advice” to the Govt.
  5. NAC decided its areas of operations on its own. No help was sought by Govt, whatsoever.
  6. In nearly 20-21 Meetings out of 56, you can see that Important Officials of the various Ministries & Depts. of the Govt were asked to make presentations to the NAC’s unelected, private members. In some cases, NAC members paid a visit to the concerned Ministry, only to drop the load of their own recommendations on the officials.
  7. From Union Minister to Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission to Secretaries in Various Ministries to Chairman of Govt appointed bodies, everyone was made to give presentations to NAC & its unelected private members
In short, the “real purpose” of the NAC was “backseat driving of policies & legislations” of the Govt, which the Cabinet had to perforce give clearance to, without even an inch of accountability to the Parliament of India, therefore, to the public of India.

As a matter of fact, in the first meeting of the 2nd Tenure of NAC, on 10th June 2010, minute no. 6 notes, “The members agreed that the work of the NAC would be to provide policy & legislative inputs to Government…”

What was the Govt’s relation with NAC?

One way ticket. Literally. Man (NAC) Proposes. God (Govt.) has no right to dispose. This is a fact.
Let’s have a look at the communications between NAC & the Govt.
  1. NAC sent 30 Official Communications to the Govt during its 1st Tenure and 38 Official Communications to the Govt during its 2nd Tenure.
  2. Govt sent 0 Official Communications to NAC during its 1st Tenure and 0 Official Communications to NAC during its 2nd Tenure.
  3. In almost all 68 Communications to the Govt, the tone and the tenor of the communication, the words used in the communication “expects the Govt to simply act on the recommendations of the NAC”.
  4. NAC is not asking for Govt’s opinion on what it thinks about its recommendations. It is simply sending it to them, to be implemented at the earliest.
  5. In spite of the 31st May 2004 Order of Cabinet Secretariat assigning tasks to NAC, as I pointed out earlier, in the first meeting of 2nd Tenure of NAC, on 10th June 2010, minute no. 6 notes, “The members agreed that the work of the NAC would be to provide policy & legislative inputs to Government…”. This means NAC is not asking Govt. what it should do. NAC is simply “assuming a role for itself” irrespective of what the Govt thinks.
  6. In noting of the minutes of meeting held on 6th July 2012, minute no.5 notes – “NAC Working group on Transparency, Accountability and Governance is “mandated” to hold consultations in coordination with Ministry of Rural Development and State Governments…” Who “mandates”? Sonia Gandhi, obviously. Whom? Aruna Roy, who head this Working Group. What is the effective meaning of this? That the concerned Ministries cannot say No, to NAC members.

What are the areas touched upon by NAC?

NAC’s area of interest and operations were as follows:
Tenure 1
  1. RTI
  2. Rural Employment Guarantee (NREGA)
  3. Rural Roads
  4. Education Cess
  5. Disinvestment
  6. Mid-day Meal Scheme
  7. Health
  8. Education
  9. Child Development
  10. Watershed Development
  11. Tribal Development
  12. Scheduled Tribes
  13. Cooperatives
  14. Decentralization of Power (Local Governance aka Panchayati Raj)
  15. Equality of Women
  16. Judicial Reforms
  17. Workers in Unorganized Sectors
  18. Land Revenue
  19. Rural cooperative Credit
  20. Wasteland Development
  21. Energy Policy
  22. Indian Agriculture
  23. Administrative Reforms (Yes this includes Lokpal, without calling it so)
  24. Manufacturing Competitiveness
  25. Rehabilitation Policy
Yes, all of these were areas that NAC chose to interfere with without an invitation. You might wonder what the rest of the Govt Administration was left doing.
Tenure 2
  1. Food Security
  2. Manual Scavenging
  3. Women Welfare – Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Bill
  4. BPL Identification methods
  5. Scheduled Tribes & Forest Dwellers
  6. RTI
  7. Domestic Workers
  8. Land Acquisition
  9. Child Development
  10. Street Vendors
  11. NREGA
  12. Communal Violence
  13. Natural Resource Management
  14. Child Labour
  15. Minorities
  16. Scheduled Castes & Tribes
  17. Urban Housing
  18. Unorganized Workers
  19. Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes
  20. Sex Ratio at Birth
  21. North-Eastern Region
  22. Panchayati Raj
  23. Education (RTE)
  24. Pre-Legislative Process
  25. Health
  26. Institutional Capacities & Programme Implementation
  27. Fund Flow system for Flagship Programmes
  28. Agroforestry
If you see, in the 2nd Tenure, the programmes are more about Social Policies. There is a reason for it. This is called segregation of areas between Sonia Gandhi, NAC Chairperson & Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India.

The list of Officials who have made Presentations to the Durbar of NAC Members.

  1. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission
  2. Jairam Ramesh, then Minister of Environment and Forests
  3. G K Pillai, then Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs
  4. Alka Sirohi, then Secretary, Food & Public Distribution
  5. Dr. D K Sikri, then Secretary, Women & Child Development
  6. Kiran Dhingra, then Secretary, Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation
  7. Lt. Gen (Retd.) Bhopinder Singh, then Lt. Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands
  8. Dr. Syeda Hameed, then Member Planning Commission
  9. Shakti Sinha, then Chief Secretary, Andaman & Nicobar Islands
  10. Arvind Chugh, then Secretary, Tribal Affairs
  11. Dr. Santosh Mehrotra, Director-General, Institute of Applied Manpower Research
  12. Prof. K Srinath Reddy, Chairman of High Level Expert Group, Planning Commission
  13. P K Basu, then Secretary, Dept. of Agriculture & Cooperation
  14. D K Mittal, then Secretary, Dept. of Financial Services, Ministry of Finance
  15. M Sarangi, then Secretary, Ministry of Labour & Employment
  16. P K Pradhan, then Secretary, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare
  17. Sindhushree Khullar, then Secretary, Planning Commission
  18. Prem Narain, then Secretary, Ministry of Women & Child Development
  19. Nandan Nilekani, Chairman, UIDAI
  20. A K Misra, then Secretary, Ministry of Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation
  21. Anil Goswami, then Secretary, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment
  22. Vinay Mittal, then Chairman, Railway Board
  23. B K Chaturvedi, Member, Planning Commission
  24. R Bhattacharya, Secretary, Ministry of Human Resource Development
  25. Keshav Desiraju, Secretary, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare
All these people were summoned either to make a presentation to the NAC either on a subject that its Chairperson & the members wished to hear or were called in for review of the implementation of instructions given by NAC to their concerned Ministry/Department.

What effect did all this have on Administration of the Country?

What do you think will happen to you if your official responsibility and reporting is to one person, but in reality you are made to report to someone who your boss has no courage to fight, is incompetent at work, is extremely arrogant, owes no accountability to anyone, is surrounded by a bunch of people with roughly the similar skillset and to whose every “recommendation” you are expected to say, yes?
I can bet, you will be the most confused person. You will be confused, insecure & frustrated. You will know that what you’ve been asked to do is all wrong, you know what is right, but there is no way you can refuse to do the wrong thing. Your authority has already been stolen by a bunch of people who owe no accountability to anyone because at the end of the day, they will say, they only made recommendations. Little will anyone know that the recommendations worked mostly as orders.
This is what has been going on for nearly 10yrs now. The “confused” State of Administration of the Country is visible in the quality of performance that has been recorded in all the different areas of Governance in India.
For the entire Govt Machinery, Dr. Manmohan Singh shows little strength to fight Sonia Gandhi. So the Bureaucrats have their Prime Minister on one side and another Power-Centre called Sonia Gandhi on the other side.

The Resulting Friction

The Friction was there right from the onset. I am not bluffing at all. Even when NAC was busy discussing NREGA in 2004, Prime Minister re-launched Food for Work Programme in 150 Districts of the Country.
Later, in February 2005, Prime Minister had his own Ministry-wise list of NCMP drawn, as against what the NAC had been touting as the NCMP of UPA. Impressive as the Prime Minister’s list of NCMP may have been, little was implemented or implemented properly.
Then, in 2006, after Sonia Gandhi’s resignation from NAC, it simply stopped functioning. Ministers & Bureaucrats refused to take NAC seriously, and were most happy to get back their official authority. No meetings were held at NAC after 18th Feb 2006.
During the 2nd Tenure, while there clearly seems a division of Territory, with NAC focusing primarily on Social Policies, the financial burden caused by these programmes & possibly the very intrusive and authoritative attitude of NAC members like Harsh Mander, seems to have created another round of troubles. In May-Jun 2012, three members of NAC – Harsh Mander, Madhav Gadgil & M S Swaminathan were sacked overnight. This became a huge issue within. The program Truth Vs. Hype by Srinivasan Jain, on this issue throws interesting light.
As late as 2013, certain members of NAC have complained about the friction between Govt & NAC. Aruna Roy resigned in May 2013.

Conclusion

The structure of the Govt, as devised constitutionally should not be disturbed. There cannot be two power centres in the same Govt. Advise should be given when sought. NAC has created a track record of unsolicited advice to the Govt of India.
NAC’s interference with India’s Administrative machinery seems to be the single biggest reason for complete confusion & failure in Governance of the Country over the Last Ten Years.
Sonia Gandhi, Dr. Manmohan Singh, entire Congress Party and every single ally of UPA1 & UPA2 is responsible for this mess.
In the next & final part, we’ll have a quick look at Laws & Policies pushed by NAC.
This post first appeared on the author's blog. You can follow him @thinkerspad.
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Piyush Kulshreshtha

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