People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 31, 2006
THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT
THE winter session of parliament commenced on November 22 and ended on December 19. In this session, parliament had had long debates on some issues of urgent public importance: (i) ongoing sealing drive in Delhi, (ii) rise in prices of essential commodities, (iii) the state of panchayats, (iv) problems facing unorganised workers, and (v) Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation. The parliament also passed some important bills like the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, the Uttaranchal (Alternation of Name) Bill, the Child Rights (Amendment) Bill, the Central Educational Institutions Bill, the Scheduled Tribes Bill, and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Bill.
On the last day of the session, CPI(M) members led by Brinda Karat and Sitaram Yechury forced an adjournment in Rajya Sabha for twenty minutes on the issue of demanding immediate introduction of the Women Reservation Bill,.
Both the houses held discussions on recent developments in the Indo-US nuclear deal. From the CPI(M) side, Sitaram Yechury in Rajya Sabha and Rupchand Pal in Lok Sabha warned the government not to fall into the US trap. Yechury said the concern is that the US Act’s provisions can harm our sovereignty and we want a categorical assurance that this won’t be allowed. The worry is that the Agreement 123 can be only under the parameters laid out in US legislation. These parameters defy the assurances the prime minister has given. For example, the Agreement 123 may not demand annual certification by US president but it is present in their legislation. “How are we going to get away from this situation?” Yechury asked. It will be an illusion to think that we will somehow be spared from that sort of requirement. We agree with the prime minister’s contention in the other house that we need to augment the nuclear energy supply. But what is the source from where we can augment it?
Another question is: is nuclear energy the best available option in terms of cost? At present, it is 3310 MW and may be doubled by 2015. But even then it will be only 5 percent of total energy need. Referring to a cost benefit analysis, Yechury said hydel power costs almost half compared to nuclear energy. The estimate is that there is an untapped 50,000 MW hydel potential in the country. The question is: why are we not tapping it instead of going into harmful deals in the name of nuclear energy? The fact is that our government is providing a market for the US nuclear reactors and materials at the expense of our country’s sovereignty.
Dealing with strategic independence of India’s nuclear programme, Yechury quoted Section 102, Clause 6 which says Indian foreign policy is congruent to that of the US and is working with the US on key issues like non-proliferation. This is noxious and cannot be accepted. The UPA government must not forget that independent foreign policy is an important element of its National Common Minimum Programme, its basis of functioning. Can it allow another country to advise us not to increase the production of fissile material?
During his intervention, Yechury raised some other issues as well, like one-time change in US laws, India accepting the IAEA safeguard in perpetuity, IAEA’s India-specific additional protocol, waiver authority and congressional approval, fuel supply guarantee, etc. But if the US terminates the agreement, it will also see that nobody else gives us fuel. As for the Proliferation Security Initiative, Yechury said if the Agreement 123 cannot ensure fulfilment the prime minister’s assurance to this house on August 17, we may come to only one conclusion --- that this deal is not in India’s interest and cannot be accepted. Before concluding his speech, Yechury appealed that the government must take the two houses into confidence before going any further.
In Lok Sabha, Rupchand Pal emphatically said it is an important issue and all its aspects must be thoroughly analysed. It was stated that the three decades old technology denial regime in energy sector is being dismantled, that the deal will strengthen our energy security as the Planning Commission and Atomic Energy Commission envision. The question is, why is the US so enthusiastic about it? Since 1979, after an accident in Central Pennsylvania, the US power industry has been paralysed. Now, in order to rejuvenate this industry, the US calculation is that over the years they would have a chance to exploit 40 percent of India’s nuclear energy budget: to the extent of 20 billion dollars. Politically, they want to have a new policy framework to get India aligned to it against China. Also, we find the US law allows only import of nuclear fuel and reactors, and no fuel reprocessing. This is a major concern, Pal added. As regards the parameters etc, every year a certificate of good conduct will be needed. This involves an element of uncertainty. We have the experience of Tarapur plant, for which the supply was suddenly disrupted. But, earlier, we could go to anyone for supply. That freedom will be lost now. If the US unilaterally terminates the deal, where will we go? As for India’s status, we are not considered an equal partner. Can we accept it? No wonder our scientists are disheartened; at every stage they are denied any further move. This is unfortunate, Pal said.
SCHEDULED TRIBES BILL
Parliament has passed the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill 2006. From the CPI(M) side, Brinda Karat in Rajya Sabha and Bajuban Riyan, Prasanta Pradhan, M Baburao and A V Bellarmin participated in the discussion.
Supporting the bill, Brinda Karat recalled the long drawn struggle to get the bill introduced. We should not forget that crores of adivasi people have been facing and fighting against injustices. They fought fiercely against the British and their militant struggles made a great contribution to our independence. We must also not forget that adivasis not only depend on the forest, they preserve it. It was only under intense pressure from the adivisis and other forest-dwellers that the government ultimately brought in this bill --- the outcome of a long drawn struggle of the adivasis, the CPI(M) and other Left parties, and the democratic people in the country.
Terming the bill as a significant victory for the forest dwelling communities and a big step forward in their struggle for rights, Brinda said there were crucial differences between the UPA government’s original draft and final draft. The original bill would have added to the historic injustices in many respects. The final draft too faced opposition from so-called environmentalists and conservationists. Citing a famous lawyer’s threat, after the Lok Sabha had passed the bill, to submit a petition to the Supreme Court challenging the bill, she said we have witnessed judicial intervention time and again, when courts ordered eviction of adivasis from the forests. In 2002 a circular was issued to evict the adivasis who settled in a forest after 1980. About two lakh adivasis and forest dwellers were evicted. Till today, that court order is in force and eviction notices against lakhs of adivasis and forest dwellers are there.
The difference between the original bill and present bill is that the cut-off year has been shifted from 1980 to December 2005; all non-tribal traditional forest dwellers have been included in the bill; their rights in areas declared protected have been recognised; the process for identification of protected areas has also been revised to ensure a more transparent process as against the present fatwa regime of the forest department; land ceiling has been raised from 2.5 to 4 hectares; the rights to minor forest produce have been recognised; all the penal provisions for punishing the tribals have been removed and many other issues have also been settled.
About traditional forest dwellers who were settled during the British period, she said they are non-tribal scheduled castes in some states and such tribals in other states as are traditionally living in forest at their own risk. There was a sinister move to divide the forest dwellers by bringing in a bill for tribals and a separate bill for non-tribals. In the name of undoing injustice, they wanted to force another injustice on forest dwellers. Further, many people were settled in forests in the last 50 to 60 years. For example, as per the Sirimavo Pact, repatriated Sri Lankan Tamils were settled in the hills in Tamilnadu. In this regard, the JPC has clearly recommended that it is the government’s duty to protect their rights.
In Lok Sabha, Bajuban Riyan said the UPA government has taken one step forward to correct the historical mistake left uncorrected by the successive governments all these decades. Since independence the socio-economic condition of the scheduled tribes, 9 percent of our people, has gone from bad to worse. Under the provisions of the Indian Forest Conservation Act 1980, the government declared the tribals living in forest areas as encroachers. Now, the UPA government admits that the forest dwellers and forests are inseparable, one cannot live without the other and those living in forests save the forests. So the ministry of environment & forests and other departments must work in coordination to sincerely take care of the tribals’ interests.
Supporting the bill, M Baburao said the forests and tribals have been in a symbiotic relationship for centuries together. But the law wanted to separate them at the cost of the tribal people’s livelihood. Conservation is the forest department’s prime duty but our experience shows it is the major department aiding the destruction of our forests. Nowadays some environmentalists say shifting cultivation leads to the destruction of forests, but this is not the fact. In shifting cultivation, people only use minor tools, clear the bushes, and sow some seeds to get their livelihood. They do not fell any big tree. So we must recognise shifting cultivation as a means of their livelihood and include it in this bill, he demanded. After suggesting some more changes in the bill, Rao said Gram Sabhas must be given full authority to decide the beneficiaries under this act. They must also have adequate representation in the committees to be formed at various levels, he suggested.
A V Bellarmin said one aim of the bill must to protect the surrounding buffer forests, and retain their flora and fauna so as to sustain the concerned communities. It must guarantee protection of the forest dwellers’ livelihood, healthcare and education. Any activity of the forest authorities must not hamper their routine life and living. Apart from forest dwellers, there are people have come to the forests from adjacent plains for a living. They too must be given some rights for normal life and dwelling.
Prasanta Pradhan said the rights of the scheduled tribes and other forest dwellers were not adequately recognised so far. They are integral to the forest ecosystem’s very survival and sustainability. It was the tribals from West Bengal who initiated the campaign for protection of forests and the tribal people’s rights. In West Bengal, one of the ministers is deputed for the same purpose. This model must be adopted in other states too, he suggested. Refuting the allegation about the tribals destroying forests, he said these people get their livelihood from the forests and forest produce and therefore intensely love their forests. Their fear of eviction needs to be allayed, he said.
In Lok Sabha, Basudeb Acharia, CPI(M), moved a calling attention motion regarding non-implementation of the wage settlement between IDBI Employees Association and IDBI management. He said the IDBI was earlier the Industrial Finance Department, an integral part of the RBI, was delinked from the RBI in 1977 and accorded the status of a wholly owned government institution. Then the IDBI Act was repealed in 2003 and it was converted into a deemed banking company to carry on banking business in addition to fulfilling its development bank role. While replying to the debate on that bill, the then finance minister had categorically assured that IDBI would retain the character of a development finance institution even after becoming a deemed banking company. When the question of service conditions was raised, another assurance was given that the employees’ interest would be safeguarded and they would continue to have the same terms and service conditions in the new dispensation. Before this wage settlement, there were five wage settlements between their association and the management since 1977. The latest settlement was signed on March 17, 2006, and has since then been pending with the ministry of finance. Now the ministry has put two conditions. One is deletion of the clause providing linkage and another is that the pay, allowance and service conditions would be on par with the public sector banks. This is contrary to the assurance given by the former finance minister. Today, unfortunately, the finance minister is imposing conditions that were never there in the five wage settlements. This is gross negation of the provisions contained in the repeal act, Acharia lambasted.
Rajya Sabha passed the Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Bill 2006 after a discussion. In the debate, Tapan Sen, CPI(M), said this bill was mainly for providing financial support from the Universal Service Obligation Fund to mobile service providers in rural and remote areas. Mobile service must spread to such areas, as this is the most modern means of communication. But, he asked, what would be the status of the agency that has already been providing mobile service to such areas? In a country with below 2 percent rural teledensity, BSNL is the biggest contributor providing 90 percent of rural telephone infrastructure. Those who have already provided phones without the USOF’s blessings must be covered by this fund retrospectively, from the date they are providing services there. But the question is: how has the BSNL been treated by the USOF all these days? BSNL alone incurred an expenditure of Rs 4527 crore in 2004-05 and 2005-06 to instal telecom services in rural and remote areas whereas the total reimbursement from the USOF was around Rs 3080 crore, though this fund is having a surplus of Rs 7600 crore. Thus despite there being a fund, assistance is not flowing. Sen wanted to know how far the private service providers are fulfilling the obligation to go to the rural areas and, if failing, what action the government is going to take. He insisted that the amendment moved by him must be accepted in order to uphold propriety.
In Rajya Sabha, the CPI(M)’s Prasanta Chatterjee strongly supported the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Bill 2006 to provide 27 percent reservation to Other Backward Castes in admission to certain educational institutions established, maintained or aided by the central government. He said it is the duty of all the democratic minded people to firmly reject the efforts of vested upper caste interests to perpetuate the caste divide and deepen the casteist prejudices. Such reservation, though on a limited scale, will effectively provide opportunities for the dalits, adivasis and other backward sections to acquire education. It is a welcome step towards ensuring for a larger number of economically deprived students equal access to higher education. Referring to the unanimous standing committee decision, he said the socially and educationally backwards among the minorities should also be taken care of, and demanded a mechanism in this regard. So far as the private institutions are concerned, the opponents of reservation say reservation penalises merit. But access to education in our country is highly unequal. Inequality begins at the school level itself. In professional education, private institutions continue to mushroom but there is complete stagnation in the capacity of government institutions. Private institutions run on purely commercial basis and whatever restrictions existed on their profiteering were also removed following the Supreme Court judgement deregulating private unaided institutions. Chatterjee demanded that in the event of OBC quota not being filled up, the remaining quota must go to the creamy layer among the OBCs and not allocated to the non-OBCs. While saying that the present bill would provide some solace to the deprived sections of society, the fight for social justice has to go along with the fight for economic equality as real equality cannot be achieved without social justice, Chatterjee said.
December 24, 2006