The editor of RSS publication Panchjanya, members of a few Hindu spiritual organisations and the CEO of a drone company are among people drafted as “non-official members from various states” in the apex body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the flagship Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREGA) Act.
The Rural Development Ministry, in a notification issued last month, appointed them as members of the Central Employment Guarantee Council (CEGC), with a tenure of one year starting June 20, when the term of the present committee expires. The CEGC was formed to monitor the implementation of the 2005 Act that promises 100 days of employment a year to every rural household.
Prominent among those drafted for the last year of the current government is Hitesh Shanker, Editor, Panchjanya Weekly, who has been named a non-official member from Delhi.
From Uttarakhand, the ministry has nominated Sanjay Chaturvedi, convener of Divine International Foundation (DIF), which describes itself as “a separate entity of Divya Prem Sewa Mission” started by RSS pracharak Ashish Gautam. This Haridwar-based mission lists yoga guru Ramdev’s Patanjali as one of its CSR partners.
Another nominated member is G Vasudev from Vivekanand Kendra at Kanyakumari, a Hindu spiritual organisation founded in the seventies by Eknath Ranade, a senior RSS pracharak. Its website lists ‘Group Discussion on Rousing Call to Hindu Nation’ as one of its many recent activities held in Rajasthan late last year.
Also on the CEGC member-list is Sudhir Aggarwal, a BJP member who is “founder-president, Confederation of Voluntary Organizations” and who describes himself as a “swayam sevak since childhood” on his website. A lawyer, Aggarwal has listed the “Baba Ramdev case” under his “major activities”. The ministry notification, however, calls him a member of ‘Union of Voluntary Association’.
Other CEGC members include Vikshut Mundkur, co-founder and CEO of the Bangalore-based HUVI Air Technologies Private which ‘enables construction companies to embed drone data based insights across all stages of construction projects’, and Santosh Raghunath Gondhalekar, “Director, Primo Engineering”, a Pune-based company (spelled on its website as Primove) that extracts biogas from agricultural waste.
All these members come under the category of ‘non-official members from various states’, who, according to sources, are recommended by Rural Development Minister Narendra Singh Tomar. These members are appointed in addition to representatives of state governments and panchayati raj institutions.
When asked about the composition of the Council, a ministry official said the council members have been nominated so as to ensure diversity of people who engage with the subject. “There has not been any political inputs from any of the members. The present council also has names such as Narendra Nath Damodar from Pradan, which specialises in rural development, and Manoj Panda, the director of Institute of Economic Growth, in addition to several panchayat leaders,” the official said.
This is not the first instance of political choices taking precedence over experts in the CEGC. Under UPA-II, CP Joshi, then Rural Development Minister, had in 2009 packed the CEGC with members of the Congress. Of the total 14 non-official members, Joshi had drafted six sitting Congress MPs to the CEGC, besides two other Congress functionaries. It was corrected only later, after Joshi was moved out of the ministry.
The initial members of the CEGC included social activists and economists such as Aruna Roy, Jean Dreze, and Nikhil Dey, who were involved in framing and monitoring the implementation of the NREGA at the grassroots level soon after the legislation was launched in February 2006.