People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 52

December 28, 2003



                                        Subhas Ray


IN Lok Sabha, the opposition walked out on December 16 against the government’s move to pass the Prevention of Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2003. The bill was passed 257-10, in absence of opposition parties. But, even amid the serious atmosphere in the house, the behaviour of Tamilnadu based parties evoked some amusement. About the strange relationship between the BJP and these parties, the CPI(M)’s Varkala Radhakrishnan said the BJP spends days with DMK but goes to the AIADMK for night stay. AIADMK members demanded that the remark be expunged from the records but the RJD member in chair rejected the demand, saying there was nothing unparliamentary about it.




During discussion on this bill, the CPI(M)’s Basudeb Acharya and Varkala Radhakrishnan moved disapproval motions against the ordinance, saying it was highly undemocratic to force a statute like this through ordinance. Acharya wanted to know whether there has been any reduction in terrorist activities since the law was enacted one and a half years back. He said the opposition’s apprehension about its misuse has proved true. Now the government wants to give powers to the review committee that was constituted on March 1, 2003. Acharya wanted to know whether there has been any impact on the misuse of POTA by various state governments, after the committee was formed. The history of TADA is being repeated today, not as a farce but as a civil liberty tragedy. During the two years of POTA, innocent people have been arrested while the law has failed to check terrorist activities. We have enough laws in the country that may be utilised to curb terrorism. The need of the day is that the POTA be altogether repealed, Acharya stressed.


Radhakrishnan referred to the case of Vaiko, a sitting member of the house. He said a situation has come when even a member is denied his right to attend this house. He wanted to know why we should retain this statute that can only cause havoc to democracy.




On December 16, Lok Sabha passed the Constitution (Ninety-Seventh Amendment) Bill that seeks to contain the size of the council of ministers to 15 per cent of the strength of the lower house at the centre and in states. For north eastern states, the minimum size will be 12. The bill debars a defector from holding any remunerative political post for the remaining tenure of the legislature, unless re-elected. Rupchand Pal, CPI(M), termed the bill as piecemeal, as it was not going to remove the evils of defection altogether.


Reminding of certain farcical episodes that took place in the north east, Pal demanded immediate disqualification of a person who gets elected on a particular party’s symbol, policy and programme, and later defects. Such a person should re-enter the house only by getting re-elected. This has got to be done if the government wants to save the system from money and muscle power. Pal also demanded implementation of the Dinesh Goswami committee’s recommendations on electoral reforms.


Another demand the CPI(M) member raised was of giving the electorate the right to recall. 


Dealing with the ministerial council’s size, Pal said 10 per cent of combined strength of both houses comes to 79 and 15 per cent of the lower house means 81. At present, we have the biggest, jumbo size union government as they have to accommodate many parties. The irony is that, in the name of bringing down the council size, the standing committee has recommended an increase in the number of ministers. Therefore, they should tell us as to how they propose to apply it in their own case. Today there is a state with 90 ministers. Sometimes there are ministers who do not have any portfolios. They have cars, offices, private secretaries, and enjoy office without having any responsibility. Pal extended support to the bill with reservations.




On December 15, Rajya Sabha passed the Industrial Development Bank (Transfer of Undertaking and Repeal) Bill 2003. Opposing the bill, the CPI(M)’s Prasanta Chatterjee said the IDBI’s conversion into a commercial bank, with no accountability to parliament, means moving towards the disastrous model the World Bank and IMF have prescribed for our economy. The government is weakening the central public sector undertakings, even the profit-making ones, and thus eroding the self-reliant base of our country. Without the government’s firm support, we cannot withstand the pressure of multinationals. In public sector alone, 6.5 lakh people have lost jobs in recent years. Vacancies are not being filled up, thus shutting the door upon the jobless and creating extra pressure of work for the existing employees. Opposing the ‘voluntary’ retirement scheme in the bill, Chatterjee demanded to maintain 51 per cent government stake in the IDBI.


On the day, Rajya Sabha also discussed the Forward Contracts (Regulation) Amendment Bill 1998. Participating in the debate, Sarla Maheswari, CPI(M), said the government is not serious about the bill that was originally moved years ago. The bill was brought to check the activities of speculators in sarrafa market. Doubting whether it would be able to prevent the recurrence of scams, she pointed out that the Forward Market Commission was set up in 1952 in order to check the activities of speculators, so that industries could get raw material at time and peasants could get remunerative prices. Jute and cotton corporations were formed. Now, we are going to deprive the peasants of whatever remunerative prices they are getting. She accused the government of surrendering to the WTO without caring as to how its market economy policies would affect our peasants and agriculture. The CPI(M) member also said foreign capital should not be allowed to enter the sarrafa market. Strict laws are needed to control this market. The enforcement machinery in sarrafa market is playing its role in a backward direction and increasing corruption there. She concluded by demanding that enforcement department must be strengthened and more stringent provisions added, so that peasants get benefited.


During a special mention, Prasanta Chatterjee quoted various figures about poverty, powerlessness and lack of representation. The Human Development Report 2003 says India is home to the largest number of hungry people. Health department has admitted that 24 per cent of the rural people cannot go to a doctor. The Planning Commission estimated that only 50 per cent rural households are served by a handpump and 70-80 per cent of diseases are due to water contamination. In view of all this, Chatterjee urged the government to review the yardsticks for fixing the BPL categories.




On December 17, Lok Sabha passed the supplementary demands for grants (general) 2003-04. Rupchand Pal said neither the mid-term review of our economy nor the supplementary demands cared to address the burning problems facing our country. Whatever the arithmetic of GDP growth, the real test is how far it gets translated into reality. Pal asked the finance minister if the employment scenario had not deteriorated in the country. In a single illustration of late, 55 lakh candidates applied for 20,000 khalasi posts in railways, and these included MBAs, doctors and engineers. Is it not alarming? This government is absolutely insensitive to our educated but frustrated youth. And now the supplementary budget makes no mention of how we would rectify this worrisome job situation; rather the government is sacking the employed.


As for disinvestment, even profit-making units are being sold. Pal referred to the fate of many PSUs. Burn Standard, which manufactures rail wagons, is not getting orders from the railways, and has become sick. It badly needs government support, which is not coming. Dunlop India was sent to BIFR and then to AIFR; now its case is in the appellate tribunal. In Dunlop, 34 per cent stake belongs to the UTI, UBI, SBI and other financial institutions. Its aero tyre is the best in the country but it is under lockout. During Kargil war, the prime minister requested the then chief minister of West Bengal to see that the Air Force gets aero tyres without any obstruction from the workers. The chief minister instantly called them and told that it involved our security, prestige and national honour. He said he knew that the workers were starving, but urged them to allow the government of India and the defence people to take out whatever was available because the Air Force badly needed aero tyres during the war. Top Air Force officials entered the Dunlop premises and the workers and their families stood in a row giving them ovation with small placards that read: “We love our country, but our children are starving.” The officers stated: “It is a good factory, and can produce the best quality aero tyres for the Air Force.”


Pal said this bitter experience stressed the need for the company’s revival. But though NDA leaders admit the Dunlop’s superb technology, they refuse to nationalise it as their philosophy is market economy and disinvestment. This shows the government is not interested in our people’s well being. He said when the new telecom policy came, we had asked as to what will happen to rural telephony. Our apprehensions have proved true --- private sector feels no obligation of providing phones in rural areas. The government is not allowing the public sector to compete with the private sector on a level playing field. Many PSUs have made profits even after the government’s efforts to weaken them. In this supplementary budget, there is little support for these bodies. Nor is the government serious about illiteracy removal and elementary education; the much hyped Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has no place in the Planning Commission’s list of priorities. They are only waxing eloquent about our huge forex reserves, about which many economists have expressed apprehensions that it is not a good thing unless we know how to use it.


Dealing with the banking system, Pal said interest rates have been slashed though people are still depositing their money in public sector banks because there is hardly any security for it elsewhere. People have burnt their fingers in the capital market. One wonders what will happen if this situation continues. In sum, the supplementary budget had not addressed any of the burning problems facing us.




The parliament approved the Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2003 with its passage by Lok Sabha on December 18. During the discussion, Basudeb Acharya strongly opposed the bill, asking what the amendment’s purpose was. Referring to his note of dissent, he said the standing committee’s recommendations were not unanimous.


The latest act has replaced all the three earlier acts. Acharya asked: what was the need to have a new act? In fact, it aims to liberalise the power sector in the interest of private capitalists. Whether this act will be able to overcome the problems we are facing? In power generation, private sector was allowed long back. But private companies did not go to rural India. Thousands of villages still remain in darkness. In the ninth plan, the target fixed for private sector was 18,000 MW and the achievement only 2,000 MW. What is the experience of the states that have ‘reformed’ the power sector? The situation has gone from bad to worse.


Acharya said what is required is that we strengthen the power generation and distribution. West Bengal was the first state to initiate action with regard to prevention of theft and pilferage. It enacted a stringent deterrent act; there was improvement within one year and a half. The state electricity board is now coming out of the red due to the strengthened act and not by ‘opening out.’ Today, the poor and middle class people are getting electricity at a cheaper rate. If cross subsidisation is removed, as has been proposed in the present act, what will happen to the people below poverty line? Acharya then warned that the poorer sections would have to purchase electricity at a higher rate and no light would glow in their houses.


On the day, Lok Sabha took up discussion on a Calling Attention Motion regarding the inclusion of Dalit Muslims, Dalit Christians and certain other backward communities in the SC/ST list to provide reservation benefits to them. In the discussion, the CPI(M)’s Hannan Mollah said the Dalits should be given these benefits, irrespective of religion. About the case of Santhals, he said this tribe is recognised as STs in Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal, but not in other states. So a large number of them are deprived of the benefits due to STs. They should be recognised as STs all over the country, he demanded. Similarly, the Namashudra, Kondra, Kodh and Majhi etc are recognised as scheduled castes in West Bengal but not in Uttaranchal, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi,etc. Mollah asked: why they should not be treated as SCs in other states? Referring to a recent Supreme Court verdict that if a community is recognised as scheduled caste anywhere in India, it should be similarly recognised everywhere in the country, Mollah demanded its implementation without further delay.