People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 13, 2006
The Week in Parliament
THE parliament unanimously adopted a resolution regarding Israel’s attack on Lebanon. The identical resolution read out by Lok Sabha speaker and Rajya Sabha chairman expressed deep concern over growing tension in West Asia, exacerbating a delicate situation in the region. The resolution unequivocally condemned the large-scale, indiscriminate Israeli bombing on Lebanon, killing and injuring a large number of innocent civilians, including women and children, and causing widespread damage to infrastructure in Lebanon. It conveyed the deepest condolences, sympathy and support of India’s people to the Lebanese at this difficult time, and also the Indians’ readiness to send humanitarian relief to the victims.
Deeply concerned over the escalation of conflict, the parliament called for immediate, unconditional cease-fire so that further destruction of Lebanon is prevented, and urgently needed humanitarian assistance can reach the victims. It urged all parties to eschew violence and return to the path of dialogue. It was of the view that lasting peace in this region can be achieved only through a negotiated solution to the problems of this region, taking into account the legitimate interests of all the parties concerned.
Both houses plunged into pandemonium over the leak of the R S Pathak report on the oil-for-food scam within minutes of its submission to the prime minister on August 3. Houses were adjourned after members disrupted the question hour to raise the matter. In Lok Sabha, the speaker was seen annoyed over the leak before the report was officially tabled. He asked the government to explain how it took place and to probe the matter, and disallowed any discussion on the report until its tabling. Amid furore, Lok Sabha was adjourned twice and then for the day. In Rajya Sabha, the NDA threatened to bring a privilege motion against the prime minister.
In Rajya Sabha, the Left parties, SP and NDA members forced two adjournments on their demand for a unanimous resolution by the house or a statement on the Indo-US nuclear declaration, with CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury saying there were nine points of departure from the last year’s agreement and there is enough evidence to show that there has been a “shifting of the goalpost.” Minister of state for external affairs, Anand Sharma, tried to assure the members that the government was committed to the July 18, 2005 declaration of Manmohan Singh and George Bush and the prime minister’s March 11 statement in parliament. But this failed to satisfy the members who insisted on some kind of resolution or statement expressing the sense of the house. Yechury insisted that these parties were not demanding anything beyond what the government had said. The prime minister had given the assurance that there would be reciprocity, but now it was learnt that India was asked to approach the International Atomic Energy Agency for safeguards in perpetuity even before the US Congress ratified the deal.
In Lok Sabha, Left and other members forcefully demanded ban on Coke, Pepsi and other soft drinks following the Centre for Science and Environment’s study exposing high level of pesticides in these drinks. They charged the health ministry for colluding with soft drink multinationals. The CPI(M)’s N N Krishnadas, Mohd Salim and Anil Basu suggested that the government ask these companies to withdraw their products from the market. They said these companies are playing with people’s life while the government was not taking even the standing committee recommendations seriously.
RESERVATION FOR WOMEN
A strong demand for tabling the long-pending women’s reservation bill was made in both houses. In Rajya Sabha, the CPI(M)’s Brinda Karat referred to the dharna and demonstration outside the parliament by thousands of women. She said ten years ago a bill for 33 percent reservation of seats in parliament and state assemblies for women was introduced in parliament. Several times it was discussed outside the parliament but not inside the parliament. As a result, women form only 8 percent of the Lok Sabha membership today. While 14 assemblies elections were held during 2004-06, women’s percentage in these assemblies is only 6.5. It is clear that unless the bill is passed in parliament, women will not be represented properly. Karat then demanded that the bill, pending for ten years, be passed during this session itself.
In Lok Sabha, the issue was raised by CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta, with 10 CPI(M) MPs associating with him.
Sitaram Yechury rapped the spate of free trade agreements with different nations, threatening the livelihood of majority of population of India by putting a number of domestic industries in a disadvantageous position. Yechury warned that these agreements are imposing great burdens on the people, particularly those employed in agro-based industries like vanaspati. He said we have seen a large number of commercial crops in Kerala getting adversely affected by the FTAs with Sri Lanka and Nepal. Not only that, in violation of the ‘rules of origin’ law giving concessions on items produced in Sri Lanka or Nepal, now freely imported raw materials are also being passed on to India as Nepalese or Lankan products. For example, in India, customs duty for a vanaspati producer is 89.6 per cent, while there is zero duty on import of vanaspati in Nepal or Sri Lanka. He asked how could the minister expect our vanaspati producers to compete in such a situation. Taking advantage of the situation, new factories are coming up in Nepal and Sri Lanka at the cost of India. Yechury said a free trade agreement must not mean a shift of production away from India. While the government is encouraging trade, production is shifting, investment goes out, tax revenues fall, he warned.
Supporting Yechury, industrialist Rahul Bajaj shared his concerns and admitted that many units have been closed because of WTO agreements. US and EU have no care for the interest of developing countries; they have their own axe to grind, he added.
HUMAN RIGHTS PROTECTION
Rajya Sabha passed the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill on August 2. Rising to speak on it, Brinda Karat said in the last 13 years the National Human Rights Commission has provided a great service to the people, particularly the poor, of this country. Unlike many western countries which reduce human rights to the aspect of individual liberty, our Human Rights Commission has taken note of the social inequalities because you cannot have individual liberties if your society is based on social inequalities. This has broadened the understanding of human rights. Regarding the commission’s autonomy, she said the broadbased selection committee, provided for in 1993, protects this autonomy. The commission also has a clearly defined status, and is chaired by a person who has served as the chief justice of India. But now the government has proposed an amendment to permit any Supreme Court judge of three years standing to be its chairperson. This is not going to help, Karat said. She also expressed concern that if courts shirk their responsibility and send all human rights cases to the state human rights commissions, it is not going to work. Also, due to financial burdens, many states want to reduce the number of members in their respective commissions from five to three. Stressing on the need of transparency in the matter, she also asked the government to table the NHRC reports in parliament within the mandated time period and also publish them.
Lok Sabha has passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill. In the debate, P Mohan, CPI(M), said juvenile delinquency is different from adults’ crimes and have to be handled in a different manner. Children who are driven to their wits end due to poverty, ill treatment and harassment and are forced to commit unlawful and anti-social acts, are not criminals but juveniles who have got to be reformed. They cannot be treated on a par with adult criminals; they should not be lodged in jails, kept in lock-ups or taken to police stations. Lakhs of children, including ragpickers and street children, commit unlawful activities in a helpless situation. Society must have concern for them and deal with them in a kindlier fashion, to reform and redeem them as useful citizens. We must set up monitoring committees in the interest of ensuring justice to juveniles. Mohan’s also urged the minister to look into the grey area of the cases of those adolescents aged 18 to 21, and have suitable welfare measures and a sensitive justice system for them.
FOOD SAFETY & CESS LAWS
On August 2, Rajya Sabha passed the Food Safety and Standards Bill 2006. From the CPI(M) side, P Madhu opposed the bill, saying it would help the big producers by tightening the screws on small traders, manufacturers, vendors and distributors; the latter are going to be unemployed if the bill was passed in its present form. There are five important aspects left out in the bill, he said. First, it does not distinguish between organised and unorganised traders. Secondly, supply of contaminated water by municipal corporations or panchayats has not been covered. So small traders and vendors would be punished for their fault. Thirdly, it excludes plant and animal feed, and thereby the entry of pesticides and antibiotics will affect our food items. Fourthly, the power to suspend the license is vested with local officers, leaving enormous scope for harassment of the food vendors. Fifthly, it appears that state governments will have to bear the cost of implementing the new law. Thus it is clear that the bill would eliminate small traders, small manufacturers and small distributors in the interest of big business and multinationals. Adding that the bill would also make the Infant Milk Substitutes Act ineffective, Madhu opposed the bill lock, stock and barrel.
On August 3, Lok Sabha adopted the Produce Cess Laws (Abolition) Bill 2006. Supporting the bill, the CPI(M)’s Sudhangshu Seal said it would help crores of agriculturists in the country. The minister is aware that when we started exporting vegetables and fruits, we faced a great deal of difficulty owing to various factors like inadequate storage capacity. While exporting our produce by air, we also come across a great deal of anomaly in freights. We face the problem of containers in exporting the perishable items by ship. In order to boost export of agriculture products, the government should take care of these problems, Seal demanded.
OFFICES OF PROFIT BILL
On July 31, Lok Sabha passed the Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Bill 2006 by 230 to 71.
During the discussion on the bill, the CPI(M)’s Rupchand Pal referred to the office of the speaker, chairman of Santiniketan and Sriniketan, wakf boards and many others, and said all these were not offices of profit. He reminded that the Constituent Assembly, after a lengthy deliberation, left to parliament to define what would and what won’t be an office of profit. He accused the BJP of seeking to mislead the president and use this issue to create instability in the country. The BJP was so imprudent as to go to the town saying the president had said this and that. It did not, however, pay any attention when the former president said genocide was taking place in Gujarat. The BJP has all along been trying to divide and destabilise the country on communal lines. It is indulging in doublespeak, opposing in the centre what it has done in Jharkhand or Karnataka! They speak of probity and honesty, but it was a BJP president who was seen taking bribe. Pal said arrangements for offices of profit have been made the world over --- in US, Canada and Australia, and in UK with its 300 years of experience.
Pal said the Election Commission has put on its web site the names of certain MPs on the basis of wild charges. He quoted the EC’s discriminatory treatment in cases of Balbir Punj and Nilotpal Basu who both retired on the same day. From the EC web site, however, Punj’s name was removed whereas the name of Basu, who was chairman of an NGO only, is still there. His name continued there for months together so as to vilify, malign him and tarnish his image. The same is happening in the speaker’s case. What is the purpose? Pal asked. One by one, names of many Left MPs were put on the EC web site though they are not taking any remuneration and there is no question of profit. As a representative of the people, an MP has a duty to serve the people through developmental bodies, advisory bodies, etc. Who will determine if it involves profit? Would it be one particular individual making false complaints even against the high office of the speaker? Pal wondered whether it was in the interest of our democracy. Though the bill at present mentioned only 45 offices and some others may be added in future, Pal demanded a permanent solution of the problem as early as possible.
In Rajya Sabha, P R Rajan of the CPI(M) said the PDS in Kerala was widely acclaimed for its performance but the changes made by the government of India from times to time --- restriction of sugar to BPL cardholders, reduction of subsidies and numerous cuts in kerosene and wheat allocation --- have weakened it. Kerala is a state with more than 85 percent deficit in grain production and its requirements are met by the PDS. Kerosene is also an essential commodity and an item of daily use for the poor. So any reduction in their allocation is detrimental to the state. Rajan demanded enhanced allocation of wheat, kerosene and other essential items, with the CPI(M)’s Matilal Sarkar, A Vijayaraghavan, Brinda Karat and Prasanta Chatterjee supporting him.