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PM-headed panels hardly ever met, says RTI query

india Updated: Feb 21, 2014 09:34 IST
Sandeep Pai
PM-headed panels

Several important councils and committees formed and headed by Prime Minister (PM) Manmohan Singh have either not met even once or only rarely, according to a Right to Information (RTI) reply procured by HT from the Prime Minister’s office (PMO).

Important committees on nutrition, skill development, climate change, and micro, small, medium enterprises (MSME) – all under the PM’s stewardship – haven’t met for years, says the RTI query.

Interestingly, the RTI application also revealed while the social sector committees have rarely met, PM’s councils on trade and industry, manufacturing, and investments have met regularly. This comes in the backdrop of the ruling UPA government focusing on social-sector development as a poll plank.

PM’s council for nutritional challenges is a prime example of the social sector neglect. Set up in October 2008 to address child and maternal malnutrition in 200 worst-affected districts, the council met only once in November 2010.

In the same period, India has been consistently ranked behind most developing economies on the Global Hunger Index, trailing even Pakistan and Bangladesh in 2013.

Headed by the PM, the committee comprises ministers in charge of human resource development, finance, agriculture and rural development, and expert members, many of whom haven’t had much communication from the government.

“With so many reeling under severe malnourishment, such a council at PM’s level was a wonderful initiative. But I don’t know why meetings are not taking place. Since I did not get any requests from the government I thought they have dissolved this council,” Dr Rani Bang, a member of the nutrition council, told HT.

The PMO, however, said it has been following up the matter with different ministries, departments and the planning commission on a regular basis, skirting the core question of the committee not having met in more than three years.

PM’s council on MSMEs has also suffered a similar fate. The council, constituted in September 2009 to formulate policies to incentivize MSMEs reeling under economic slowdown, hasn’t met even once. Once again, the PMO didn’t address the query directly, saying instead, “The adviser to PM is monitoring the implementation of the report on MSMEs that resulted in the setting up of the council. The adviser has meetings with the ministries on a need basis.”

The important question of climate change too, while hotly debated the world over, has been ignored, with the PM’s council on climate change not having met in more than three years. Constituted in June 2008, the committee was to coordinate national action to combat climate change. The council comprised three missions, two of which – on sustainable agriculture and sustainable habitat – met only once each in 2010. A third mission on green India met once in February 2011.

Expressing her disappointment, Sunita Narain, director general of the centre for science and environment (CSE) and a member of the climate change council, said,” “It is unfortunate that the PM’s council hasn’t met in over three years. The issues the council would have looked at have taken a backseat now.”

Scant attention was paid to employment creation for the youth too, with the PM’s national council on skill development, meant to create jobs for millions of youth, last met more than two years ago, in January 2012. Padma Shri awardee, Laila Tayabji, a member of the council, said, “I feel the momentum is missing in UPA-2. I am disappointed because the PM took so much interest in the beginning but it all fizzled out later.”