People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXII

No. 42

October 26, 2008

 


 Stop Discrimination
Kerala CM Leads March To Parliament


IN an unprecedented move, Kerala chief minister V S Achuthanandan and 15 members of his council of ministers staged a dharna before the parliament on October 17 protesting the discrimination by the central government towards Kerala. Twenty two members of parliament from the state and 50 members of state legislature belonging to the ruling Left and Democratic Front also participated in the dharna. National leaders of the Left parties including CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat addressed the dharna.

Some of  the major issues on which Kerala is feeling discriminated against are: the reduction of central quota for supply of rations through public distribution system; reduction in share of central pool electricity; failure of the central government to grant  Kerala's long standing demands like creation of Peninsular Railway Zone and setting up of an IIT.

MLAs, MPs and ministers along with scores of concerned Malayalees living in Delhi assembled at the Kerala House in the capital around 11 a.m. and marched to parliament under the leadership of the chief minister. The procession culminated in a dharna at Jantar Mantar.

In his inaugural speech chief minister V S Achuthanandan accused the centre of ignoring the reasonable demands of the state. He said that Kerala has been forced to stage such a protest because the central government repeatedly ignored their demands which were represented many times through various means, including  an all-party delegation visit to Delhi which included the leader of opposition in the state assembly.

Achutanandan reminded that Kerala’s contribution to the foreign reserves in the country is around Rs 7600 crore per annum.  This included the revenue from cash crops and remittances of Non-Resident Keralites (NRKs). In 1966, the then prime minister late Smt Indira Gandhi and other national leaders acknowledged this contribution and promised that the state will be given enough foodgrains by the centre for distribution through the ration system. Since then a strong statutory rationing system has been prevalent in Kerala. “Unfortunately the centre has now stopped the supply of rice for around 50 lakh APL (above poverty line) consumers in Kerala and this resulted in the steep increase of price of rice in the open market. This forced the state to buy rice from other states like Andhra Pradesh and distribute the same at subsidised rate”, he pointed out.

The chief minister said that Kerala has suffered considerable shortage in the generation of electricity this time due to weak monsoon. And at this juncture the central government has cut the supply of electricity to the state from the central pool by a whopping 40 per cent. He also criticised the centre for withdrawing the import duty on palm oil to help the palm oil lobby. This move of the centre resulted in the considerable reduction in the price of coconut oil which adversely affected 60 lakh coconut farmers in the state.

Addressing the dharna Prakash Karat said it was not usual for chief ministers to come and agitate in this manner in the capital for their genuine demands.
 He charged the centre of trying to destory the Public Distribution System (PDS) of Kerala which was a role model for other states.
 He criticised the over-centralisation of power by the centre and called for a re-definition of the centre-state relations.
Karat asserted that the Left parties would launch a united agitation against centre's discriminative approach towards states.

The home minister of Kerala, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan welcomed the gathering while the minister for food and civil supplies C Divakaran presided over the meeting. Other speakers included CPI deputy general secretary Sudhakar Reddy, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and MP Sitaram Yechury, RSP general secretary T J Chandrachoodan, Forward Bloc general secretary Debabrata Biswas, MP Veerendrakumar, CPI(M) central secretariat member Hanan Mollah, CPI(M) central committee member and MP P Karunakaran, Congress(S) leader and MLA Kadannappalli Ramachandran,  INL leader and MLA P M A Salam and parliamentary affairs minister M Vijayakumar. Other ministers present were education minister M A Baby, finance minister Dr Thomas Issac, revenue minster K P Rajendran, water resources minister  N K Premachandran, transport minster Mathew T Thomas, PWD minister Mons Joseph, electricity minister A K Balan, forest & environment minister Binoy Viswam, fisheries minister S Sharma, agriculture minister Mullakkara Retnakaran, health and family welfare minister P K Sreemathi and minister for cooperation G Sudhakaran. Deputy speaker of legislative assembly Jose Baby was also present.   CPI(M) Polit Bureau members S Ramachandran Pillai  and Brinda Karat were also present.

MPs participating in the dharna included Pannian Raveendran, P Rajendran, Chengara Surendran, C S Sujatha, Dr K S Manoj, K Suresh Kurup, P C Thomas, Dr Sebastian Paul, Lonappan Nambadan, N N Krishnadas, S Ajaykumar, T K Hamsa, P Satheedevi, A P Abdullakutty, A Vijayaraghavan, K  Chandranpillai, P R Rajan and K E Ismail.
 

THE ISSUES

The following are the issues which glaringly show the discriminatory attitude of the centre towards Kerala:

(1) Drastic Cut In Ration Quota

The strong statutory rationing system prevalent in Kerala is today at stake due to the arbitrary reduction of supplies under central quota. There was an allotment of 1,13,420 tonnes of rice per month for distribution to APL card holders up to March 2007. This was drastically reduced to 21,334 tones from April 2007, and again to 17,056 tones in April 2008. This has been completely stopped since September this year. There is also severe shortage in the rice meant for distribution to BPL card holders. There was considerable reduction in the share of wheat too for the  APL category.  The allotment is 17,777 tonnes while the demand is 59,477 tonnes. 

As a consequence of the 86 per cent reduction and eventual stoppage of ration quota, the price of rice has steeply increased in Kerala.  There is also severe scarcity of rice in the market.

Although this situation has been brought to the notice of both the prime minister and the agriculture minister, no action has been taken to correct the injustice done to Kerala. As if to add insult to injury, the central government is now proposing to dispose of the excess stock of rice lying dumped in FCI godowns through auction in the open market. 

(2) Reduction In Share Of Electricity

Kerala has suffered considerable shortage in the generation of electricity due to weak monsoon.  Since electricity has to be bought from outside the state at two or three times higher than the rate levied from the consumers, the State Electricity Board is in a deep financial crisis. Therefore the state cabinet has asked the central government to extend an assistance of Rs 500 crore to the State Electricity Board from the National Calamity Fund by treating the issue of shortages in rainfall as a natural calamity. Not only did the centre not respond to this request but it also cruelly cut the share of electricity from the central pool to Kerala considerably. The state is supposed to get 1188 MW electricity per month from the central pool, including 145 MW from unallocated share from the Central Generating Stations, but the availability of power from central pool in May, 2008 was 820 MW. It had gone down to 764 MW in June, 745 MW in July and 667 MW in August, resulting in a severe power crisis in the state.

The central government  is looking at electricity merely as a business commodity instead of a basic instrument for social development.  Through division of the state electricity boards, the central government is aiming at commercialisation of the field of electricity so that it can be grabbed by the capital forces. The state government, having been left with no other option, decided to transform the Electricity Board as a single company and retain the company as a single entity in the public sector itself without its division. But the central government is insisting that the single company will not be appropriate and separate entities should be created for production, transmission, distribution etc. 

(3) Peninsular Railway Zone For Kerala

One of the prime and long-standing demand of Kerala has been a separate railway zone for the state.  The demand of the state for a separate zone is justified by its geographical location. Kerala’s link with the rest of the country is through the railway network.  However, Kerala gets the last priority in Southern Railway in implementation of development works of railways. The establishment of a zone with headquarters in Kerala is essential to ensure speedy implementation of developmental projects of railways in the state. The state’s demand was overlooked when the number of zones were raised from 9 to 16.

(4) Establishment of an IIT


While inaugurating the Golden Jubilee celebration of the formation of Kerala, on November 1, 2006, the prime minister promised that an IIT will be established in the state. Though it was decided to start eight new IITs and to provide even a second IIT to some other states, the central government has not allotted IIT to Kerala.  The state government demands establishment of an IIT in the state during the Eleventh Five Year Plan.

(5) Relief For Natural Calamities: 

This year, the state experienced untimely heavy rainfall and this has resulted in a huge loss in the agricultural sector. Sixteen persons lost their life in this natural calamity.  The total loss from these calamities is estimated to be around Rs 1430.85 crore.  As per the parameters fixed for providing financial assistance from the National Calamity Fund, the state is eligible for an assistance of Rs 214.88 crore. No amount has been released as yet. The state government is demanding granting of this amount.