People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 27, 2006
THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT
UNDER intense pressure from the Left parties in particular, Rajya Sabha held a discussion on Indo-US nuclear deal on August 17. In reply to the debate, the prime minister assured the house that his government would draw proper “conclusions” if the Indo-US nuclear deal did not strictly adhere to the July 18, 2005 and March 2, 2006 joint statements. He, though, did not divulge what type of conclusion the government might draw. On the concerns expressed by the Left parties and scientific community, he assured that nothing would be done to affect the country’s independent nuclear programme or sovereign foreign policy.
CAUSE OF CONCERN
Earlier, rising to speak on the occasion, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said he was raising the issue with a degree of anguish over many aspects connected with the deal. It is India’s independent foreign policy that is under shadow and that is why the whole nation feels concerned. In today’s world of globalisation, imperialist powers are trying to economically recolonise the developing countries, and we are expressing concern on behalf of the majority of the world’s people. All should be told what is the minimum below which we won’t go, Yechury stressed.
Two things about the deal need to be considered, he said: implicit concerns and explicit concerns, with implicit concerns pertaining to our foreign policy. The deal not only concerns the issue of nuclear energy; it has got a bearing on strategic ties between India and the US. We don’t want that India is tied down to protecting and advancing the US’s strategic interests; we don’t want a carrot and stick deal with the carrot only dangling and the stick being used to browbeat us on various issues.
Next comes the question: do we have the same rights and benefits? Whether or not we are treated as a nuclear weapons state, the main thing is: what happened to the famous Rajiv Gandhi plan enunciated in the UN General Assembly? Are we any longer committed to universal disarmament? On the question of nuclear energy, Yechury asked: was there any study done, on the basis of which you are moving towards this option? Did the Atomic Energy Commission ever discuss this issue? For the last three decades, the US has not installed any nuclear reactor for power generation. It admits that it is because of its high cost and the problem of nuclear waste disposal. Now it wants that we buy their reactors at a huge price for meeting only 5 percent of our power needs by 2015. He wanted a reply on whether we are actually helping the US economy to survive or it is in India’s vital interests.
According to the US Senate’s resolution, this cooperation will induce India to lend greater political and material support for the achievement of US’s global and regional non-proliferation objectives. We are told that this part of the resolution is non-binding. But if it is non-binding, why is it there at all? Also, section 6 of the Senate bill that prohibits the export of equipment, materials or technology related to uranium enrichment, reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel or production of heavy water, cannot be acceptable to us. But these restrictions have not yet been lifted. We say we will not place our facilities under IAEA safeguards until the restrictions are lifted. Then, Yechury wondered, why we are conducting negotiations with them while they have not lifted these restrictions.
Yechury extensively dealt with the question of fuel recycling, nuclear blackmail by the US, the Congress and Senate talk of additional IAEA protocol for India, the US’s so-called guarantee of fuel supply in perpetuity, Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and global stockpile of nuclear arms. He then asked the prime minister to assure that we won’t be drawn into advancing US strategic interests. A message should go from this house that this government would strengthen India’s sovereignty and independence instead of bowing down to US pressures.
On the same day, Lok Sabha discussed the widespread distress facing our farmers. From the CPI(M) side, Sujan Chakraborty said the farmers’ mounting distress has pushed them to the wall; more than one lakh farmers have committed suicide in the last few years. In Vidarbha region, where the prime minister recently went and announced a package, the average number of suicide cases has gone up from two to three a day. And it is not the question of Vidarbha alone; same situation is prevailing elsewhere in Maharashtra, in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Punjab. From Punjab, with a relatively much better state of agriculture, 2000 suicides have been reported. It is the responsibility of the entire nation and the government to contain this distress.
Chakraborty demanded that we prioritise some four or five important issues to seriously deal with the problem. Foremost is the issue of farmers’ access to land. This issue has been debated since long. As early as in the 1960s, the Mahalanobis commission was formed and given the responsibility of assessing the amount of land in excess, how the government could vest it and how it could be distributed among peasants. In 1969, the commission reported that 63 million acres of land were in excess and could be vested. However, up till now, only 7.35 million acres have been vested and of it only 5.39 million acres distributed. This is the crux of the problem --- vested interests prevailing upon the government to avoid doing this primary task. In India, the proportion of marginal farmers is very high, with about 72 percent of farmers having 27 percent of land. He asked: is this a healthy situation? The situation is so bad that small landholders are joining the contingent of agricultural labourers.
Dealing with agricultural growth, he said the overall growth rate in India’s GDP was 6.7 percent in the eighth plan, and the growth rate in agriculture and allied fields 4.7 percent. In the ninth plan, however, the growth rate in GDP was 5.5 percent and in agriculture, 2.1 percent. And now the projection is that in the tenth plan the GDP will grow by 8 percent and agriculture by less than 2 percent. This shows the utter neglect of agriculture and the farmers’ issues. The per capita food consumption in 1980s was 177 kg a year, but now it has come down to roughly 155 kg. The number of malnourished children in rural areas is highest in India: 60 million out of the world’s 140 million.
Further, since long, the situation has increasingly been turning unfavourable for agriculture. Input costs are going up and output prices getting down. In Andhra Pradesh, the cost of paddy seed has tripled from Rs 120 to 350 per quintal between 1996 and 2004. The cost of urea has almost doubled from Rs 120 to 230 per quintal. In order to make the two ends meet, farmers are compelled to take loans from moneylenders at interest rate varying from 24 to 60 percent or even more. On the question of support prices, Chakraborty said the government has fixed the procurement price for wheat at Rs 650 per quintal while it is Rs 700 in the market. The wanton delay in procurement by FCI and other agencies and the below-market price only favour the private sector and middlemen in their usual game. This threatens the public distribution system itself. But, instead of helping the farmers, the government is importing wheat from Australia at Rs 997 a quintal, at 42 percent extra. The government must explain the reasons for it, he insisted.
On the issue of land use, Chakraborty said it is important to have land-use map showing land composition mauza-wise. Then we can decide what proportion of land is in use for agriculture, horticulture or animal husbandry and whether we may allow any land for industry. True we need industrial development, for which land is obviously required. But, unfortunately, land is being indiscriminately grabbed in different areas in the name of special economic zones. What we really need is balance between the agricultural, horticultural, industrial and other uses of land. But till today we do not have any planning to guide us in this regard. Chakraborty also demanded serious thought to the research of our agricultural scientists, making the Kisan Vikas Kendras result oriented, radical land reforms, insurance for farmers and state-wise seed banks.
In Rajya Sabha, the CPI(M)’s Suman Pathak drew attention to the problems of closed tea gardens and the unemployment in hilly or foothill areas of Darjeeling district. He said several tea gardens are lying closed or are on the verge of closure despite untiring efforts of the state government to reopen them or keep them going. Basic amenities like potable water, ration, electricity and medicines are unavailable in most of the gardens. A large number of rural people are migrating towards cities due to unemployment. Pathak urged the government to implement the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and other central schemes in these areas of Darjeeling in view of the special condition there and to keep the unemployed youth in the mainstream.
The CPI(M)’s Moinul Hassan urged the government to take steps for welfare of minorities in Murshidabad district that has a big Muslim population. Education is one of their major problems. Muslim children including girls have started coming to schools and colleges for education but are facing the problem of accommodation in towns. He also urged that the centre help the state government establish a medical college and an engineering college in the district. He also said a large section of this community is engaged in weaving and cannot survive in the present situation without adequate help from the government of India.
Sitaram Yechury forcefully raised the issue of sanctions imposed by the US on two private Indian companies, Balaji Ammiance Ltd and Prachi Poly Products, on the charge of passing such technology to Iran as could be used in producing the weapons of mass destruction or missile systems. But Balaji Ammiance Ltd says it was supplying only three products that are used in making life-saving antibiotics. Yet the government of India has not protested against the sanctions imposed on these companies. On the contrary, in December 2005, even before the sanctions were imposed, the ministry of external affairs verbally asked this company to stop its exports to Iran. This is a clear case of India acting at the US’s behest. Yechury wanted to know why the government came under pressure instead of firmly defending the Indian companies’ right to do business with Iran.
In Lok Sabha, K S Manoj (CPI-M) drew attention to the sea erosion in Kerala. He said the Kerala coastline is subjected to severe sea erosion throughout the year, more so during the monsoon months. In Alappuzha alone, nearly 60 houses were completely destroyed and about 200 partial damaged. The state government has to spend a huge amount every year for rehabilitating the affected families. Yet it does not get any central assistance as sea erosion, according to the centre’s guidelines, is no natural calamity. Manoj urged the government to list sea erosion as a natural calamity and provide assistance to the sufferers.
August 20, 2006