11 am, the PM, Live

Written by Political Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Feb 17 2011, 04:09am hrs
In what is being seen as an attempt to clear the clouded air over the UPA and extricate his government out of a virtual freeze, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has decided to participate in a live broadcast with editors of TV news channels tomorrow and answer a range of questions. The session at the Prime Ministers Race Course Road residence will be telecast live by Doordarshan at 11 am.

This comes when, sources said, the government is coming around to accept the Oppositions demand for a probe by a Joint Parliamentary Committee into the 2G scam and its related controversies including the Radia tapes although its not clear what its specific ambit will be. For, the BJP today called for the JPC to cover the CWG and the Adarsh probes as well and asked the Prime Minister to answer questions on the ISRO S-band case and the black money transfer issue as well. The PMs decision to take questions follows his offer to appear before Parliaments Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on the 2G issue.

I sincerely believe that like Caesars wife, the Prime Minister should be above suspicion and it is for this reason that I am prepared to appear before the PAC even though there is no precedent to that effect, he had said addressing the plenary session of Congress after the winter session of Parliament was deadlocked with the Opposition stalling both Houses.

Of late, the Prime Minister has also displayed a quiet assertiveness in the face of a campaign by a section of the

National Advisory Council over two of the UPAs flagship welfare schemes: rural job guarantee scheme (NREGS) and the proposed food guarantee scheme (NFSB). On the NREGS, the Prime Minister held firm on the governments commitment announced in Budget 2009-10 to provide a real wage of Rs 100 a day despite pressure from activists flaunting the support of National Advisory Council (NAC) chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

While the activists clamoured for linking NREG wages to the minimum wage of the states, the Prime Minister decided to delink the wages from Minimum Wages Act and instead linked them to the consumer price index for agricultural labourers.

This when, the NAC activists raised this issue at a meeting chaired by Sonia Gandhi in October last year who also sent a note to the Prime Minister flagging it. The PM held a meeting of stakeholder ministers P Chidambaram (Home), Pranab Mukherjee (Finance), C P Joshi (Rural Development), Veerappa Moily (Law), Mallikarjun Kharge (Labour), and Montek Singh Ahluwalia (deputy chairman of Planning Commission). And communicated to the NAC chairperson in December that the government had decided to delink the NREGS wages from the Minimum Wages Act.

On food security, too, when activists in the NAC over-reached to call for a universal food guarantee law, the Prime Minister instituted an expert panel under the chairmanship of former RBI governor, C Rangarajan, to look into its feasibility.

The panel, after studying the provisions suggested by the NAC, said that it would not be possible for the government to implement the NACs suggestions under a legislative framework. The NAC has stuck to its guns and the government is also standing firm.

Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar has convened a meeting of all political parties on February 20 and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is likely to once again meet leaders of various parties ahead of the Budget session.