People's Democracy

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


No. 51

December 29,2002


 Subhas Ray

 THIS was the last week of the winter session of parliament, overshadowed by the communal forces’ victory in Gujarat polls. Needless to say, the economic depression, unemployment and closure of hundreds of textile mills in the state only went to help the consolidation of these forces. The prime minister gleefully announced outside the parliament that the BJP would repeat the “Gujarat formula” in other states also.


Under sustained pressure from the opposition, Lok Sabha held a 5-hour long discussion on disinvestment of public sector undertakings (PSUs). Led by the Left, the opposition sharply attacked the government and, amid interruptions, the Left and RJD members staged a walkout. 

In his hard-hitting speech, the CPI(M)’s Somnath Chatterjee said the PSU disinvestment was causing havoc in the country. He said it was nothing but a saga of loot, committed on the plea of getting rid of so-called loss-making PSUs. But the fact is that even profit-making PSUs are being sold. Thus an extremely dirty trick was being played on our society. Chatterjee said the government had failed to answer basic questions about the policy, principles and objectives of disinvestment, and also about who have been or are going to be its beneficiaries. Dubbing the whole process as a hush-hush affair, he said the assets being handed over to a few for a pittance are the people’s assets, but the people’s representatives are being kept in dark.

Casting a doubt on the process of selecting consultants or bidders, fixing the reserve prices, etc, Chatterjee said nobody knows what is taking place under the table. Centaur is a glaring example. If the process of fixing the reserve price had had any relation to reality, one could not have made a profit of Rs 34 crore in a few months. 

Referring to the book Disinvestment Policy and Procedure, Chatterjee said one ostensible aim is to realise a large amount of resources locked up in non-strategic PSUs and to redeploy them in areas like health, family welfare, primary education and socially essential infrastructure. He then challenged the disinvestment minister to show just one instance of such redeployment. As for the disinvestment proceeds, nobody knows how they are being spent. About the issue of assets valuation, the standing committee has made strong comments, saying the government must modify the guidelines for it, put the nation’s resources and assets to optimal use and unleash the productive potential inherent in our PSUs. But nothing is done in this regard. Nor are the PSUs being modernised and upgraded. Chatterjee asked the minister to tell the house as to which public sector unit had been modernised. 

As for the government’s claim that disinvestment will help in creation of new assets and employment, Chatterjee asked how many assets and jobs had been created. Regarding the assurance about ensuring that disinvestment does not result in private monopolies, he said precisely this thing is taking place. The petrochemical sector has almost gone to private hands. He concluded by appealing to the house to compel the government to shun its anti-people policies and protect the interests of lakhs of workers.


On December 16, Lok Sabha passed the Competition Bill 2001. Opposing the bill, the CPI(M)’s Rupchand Pal said it was not the right time for us to go in for such a legislation. Saying that the bill would nullify certain goals set forth in our constitution, Pal charged the government with working more for the WTO or European Commission than for this country.

Regarding the proposal to set up a Competition Commission, Pal asked: Will it be a judicial or a quasi-judicial body? Will it be a corporate body, at par with the Tea Board, Coffee Board or Spices Board? Who the new law is going to protect? Small-scale industries account for maximum employment and for 40 per cent of our exports. Will this law protect them? Will it protect the consumers’ interests? Evidently, the new law is not going to do any such thing. It will rather ruin the private as well as public sector industries in the country. Saying the bill was not required at all, Pal asked the government to wait till 2005 when there would be a discussion in the WTO. He warned that globalisation must not mean surrender to whatever we are told to do. We are not equal; we are yet to develop, he pointed out.

Pal also opposed the idea of ministers sitting in the boards of industries, and demanded that the Selection Board’s chairperson or members must not be allowed to join any industry; their distant or close relatives too must not be in any way connected with industries.


On the same day, Rajya Sabha passed the Freedom of Information Bill 2002.  During the discussion, Chandrakala Pandey, CPI(M), said the Supreme Court had upheld the right to information as a fundamental right. Yet we don’t have a machinery to implement it. The Official Secrets Act and other such laws, which deprive the people of vital information in the name of security and official secrecy, are major hindrances in its way. A number of past efforts for providing to the people the right to information could bear no fruit. The list of reasons for which information can be denied and is being denied to the people is long; it may be in the name of the country’s unity and security, strategic importance, national interest, constitutional crisis, commercial confidentiality, etc. Such a situation cannot bring transparency in administration and cannot contain the rampant corruption in the country. Transparency is also necessary because the right to information may also affect the centre-state relations.

The CPI(M) member pointed to a major weakness of the bill: it is silent about punishing an officer in case he does not discharge his duty properly. Here she suggested that the officer to be deputed to supply information must be directed not to mislead a person who comes to him for a piece of information. There also appears to be some confusion in regard to filing an appeal in case the request has not been granted. Hence she sought more clarification and details about the status, qualifications, method of recruitment and the manner of functioning of the public information officers.


This week Lok Sabha passed the Representation of People (Amendment) Bill 2002 that seeks to check the criminalisation of politics. Participating in the debate, Somnath Chatterjee said the issue has been causing concern, requiring electoral reforms for a long time. We also need to minimise the role of money in the elections. Thus the bill had been a necessity for us. Yet we see people coming out of jail and getting elected. Well-known crooks are getting elected. People with a long list of criminal cases pending against them are happily raising their voices here against criminalisation. Chatterjee emphatically said we want elimination of corruption and of criminalisation of politics. The CPI(M) has accepted the position that a winning candidate must declare his assets after the declaration of results. But he must also prove his honesty and integrity in deed. Asserting that the CPI(M) and other Left parties have not given nomination to any tainted person, Chatterjee appealed to other parties not to give nomination to persons who are involved in crime.

However, there are many political personalities who have suffered because they were implicated in false cases and convicted. Steps are needed to ensure that the law is not misused to debar genuine political workers from contesting.

Chatterjee said we have to control money power and muscle power to make elections free and fair, but these cannot be controlled merely by asking candidates to file affidavits. Here he stressed on the need of at least partial state funding of elections, adding that it may help in minimising the evil. The system of proportional representation, with the list system, may also help in reducing the role of money power. In the end, he suggested that, taking into account the important reports and recommendations of various committees in this regard, the government must bring a comprehensive legislation.


This week Lok Sabha held a short duration discussion on internal security.  From the CPI(M) side, Tarit Baran Topdar said the security situation has been worsening over the last four years and the centre has been unable to evolve any strategy about it. Despite the enhanced budgetary provision, augmented police force and reorganisation of the home affairs ministry, the situation has assumed alarming proportions. Four or five years ago the threat was confined to the border states; today a sense of insecurity grips the whole country. Yet the government documents note that its role will be merely of a catalyst. He asked whether the government is not duty-bound to maintain security.

As for reasons, the government admits that narcotic trade, foreign fund flow, land disputes, ethnic discrimination, lack of communication and transport, etc, have added to the growth of terrorism. Foreign agencies are also promoting subversive activities. Unfortunately, our opponents too are utilising these outfits for narrow gains. Terrorists are penetrating West Bengal and other states via our borders with Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Even now the entire border in the north-east, including the 856 km long Tripura-Bangladesh border, is very porous. There is need of increasing the strength of BSF and other paramilitary forces here. There are 11 points in Bhutan where extremist training camps are being conducted and the ISI has a definite hand behind it. There are such points in Bangladesh also. Here the CPI(M) member demanded that the work of fencing the international border in Tripura, West Bengal and other states be expedited.