A bureaucrat turned social activist Aruna Roy speaks to Prasad Nichenametla on her tenure as the National Advisory Council member and the reasons for exiting the highest consultative body in the country.
You were part of the NAC since its inception in 2004. Then why did you choose to come out of the body now?
We have just submitted our report on pre-legislative consultation processes and my job with NAC is now over. I am accountable to the people around me and they felt I should discontinue my engagement with NAC and work to impact the policy from outside. The NAC, I think, also completed one set of its tasks but the real work of legislati on and execution for benefit of the poor still lies with the government.
How successful do you think the NAC had been in shaping the government policy?
The NAC, after-all is an advisory body whose recommendations are not binding on the government. But it has provided a platform for pre-legislative process in the country. I would not judge if it was a success or not but I can say that NAC provided an important model in governance. I would like to see more such models where voice of the people finds place in the government business
How was the government’s reception to NAC proposals? What is your major disappointment?
We cannot generalise but the reception varied from case to case depending on the ministry and the ministers. The Prime Minister shooting down our suggestion to provide minimum wages to NREGA workers is a matter of regret, though it is not the reason for my exit now. Rejecting a worker a statutory minimum wage amounts to allowing exploitation of labour in the country
The UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi heads NAC and PM Manmohan Singh heads the government. So, was it like the political will not translating into executive commitment? What is your take on the dual power centre, as alleged by the opposition?
There was a balance between the growth and social agenda during UPA-I but during UPA-II the arguments for growth prevailed over the social agenda, when it is the social commitments like the food security that should have been ensured.
The debate of weak or strong leader or a dual power centre is abstract. I think there should not be one but several power centres in a government to represent the democracy we are and they should be directly accountable to the people
In any case, its not a single person be it the Prime Minister or someone else that takes a decision in the government. Every decision is being influenced by a set of people whose role we do not even perceive
What is your plan of action now?
I would renew my engagement with the people on issues like livelihood, employment and electoral reforms especially taking along the younger generation.