People's Democracy

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

Vol. XXX

No. 12

March 19, 2006


 Subhas Ray


THE parliament sittings have been re-scheduled in view of the assembly elections due in West Bengal, Tamilnadu, Kerala, Assam and Pondicherry in April-May 2006. The first part of this session will continue till March 22 and then there won’t be any sitting for 48 days. The houses will meet again on May 10 and conclude on May 23. Some members expressed unhappiness over the curtailment of their right to scrutinise the budget or the working of various ministries and their demands for grants through respective standing committees. Apart from the demands for grants for home affairs, agriculture, rural development, there won’t be any discussion on the demands for grants from other ministries.

On March 8, the Varanasi bomb explosions issue forced repeated adjournment of both houses. Barring the home minister's statement on the blasts, the Lok Sabha could not transact any business.


A large number of members in both houses participated in the discussion on the general budget 2006-07. The focal point of these discussions was the agrarian crisis and unemployment, and the budget’s failure to address these problems.


From the CPI(M) side, Brinda Karat joined the discussions in Rajya Sabha and K S Manoj, Rupchand Pal, P Satheedevi, M Baburao and A Bellermine in Lok Sabha.


Brinda Karat described the budget as “passion for corporates and compassion for the poor.” She said the budget belied the people’s expectations, directly affected their livelihood in many crucial spheres and failed to address their basic needs. But the NDA and UPA members were quarrelling with each other and judging the budget with one common yardstick of whether it pushes forward the neo-liberal reforms (!). An example of it we saw during the debate on the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBN) Act. The CPI(M) opposed this act as an instrument to implement the WTO-IMF-World Bank dictated policy of cutting expenditures and retreating from social responsibilities.


In this regard, Karat referred to the assurance given by the NCMP of allocating 6 per cent of GDP for education and 3 per cent for health. Not to talk of eight flagship programmes taken up by the government, these two sectors require Rs 42,000 crore a year but the budget has allocated only Rs 6,000 crore.


The speaker asked: Has the finance minister got any understanding of the real situation in rural India today? In the last 8 years, over 15,000 farmers have committed suicide. If farmers are committing suicide, one may well imagine the situation for numerous landless people. Huge armies of ruralites are migrating to other states due to destitution. But what has the budget got for agriculture? The crucial aspect of relief to farmers does not form the central point in the official planning or budget. The government wants our farmers to compete in the world, against the advanced countries who are giving dollars 300 billion as subsidy to their farmers. Contrary to what our government is doing, China has allocated 4.2 billion dollars for its farm sector in one year alone.


Brinda Karat also referred to the huge crash in prices of products like pepper, tea, coffee, rubber and other cash crops in Kerala, leading to 499 suicides in Wayanad district alone. What has this budget to offer them, she lashed out. This government itself set up a farmers commission under M S Swaminathan, which recommended four per cent interest rate and debt relief for farmers. But not a single paisa of debt relief the farmers have got. Not a single paisa for the price stabilisation fund for the farmers is there.


This year, the agrarian situation has further worsened. Food expenses are matters of extreme concern. The finance minister says we are going to get 209 million tonnes of foodgrain. But compared to the year before, it is down by 4 million tonnes. When the economic ‘reforms’ started under Dr Manmohan Singh, the per capita availability of foodgrains was 468 grams a day. After 16 years of the great ‘reform’ process, it has come down to 427 grams a day despite the country’s self-sufficiency in foodgrains. The government is not procuring enough foodgrains from farmers while the budget has cut down the food subsidy by Rs 2000 crore. The government’s foodgrains mismanagement had led to a situation where we are importing foodgrains. The budget does not address this issue. Karat said this budget in fact goes against the direction of the Common Minimum Programme.


The finance minister says he has compassion for farmers. But the tax arrears for the corporate sector to the tune of Rs 99,000 crore show he definitely has got a passion for corporates. According to his own estimates, undisputed tax arrears are to the extent of Rs 35,000 crore. That is more than most of the social sectors’ spending in this budget. The speaker demanded restoration of the long-term capital gains tax that the NDA had ended, causing a loss of around Rs 6000 to Rs 7000 crore to the exchequer.


Referring to the argument that manufacturing will grow and growth rate will pick up if corporates grow, she said this is jobless growth. The need is to make the corporates responsible and pay tax arrears. Services and customs duty are the main targets for resource mobilisation, and the corporate sector has been spared.


In her long speech, Brinda Karat extensively dealt with the problem of unemployment in urban and rural areas, gender budgeting, ICDS programme, social justice, women empowerment and PDS, among other things.


In Lok Sabha, a disappointed Rupchand Pal asked the finance minister how many jobs have been created in the last 12 months in the sectors for which he has painted a rosy picture. Referring to a report on the growth of billionaires in India, he said they are growing at 14 per cent, double the rate compared to other countries in the world. There are more than 78,000 billionaires in the country today. But the number of people living below the poverty line is an estimated 26 crore. In fact, the number of the poor must be far more than this estimate if the definition of poverty is recast. On the UN's Human Development Index, India ranks 127th among 177 countries. Unemployment is rampant. There is ban on recruitment and rampant outsourcing in organised sector. Even the educated are not getting jobs. They are getting frustrated and that may lead to an explosive situation in the country. So employment requires proper planning. But in a country where 40 per cent employment can be provided by small-scale, cottage and traditional industries, these have been hardly paid any attention in the budget. There is more emphasis on 'labour reforms' while we really need agricultural and land reforms in a country like India, coupled with adequate and timely credit, marketing facilities and proper pricing of commodities.


Referring to the dominance of private moneylenders in rural credit, low farm sector growth etc, Pal said the government has not considered two vital recommendations of Dr Swaminathan commission --- those of price stabilisation fund and crop insurance. He also expressed concern over the Indo-US agreement on agriculture and biotechnology. There are very serious apprehensions because of WalMart and Monsanto coming to India. He warned that if Indian agriculture gets dependent on multinationals, it would spell a doom for our agriculture.


Pal also dwelt upon mid-day meal scheme, ICDS and other issues, and castigated the ministers' laments about resource crunch in a country where only 80,000 people in a population of more than one billion declare in their returns that they have an income of more than Rs 10 lakh. We, however, get a different picture when we see the sales figures of luxury cars, investment in capital market, deposits in banks and jump in real estate business. Those demonstrating their wealth in hotels, marriages and ceremonies are not touched. Instead of taxing them and checking the rampant tax evasion, however, what our finance minister has done is to push the interest rates on bank deposits and EPF down and to take away bonus from the Monthly Income Scheme in post offices, causing further sufferings to senior citizens and pensioners. This amounts to a fraud upon the people. Pal concluded with a demand of rectification of these things, along with some other demands.


P Satheedevi of the CPI(M) demanded universalisation of the public distribution system (PDS), saying the budget is absolutely silent on this point. Remarking that the BPL estimate of the government is highly unjustifiable, she demanded that the government must honour the CMP's commitment in this regard.


Referring to the agrarian crisis in Kerala, she asked the finance minister to provide a special package to the coffee, coconut and areca nut growers of the state. She also demanded promotion of exports from agro-industries and transport assistance for it, more allocation for the ICDS that covers lakhs of women and children, and an increase in the honorarium of Anganwadi workers and helpers to the tune of Rs 3000 and Rs 2000 respectively.


K S Manoj said the budget did not have correct measures for a sustainable growth of agriculture or traditional industries and for creation of job opportunities. There is no concrete proposal to solve the unemployment problem, meet the agrarian crisis and stop the farmers' suicides. The national agricultural insurance scheme must be extended to cash crops also. He also demanded inclusion of the proposed transhipment terminal at Kochi as a regional centre under Maritime Development Scheme. His apprehension was that privatisation of electricity supply in states would lead to an escalation of tariff for domestic consumers.


M Baburao said the overall direction of this budget was to placate the finance capital with more financial liberalisation measures and those for foreign investment in our economic, agricultural and service sectors. This is going against the spirit of the NCMP. The budget has not provided any relief except that under the rural employment guarantee scheme, for which 200 districts have been selected with an allotment of only Rs 11,000 crore. He demanded that the centre must create a mechanism to monitor the special component plan and sub-plans for SC and ST people, lamenting that Rs 10,000 crore were not spent out of the amount allocated for tribal welfare. This year the amount allotted under special central assistance for scheduled castes component plan, is Rs 440.12 crore, i e Rs 51.1 crore less than last year. This reduction in allocation defies any rationale, he said. He wanted to know who is accountable for the unspent amounts out of allocations.


A Bellarmin said it was announced that education would get 6 per cent of GDP, but it has not crossed 4 per cent as yet. He demanded that health and basic sanitation facilities must be given more in the budget. He urged the government to establish a cancer treatment unit in the Medical College Hospital in Kanyakumari. He also demanded creation of more jobs in Tamilnadu where there are more than 57 lakh registered unemployed, and abolition of taxes levied on goods that are meant for cottage industries, Khadi and Gramodyog industrial units and women's self-help groups. Such manufacturers must also be provided with marketing facilities and opportunities. The labour force in the unorganised sector, including fishermen, must get proper social security cover funded by the centre.


     March 12, 2006