People's Democracy

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

Vol. XXX

No. 32

August 06, 2006

The Week in Parliament

Subhas Ray


THE monsoon session of parliament had a stormy start on July 24, forcing a daylong adjournment in Lok Sabha when NDA members held up the proceedings demanding the suspension of question hour to take up their notice of adjournment motion on Mumbai blasts. Though BJP leaders had already agreed to the speaker’s assurance that the issue could be taken up after the question hour, NDA members created pandemonium in the house, continuing their move of stalling the proceedings in every session on one pretext or another. On the day, Rajya Sabha adjourned after paying tribute to its deceased members.


Next day, an adjournment motion on terrorist violence in the country was taken up and negated by voice vote after discussion. At this stage, BJP members left the house. During the discussion, Mohd Salim, CPI(M), said the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai and other parts of the country sought to create a sense of fear among the public, break our unity and harmony, halt our progress. But it is a matter of pride that our people are aware of it and defeated the terrorists’ purpose. He said whenever terrorists create a problem, the people, political parties and media have an important role in tackling it. Urging the government to make foolproof arrangements to check terrorism, he said identity based politics cannot root out terrorism, rather promotes it. He lambasted the view that there was appeasement of minorities after independence, and debunked the official US view about a clash of civilisations, saying that this thinking will itself endanger civilisation. Terrorism is not confined to any religion. In fact, we must adopt a political approach to the problem of terrorism.  If we try to toe the US or Israeli approach in tackling terrorism, India and South Asia will have a situation similar to that in the Middle East, he warned.




This week, both houses discussed the rise in prices of essential commodities. Members of the Left parties staged an angry walkout in Rajya Sabha protesting against the finance minister P Chidambaram’s failure to address the points raised by them.


During the Rajya Sabha discussion on July 25, the CPI(M)'s Brinda Karat the issue of sky-rocketing prices is related to a particular framework of the ruling class politics. Within this neo-liberal framework, there is a similarity between the polities followed by the earlier NDA and the present UPA governments. Referring to the method of estimation of poverty on the basis of the share of a family's income spent on food, she said 93 or 94 percent of our people are poor by this standard. In a situation where our people need the government's support to meet the very basic need of survival, the UPA regime is faithfully following in the footsteps of the erstwhile NDA government. One of the reasons for this aggravating situation is the hike in petrol and diesel prices. She said the CPI(M) had told the government to cut down its duties and save the common man from the burden, but it did not listen. Nor did it fulfil its commitment, given in its Common Minimum Programme, to strengthen the public distribution system to give food security to the poor. Instead, it is destroying the PDS by huge slashes in wheat allocations. She also charged the government with deliberately keeping the procurement prices down so as to leave the farmers with no choice but to sell their produce to big traders. The speculative manipulation of essential commodities in future trading markets, which were allowed by the NDA government, is causing havoc to their prices, necessitating a ban on future trading in such commodities. She asked whether the government was going to rescind the pro-trader and pro-hoarder changes that were made in the Essential Commodities Act. Brinda Karat demanded strengthening of the PDS and inclusion of other essential commodities like oil and daal in it. She concluded with the hope that the government would learn a lesson from the past and not commit suicide as its predecessor did.


In the Lok Sabha discussion on July 27, the CPI(M)’s Basudeb Acharia reminded that the issue was debated in the house in the last session also and the finance minister had said the government would ensure the availability of essential commodities at reasonable prices and use all powers to achieve this objective. Yet there has been no impact in these two months and the central government has not taken any concrete measures to control the prices or streamline foodgrain procurement. The situation is so worse today that people have to spend 60 to 70 percent of their income on food. Acharia warned that the country is heading towards a grave situation when there will be no food security in our country. We are importing wheat at Rs 10,000 per tonne while our farmers get only Rs 7,000 per tonne. Therefore, the FCI and other agencies have to offer higher prices to farmers for their produce. During NDA regime, an artificial division of APL and BPL was created, the PDS was weakened, and the market started to determine the grain prices. The number of commodities designated as essential under the Essential Commodities Act 1955 stood at 70 in 1989 but was reduced to only 15. Now the central government has no control over hoarding and black-marketing of essential commodities because of a dilution of the Essential Commodities Act. In the last three years, large stockholders have been resorting to forward and future trading and commodity prices have gone up. Also, capital formation in agriculture has not been adequate and there has been little expansion of irrigated area, leading to a deceleration of agricultural production. As for pulses in particular, production has been up by only 10 lakh tonne in the last 30 years. Thus the only source of protein intake for the poor is not available to them. Expressing concern over the rising prices of grains, pulses, vegetables and other commodities in the wake of petro price hikes, Acharia warned against the proposals to increase prices and reduce the quantum of foodgrains in the PDS.


N N Krishnadas and M Baburao (CPI-M) said combined intervention of central and state governments in the market is needed to control the prices of essential commodities. Unfortunately, there is very feeble (that too dwindling) intervention in the market, leading to exploitation of the farming community as well as consumers. The prices of vegetables, cereals, medicines, cooking gas etc are going up beyond the affordability of common man in the country. The CPI(M) MPs also wanted issuance of necessary instructions to the state governments in this regard. They expressed concern over the moves against the PDS in Kerala, tardy development of the agricultural infrastructure in the country etc, and demanded strict actions against hoarding and black-marketing of essential commodities.   




On July 27, Rajya Sabha passed the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Bill 2006, commonly called the ‘Offices of Profit Bill.’ The bill was passed by both houses earlier and sent to the president of India on May 25, 2006, for his assent. But the president returned the bill on May 30, with a message to the houses for its reconsideration. The government carefully considered the president’s message and was of the view that the bill should again be debated and passed by the parliament. Hence the bill was introduced sans any change and passed. 


In the discussion, the CPI(M)’s leader Sitaram Yechuri supported the bill and said that for its support the CPI(M) had put a caveat on the last occasion and that caveat has now become more relevant after the presidential message. It is that there is need for us to unambiguously define what an office of profit is. He said we hold the institution of the president of India in high esteem and then, turning his face towards the BJP benches, asked them not to change their principles according to their political expediencies. There has to be a certain degree of consistency when you talk of principles. But the BJP was not consistent when it misused the law to save its government in Jharkhand. Yechury asked: Can we have professionals as members of parliament? Can we appear on behalf of somebody at the bar? If you talk of morality, you have to talk about all these issues, he warned. Describing the ‘offices of profit’ as offices of service, Yechuri said some of the MPs have to discharge other responsibilities as well, in order to provide relief and service to the people, and they occupy some post for the purpose. There is nothing objectionable in it. No profit but loss is involved in it. There is nothing wrong in holding such posts. Hence the need of a clear-cut definition, he reminded.




In the same house, Brinda Karat forcefully raised the issue of plight of lakhs of Anganwadi workers and helpers. Drawing attention to the ongoing relay hunger strike at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi by thousands of Anganwadi workers and helpers from all corners of the country, she said they are the largest workforce of women working in a government’s scheme but get the lowest of wages. She demanded that the government ensure them proper wages and recognition as government employees. She was supported by the CPI(M)’s P Madhu and  Tarini Kanta Roy.


A Vijayaraghavan (CPI-M) drew attention of the house to the hapless Indians languishing in Oman jails. He said nearly two thousand Indians are in jails there in inhuman conditions, not getting even water, sufficient food and toilet facilities. Our government has miserably failed to address the problem. So it must take steps to secure the release of these hapless poor Indians. Brinda Karat supported him.


In Lok Sabha, Khagen Das of the CPI(M) strongly urged the government to make budgetary provision for the Agartala-Subroom rail line in Tripura. The project is extremely important as it will cater to the needs of 50 percent of Tripura’s population, and boost the entire north-east economy, he said.




In Lok Sabha, prime minister Manmohan Singh made a suo moto statement on Israel’s attack on Lebanon, calling for immediate halt to violence and giving diplomacy a chance. He said India also condemned the unjustified arrest and continuing detention of ministers of the Palestinian Authority and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. There can be no justification whatsoever for taking such action against the duly elected representatives of the Palestinian people. The virtual destruction of a country can hardly be condoned by a civilised state. There should be an immediate ceasefire so that the destruction of Lebanon is ended and humanitarian assistance could be provided.


Led by Sitaram Yechury, 86 members of parliament sent on July 28 a memorandum to the prime minister, urging him to call for international sanctions against Israel and stop all arms deals and purchases from Israel. India is the second highest arms purchaser from Israel.