THE Union government’s reluctance to increase welfare spending and unwillingness to enact important laws has forced the prominent civil society activist Aruna Roy’s decision to end her association with the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC). Aruna Roy, who had been critical of the NAC’s functioning over the last one year, requested Sonia Gandhi not to consider her for another term in the consultative body when it ended on May 31.

This is the second time she has terminated her relationship with the NAC. She had resigned from the council in 2006 during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA-I) government after it implement the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) despite the council’s recommending it. However, she joined the NAC again in UPA’s second term and was the coordinator of working groups on the rural employment guarantee programme and on Transparency and Accountability.

In her letter to the chairperson of the NAC, she pointed out how the implementation of the MGNREGA remained a big challenge as the rural poor were “losing public and political space to a small, vocal, and powerful minority determined to undermine the basic objectives” of the programme. This, she pointed out, got tacit support from the Prime Minister himself as his office refused to implement the NAC’s recommendations to pay minimum wages to MGNREGA workers.

“I do believe that it is extremely unfortunate the Prime Minister rejected the NAC recommendations on payment of minimum wages to MGNREGA workers and chose instead to appeal the Karnataka High Court judgment ordering the payment of minimum wages. Even more distressing is the government’s refusal to pay minimum wages even after the Supreme Court refused to stay the Karnataka High Court judgment. It is difficult to understand how a country like India can deny the payment of minimum wages and still make claims of inclusive growth,” she wrote.

Since the Central government is empowered to notify the wage rate in the MGNREGA independent of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, many governments have refused to pay minimum wages citing that the scheme is meant as a mere social security measure and not real employment.

Aruna Roy also expressed dissatisfaction over the way Parliament has functioned in the last few months. At a recent press conference in New Delhi, which she addressed along with Amartya Sen and other leading academics, Aruna Roy reiterated that Parliament should debate long-pending important Bills such as the food security Bill, the whistleblowers’ Bill, and the Lok Pal and the grievance redressal Bills. One important reason why she dissociated herself from the NAC was the lackadaisical attitude of the government to enact these important Bills and the constant neglect of the council’s recommendations. “Many of those Bills have been through parliamentary committees and now urgently need to be enacted. The campaign to have these Bills enacted, and people’s monitoring mechanisms such as social audits, must be strengthened. I feel the immediate enactment of these measures is critical to the future of democratic governance in India.”

Aruna Roy and her ilk have chosen an alternative political path to address the grievances of the people in a neoliberal state. She works towards empowering the citizenry by advocating the implementation of social security measures such as old age pension and mobilisation of people to bring legislation that gives the aam aadmi the power to question the government’s policies. This demands a constant engagement with the government as much as with the people. Her resignation from the NAC to strengthen mobilisation of people on such issues, therefore, has to be viewed in the context of the increasing autocratic tendencies within the government.

Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta