People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXII

No. 16

April 27, 2008

 





THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT

Subhas Ray


THE second half of budget session of parliament began on April 15, 2008. Members of Left parties and United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA) raised the issue of spiraling prices and forced the government to admit a full-fledged discussion in both the Houses on April 16, 2008. Ever since the budget session started in February, members of Left parties expressed serious concern over the relentless rise in prices, but each time BJP and its allies disrupted the parliament on some or the other pretext and petty issue leading to adjournments of both the Houses. This time, the Left members led a militant procession along with UNPA members and thronged the portico of parliament house to register their protest against the government’s lackadaisical attitude and inaction to arrest the rise in prices. They forced the parliament to initiate discussion on this burning issue. During the discussions, the CPI(M) leaders, Sitaram Yechury in Rajya Sabha and Basudeb Acharia in Lok Sabha participated.

The tradition of guillotine of discussions on a large number of Demands for Grants for various ministries and departments has been maintained. During this second half of budget session while Lok Sabha will take up discussions on Demands for Grants- 2008-09 for Railways, Home Affairs, Defence, Information and Broadcasting, Rural Development and Youth Affairs & Sports, the Rajya Sabha will discuss on the working of ministries of Commerce and Industry; Agriculture, Human Resource Development, Rural Development and Labour and Employment.

During the discussion on price rise in Rajya Sabha, the CPI(M) leader, Sitaram Yechury castigated the government for the creation of two types of India – a ‘Shining India’ for a few people and an ‘Oppressed India’ for a vast majority people of India and linked it to the price rise. The prices of edible oils have gone six times up and the prices of food grains have increased by over 20 per cent. He warned not to take the price rise lightly because it has a great effect on our society. When prices rise, inflation redistributes income. So, in this process, through inflation, the government is actually subsidising the rich and taxing the poor, and it is again dividing the society and widening the hiatus between the ‘Shining India and the ‘Suffering India’. The basic question is how we can today tackle the situation. There is no point of discounting the fact of the global impact. The rise in the prices of oil products has had a very big impact on food prices because oil is a very important input in agriculture and, therefore, the costs of production have risen. It is also a fact that the shift that is being made towards bio-fuels is also impacting the availability of foodgrains for the consumption of human beings. 20 per cent of the production of maize in the United States of America is today earmarked for biofuels, and the amount of maize that is required to fill the tank of an average car is equivalent to the annual consumption of maize of a well-bodied African male today. That is a danger that we will have to take care of,” said Yechury. The third factor is there has been a crisis in agriculture globally and that global crisis has also brought down production of foodgrains. “And economists will tell you, there is a famous curve called Phillips Curve; that you encounter this whenever production goes up it is met with the wall of inflation. Now, that is also a factor that is operating. But why is it that in the last one year the prices of food grains have shot up so dramatically,” he asked. In the last one year, the prices of wheat globally has gone up by 92 per cent till February 2008. The prices of Soyabean have gone up by 65 per cent till February 2008. The question is, why this sudden spurt now? The other three global factors have always been there. That is where you are failing to put your finger on the actual cause and, that is, that all this has been happening in the last year because of a severe crisis in the world financial markets and system that has been triggered by the sub-prime crisis in the United States of America. All these financial players, to cut their losses from the sub-prime crisis and the recession in the United States of America, are shifting into newer areas, and the area that they have chosen and where they are playing havoc today globally, as global speculators, is the futures trading and forward trading of food grains. And it is this area where they have concentrated upon to cut their losses and we have to pay the price for that. The only way to insulate ourselves is not merely to put a break on this process of reckless liberalisation that has been taking place but actually to reverse this process in order to protect ourselves and insulate ourselves from this global trend. In African countries where they are not getting food grain, the food riots are taking place there. We do not want such situation to emerge here, he emphasised. He then charged the government for creating a situation of food insecurity in the country by allowing these huge multinational corporations to move in agro business. You have allowed our procurement to drastically reduce. There are three particular steps that these multinationals would require in order to make super profits out of rising prices of foodgrains and essential commodities in our country. The first is that the government must be made so helpless or so weaken that it should not have large stocks to dampen the spot prices at a moment in this speculative trading. Secondly, the private trade must have adequate stocks that they can intervene in the market whenever it is required. Thirdly, no institutional mechanism for distribution of foodgrains must exist in the country. Three billion dollars a day is the speculation that is taking place in the commodity exchange market of futures and forward trading. And in this we now have over the last few years three national level electronic exchanges, twenty-one regional exchanges and eighty commodities that have been allowed to participate in the derivative trading and the list is continuously growing. Yechury then suggested that in order to contain the price rise, four steps must be undertaken immediately by the government. The first one is to strengthen PDS by universalising it, restore the cut in foodgrain quota to states under PDS and include 15 essential commodities including pulses, edible oil and sugar in it. The second is, ban the futures and forward trade in 25 agricultural commodities; the third is the duty structure on the imported petroleum products be restructured and rationalised and the retail prices of petrol and diesel be reduced. The fourth is to take stringent action against hoarding of essential commodities.

The CPI(M) leader, Basudeb Acharia in Lok Sabha sharply accused the government for their biggest failure to control and contain the rising prices of almost all essential commodities. He said, the price rise is a direct outcome of neo liberal policy of the government. There has been willful neglect of agriculture under this policy. For years together the capital formation on agriculture was reduced. There has been stagnation in the expansion of irrigation and it had its impact on our agricultural production. As a result of this, there is a crisis in agriculture sector. The weakening and virtual destruction of public distribution system started in 1990s when the population was divided into APL and BPL categories. From universal public distribution system it was converted into targeted public distribution system. Central allocations for West Bengal and Kerala have been drastically cut to the extent of 50 per cent and 82 per cent respectively. The main purpose is to exclude a substantial percentage of population from the public distribution system. The methodology of poverty estimation followed by the government and the process of identification of families below the poverty line are deeply flawed. That is why, the CPI(M) is consistently demanding for a change in the process of identifying BPL category population. There is a persistent demand for immediate withdrawal of forward and future trading. When there is a demand from this House and when there is a unanimous recommendation from the Standing Committee on Food and Consumer Affairs, why the government is so hesitant and not taking a firm stand in regard to withdrawal of 25 essential commodities from the future and forward trading, he asked. Because of this, hoarding and black-marketing is going on. The Essential Commodities Act was diluted during the NDA regime. There is a consistent demand to strengthen this Act so that the state governments could act strongly against the hoarding and black-marketing. The FCI has been made inactive to procure the foodgrains. A substantial percentage of foodgrains produced in our country is being bought by the corporate sector. There is no limit for their central stock as to how much they can keep. In 2007-08, the government collected Rs.40,000 crore on import duties on oil, which is more than what was budgeted. We demanded these Rs.40,000 crore should be given to the nationalised oil companies so that the retail price of petrol and diesel would not have to be increased. It is because the increase in the prices of petrol and diesel has its cascading effect on other commodities. The situation is very grave as far as the lives of the people are concerned. The per capita availability of pulses has come down. Pulses are the poor man’s protein. He wanted to know as to how much time this government will take for a comprehensive medium term strategy for food and nutrition security. Acharia at the end, demanded against hoarding of essential commodities and strengthen the provisions of Essential Commodities Act to empower the State Governments to deal with hoarding and black-marketing and so on. Dissatisfied with the reply of Sharad Pawar, the minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, the CPI(M) members led by Basudeb Acharia walked out of the House.

Through a special mention, the CPI(M) member, Brinda Karat in Rajya Sabha drawing the attention of the House to increasing crimes against minor girls, said Delhi in the last two days witnessed sexual assault on five children. They include a handicapped child, a child of six years and a child of three years. In our country, over the last five years, the rate of crimes against children, including sexual assault have increased by 70 per cent, whereas conviction in such crimes has decreased from 39 per cent to 34 per cent, which means a large majority of culprits committing such crimes against children are going scot-free. This is an issue which affects every citizen of this country. There are no specific laws against sexual assault of children in India. Today, when a child victim is called to the court, it is supposed to be in-camera proceedings. If it is a case of gang-rape, the child has to face three or four top lawyers for 15-20 times. Under such circumstances, no mother would like to produce her child before them to avoid further trauma, not to speak of utter humiliation. She urged upon the government to take this issue on a priority basis and frame the necessary laws, rules and provisions to deal with this.

(April 20, 2008)