People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXX

No. 10

March 05, 2006

THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT

 

Subhas Ray

 

THE budget session 2006 of parliament began on February 16 with the presidentís address to a joint session of both the houses, whereafter both the houses were adjourned for the day. The first half of this session will continue till March 17, meet again on April 3 and conclude on April 28. During this 15-day recess, standing committees will scrutinise the ministry-wise budget proposals.

 

MINORITIES SURVEY ISSUE

 

The reported move of a religion based survey in defence forces came up for a brief discussion in Lok Sabha. Mohd Salim of the CPI(M) said where there is a will there is a way, but where this is no will there is a survey. If the government really wanted to do justice to the minorities, it could have done so without propagating. It is unfortunate for this country that whenever some initiatives are taken in the interest of minorities, it is given a communal overtone in order to frustrate the move. He also reminded the BJP leader L K Advani that there was in 1980, under late Smt Indira Gandhiís regime, a high power committee headed by Gopal Singh to find out the socio-economic conditions of minorities and suggest remedial measures. That survey took place and its report was submitted but remains unimplemented to date. Now, this latest survey was only doing a headcount in the army, which was deliberately dubbed as a communal headcount.

 

Saying that he was proud of our army, Salim said the army is called for help and rescue whenever the minoritiesí life and property is at stake. Had the army been called at an early stage during the Gujarat riot 2002, many minority lives and properties could have been saved. Therefore nothing should be done to tarnish such a secular character of our army. In fact what the minorities need are education and job, and the UPA government must stick to its CMP in this regard.

 

MULFORD ISSUE

 

In both houses, Left MPs strongly condemned the recent statements of US ambassador David Mulford and staged angry walkouts against the governmentís lukewarm response to their demand for his recall. The CPI(M)ís Basudeb Acharia raised this issue in Lok Sabha and Nilotpal Basu in Rajya Sabha. They recalled Mulfordís statement to the press that implementation of the Indo-US nuclear deal depended on whether India voted against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency. Mulford had also written a letter to the West Bengal chief minister, threatening him that American investments would not come to the state if he went on criticising the US role in Iraq. The Left MPs asked: was it proper that the ambassador of another country threatened the elected chief minister of a state? They said nothing short of the recall of this man, who had trampled upon all diplomatic conventions, was acceptable to them.

 

On February 23, amid pandemonium, parliament was adjourned on the issue of reported news about the governmentís interference in the CBI inquiry in Babri demolition case against the BJP leader Advani. In Lok Sabha, slogan shouting BJP members did not let the house to function, forced four adjournments and demanded the prime ministerís resignation. His reply to the motion of thanks on the presidentís address was also lost in the din. The situation was no different in Rajya Sabha. There were sharp exchanges of words between the BJP and the treasury benches. 

 

On the day, a discussion was expected on the prime ministerís statement on Indiaís vote in the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran nuclear programme. So some members saw it a ploy to avoid the Iran issue at this juncture. The Left MPs especially attacked the government for succumbing to the US pressure and sacrificing the nationís time-tested foreign policy.

 

DISCUSSION ON MOTION OF THANKS

Parliament had a long discussion on the motion of thanks on the presidentís address.  From the CPI(M) side, Basudeb Acharia and N N Krishnadas took part in it in Lok Sabha and Nilotpal Basu and Dipankar Mukherjee in Rajya Sabha. Reminding that people had voted for a change in 2004, they regretted that many of the policies continue unchanged. There was an agrarian crisis and agriculture was ruined during the NDA regime; now the crisis has got accentuated and marginal farmers have become poorer. The number of agricultural workers continues to increase, and so does rural unemployment. Farmers are still committing suicide under the impact of liberalisation and globalisation. Still there are attempts to disinvest the public sector undertakings and sell them at throwaway prices. There is a huge buffer stock in godowns but people cannot purchase foodgrains because the PDS issue prices have gone up excessively. They are still reducing subsidies meant for the poor. Capital formation and public investment in agriculture are declining gradually. Institutional credit has also been reduced, making farmers more dependent on moneylenders. There is a rise in the prices of essential commodities.

 

The CPI(M) members said the need is not only to strengthen the public distribution system but also to universalise it. All that it requires is a few thousand crores. These members also reminded the government that there are some 22 crore agricultural workers in the country but there is no law for them. They said some bold measures are to be taken to arrest the crisis in the agricultural sector, on which some 70 per cent of our population is dependent. 

 

As for the reforms needed for agriculture, Nilotpal Basu said the National Commission for Farmers, headed by M S Swaminathan, has given some suggestions like constitution of a fund to assist the farmers affected by crop losses, reduction of interest rates on farm loans to 4 per cent, conduct of an all-India debt survey and appropriate measures for debt relief including waiver for such farmers as are in distress. The question is not so much of increasing the total quantum of agricultural credit as of what kind and under what conditions it will be available so as to benefit the small and marginal farmers. The situation today is such that no institutional credit is available to farmers even after crop failures. They go to moneylenders who charge exorbitant interest.

 

Dealing with agriculture in Kerala, Krishnadas said more than 327 farmers had committed suicide in the last four and a half years. Because of removal of quantitative restrictions on imports as per the WTO agreement, prices of pepper, cardamom, areca nut and certain other agricultural products have steeply fallen. But the government is not bothered about protecting these farmers. In Kerala, lakhs of workers engaged in fishing, bidi making, handloom, coir, cashew nut and other traditional industries have either lost their jobs or are on the verge of losing their jobs. So the government has to take care of these traditional industries and protect the life and livelihood of their workers, he said.

 

The CPI(M) members also took up the question of so-called reforms. Though the CMP talked of economic reforms with a human face, the ongoing Ďreformí process in the country has failed to stimulate growth, investment and employment. During their interventions, CPI(M) members also raised the issues of education and health, drinking water problem, power generation and supply including the issue of Enron fiasco, infrastructure, telecom development, airport modernisation, EPF interest rate, and a host of other issues. Their contention was that privatisation of public utilities and services has failed to solve any problems, rather it has aggravated them, despite the repeated attempts at presenting it as a panacea for all ills. As for FDI, CPI(M) members said they are in favour of it only where it helps generate employment and brings in new technology. But the government is bent upon opening our retail sector to foreigners, which they said would be opposed.

 

Regarding the issue of a separate freight corridor, Acharia said the promise was that there would be two separate freight corridors --- Kolkata-Delhi and Mumbai-Delhi, and the RITES report had also recommended a freight corridor from Kolkata to Delhi. Acharia therefore wanted to know why Kolkata had been replaced by Sonnagar. 

 

Dealing with foreign policy, CPI(M) members said the CMP had promised that our foreign policy would be independent and that the UPA government would oppose unilateralism and work to develop a multipolar world. There is no problem in having friendly relations with any particular country, but can we go along with it if a country tries to impose its hegemony on the whole world? Shall we not demarcate from that country? Shall we not protest when our national self-respect gets jeopardised? Lamenting the government of Indiaís lame-duck position on Iraq and Iran, CPI(M) members wondered whether the hypocritical talk of Indiaís strategic partnership with the US in the name of spreading freedom and democracy all over the world, is really in our national interest.

 

In Rajya Sabha, Dipankar Mukherjee waned that the NDAís fate would befall the UPA government if it continued with the same policies, adding that the Left could not be a party to such ruinous policies. He said a common man is not concerned with 8 or 10 per cent growth. The point is whether or not the common man has been given priority in the presidentís address. During his intervention, he also pointed out the governmentís promise to provide electricity to every house and its claim that 87 per cent of the villages had been electrified while in reality only 40 per cent of the households are getting electricity. 

 

On February 24, the railway budget 2006-07 was presented in parliament. However, it by and large failed to do away with regional imbalances and was tilted in favour of some states, and of rich commuters for whom AC first and second class fares have been reduced. The budget proposed privatisation of maintenance and cleaning of stations, ticket centres and outsourcing of various aspects of railways to private parties. It was a step towards implementing the recommendations of the infamous Rakesh Mohan committee that suggested virtual privatisation of the entire railways. The proposed freight corridors to connect the major metros and posts surprisingly halted at Sonnagar where there is no port, thus depriving Kolkata and its port. It was a political move on part of railway minister, and not in the interest of railways and the country.