People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
September 03, 2006
THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT
ON August 25, both houses of parliament adjourned sine die. Earlier, on August 23, Lok Sabha witnessed an unprecedented scene of abuse, invective, scuffle and muscle power involving JD(U)’s Prabhunath Singh and railways minister Lalu Prasad Yadav (RJD) and his brother-in-law Anirudh (Sadhu) Yadav, after which Singh tendered his resignation. Expunging objectionable remarks from the Lok Sabha proceedings, the speaker strongly condemned the members’ unsavoury behaviour as being derogatory to the dignity of the house. He assured full protection to all members in the house. He said the people have great expectations from their elected representatives; it is our duty to redress their grievances through effective and optimum use of parliamentary devices while adhering to the standard norms of decent behaviour.
Though the BJP/NDA members kept disrupting the proceedings in both houses, forcing adjournments, and ultimately targeted the office of the speaker, the parliament was able to pass many bills in the monsoon session. Some of the more important bills passed were the Food Safety and Standards Bill; Parliament (Prevention of Disqualification) Amendment Bill; Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill; Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill; and Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill.
In this session, Lok Sabha also discussed terrorist violence in various parts of the country. The parliament also had debates on rise in prices of essential commodities, Indo-US nuclear agreement, Justice Mukherjee commission report regarding Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s alleged disappearance, Justice Pathak authority report, distress of farmers, flood situation in the country, violation of various labour laws in the special economic zones, etc.
Rajya Sabha passed the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2005, with Moinul Hassan and Brinda Karat of the CPI(M) opposing any dilution of the original act through the bill. While most of the amendments moved by CPI(M) MPs were not accepted, the agriculture minister assured that a crucial amendment, related to consultation with state governments prior to the notification of an essential commodity, would be considered. However, the bill was not introduced in Lok Sabha and the parliamentary affairs minister said the agriculture minister wanted to incorporate in it some provisions regarding hoarding of essential commodities before tabling it in Lok Sabha. The criticism made by the CPI(M) MPs seems to have had some impact. Significantly, the agriculture ministry has also decided to rescind the GOs issued by the erstwhile NDA government to remove restrictions on stock limits of wheat and pulses. This was a partial victory of the CPI(M) and the Left who were vociferously demanding the withdrawal of these GOs as a step to check the price rise. In the debate, supporting the bill with some reservations, Moinul Hassan said our attitude must be to strengthen the public distribution system throughout the country as a means of providing the common man some relief. While we are talking about the essentiality of public distribution of essential commodities, all these must be included in the PDS. He also debunked the centre’s plea of leaving the determination of essential commodities to state governments; then why the central government removed many items from the list of essential commodities, he asked. It is a question of the government’s willingness to take steps, of course in consultation with the state governments.
During the discussion on the Justice Pathak enquiry authority report, Mohd Salim of the CPI(M) said India’s ambassador in Iraq had said that the delegation visiting Iraq at the time was an official one. It was the GoI that had sent the delegation to Iraq under the leadership of its minister of petroleum, Ram Naik, who met the Iraqi oil minister. Salim said a private company also accompanied Naik in the delegation, for which Natwar Singh is being held guilty today. The nation must know what the then petroleum minister did in Baghdad and who were accompanying him, who were the beneficiaries and what was the end use of money involved in this transaction of 15.78 million barrels of oil. Natwar Singh went there as a member of the Congress party and to take any steps against him is an internal matter of that party. We had earlier demanded that the Indian entities involved in the deal must be probed, but when the government published the terms of reference of the enquiry these covered only two non-contractual beneficiaries whereas there were four such entities including the Reliance Petroleum Limited. Salim insisted that enquiry must be conducted against these Indian entities.
Chittabrata Majumdar, CPI(M), made a scathing attack on the government during the August 23 Rajya Sabha discussion on special economic zones. He said while the regime laments the resource crunch for universalising the PDS and implementing other similar schemes, it is bent upon giving Rs 97,000 crore as tax concession to the corporates in five years on an investment of Rs 3,60,000 crore. Demanding a review on the 28 operational SEZs, he asked what was their amount of investment, their volume of exports, the incentives offered to them and the employment generated. On the land question, he charged that 75 percent of land was not properly earmarked and was therefore misused for building houses and other purposes. He insisted on the need of a cost-benefit analysis before any land acquisition. Other things to be taken into consideration in this regard are rehabilitation and livelihood security of the displaced people, implications for food security, uses of power and water, assessment of environmental impact etc. Further, the approved cap on the number of SEZs is 150 but now the ministry of commerce and industry is out to get this cap removed in view of the 2,200 applications pending. Opposing any such idea, Majumdar suggested a thorough re-examination of all the approved SEZs on a case-to-case basis. He demanded that no less than 50 percent of the allotted land should be used for production while the uses of the remaining land must be specified. Taking up the employees’ cause, he said one of the ILO’s recommendations is that the grievance redressal authority and the development commissioner should be two different persons but here the development commissioner has been given the authority of grievance redressal. This must end, he demanded.
On August 23, Lok Sabha held a discussion on the Indo-US nuclear agreement. Initiating the debate, the CPI(M)’s Basudeb Acharia wanted the sense of the house to be taken. He said the prime minister had replied to all the nine points raised about the departures but the main concern in regard to this deal remained --- as to whether we would be able to pursue an independent foreign policy. Citing the case of Iran, Acharia said it is not about the gas pipeline but about India’s support to Iran. After the July 2005 statement, we supported the US/P-5 resolution against Iran when there was voting in the IAEA. About energy security Acharia asked why we must go in for nuclear power when we have a huge potential for hydropower generation. Nuclear power is not only the costliest; we are also making ourselves dependent on the US for nuclear fuel. As for having strategic relations with the USA, he said we must not forget what we have seen in Iraq and Iran, and in Lebanon very recently.
Both houses have passed the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill 2005. During the discussion in Rajya Sabha, the CPI(M)’s Brinda Karat asked the ministry to ensure that the amendments in this bill were in alignment with the JPC recommendations on the Scheduled Tribes (Recognition of Forest Rights) Bill; otherwise these recommendations would have no meaning. She said it was only to a certain extent that JPC recommendations were incorporated in the amendment bill. India is signatory to several international conventions including one on biodiversity. These have very specifically recognised that conservation is greatly dependent on the recognition of rights of the local communities. Therefore we have to look at this amendment bill from the angle of how far it goes in protecting the rights of local, specifically tribal, communities. The amendments must also align with the JPC recommendations on the rights in the buffer and core zones. There should be an expert committee that, in consultation with Gram Sabhas, decide what constitutes a critical wildlife habitat. Expressing her concern about the miserable life of scheduled tribes, she said these tribes are offered a paltry sum of Rs 1,000 as incentive for “voluntary” relocation and terrible injustice is then meted out to them. She appealed the minister to get it stopped. Regarding the incidence of crime, there is need to nab and punish the mafioso, poachers and smugglers who have close contacts with many officials and get protection from them. In the end, she insisted that the minister must specifically tell the house as to what recommendations were being accepted in the bill.
LABOUR UNDER ATTACK
In Lok Sabha, Left members --- Gurudas Dasgupta (CPI), Amitava Nandy, Basudeb Acharia and Sunil Khan (CPI-M) --- expressed serious concern on labour law violations in the country, saying the workers in organised and unorganised sectors were under attack as never before. The ‘reforms’ in the name of globalisation have adversely affected the quality of the working people’s life. The government is giving the employers free hand in the name of flexibility. The textile minister goes to the extent of advocating an increase in working hours from 8 to 10 a day. Finance minister is on record saying that the PF interest rate is too high and must be reduced from 8 to 7.5 percent. The Minimum Wages Act is being violated even by the central public sector undertakings. Contract workers are being denied provident fund. Trade unions are not being registered. Contractors and proprietors in different parts of the country are even employing private security guards with unlicensed guns. They are not paying DA in most of the places. Their slogan is: either accept low wages and long working hours or remain unemployed and starve. But mounting unemployment has left the unemployed youth with no alternative, Dasgupta said.
An emotionally surcharged Amitava Nandy reminded that the Parliament House where we are sitting to enact laws was built with the sweat of construction workers. But unfortunately this very labour force is under severe attack and the government is not only a passive onlooker; it is relaxing various laws to help employers exploit the labour force. In connivance with police and local administration, employers are even physically annihilating the struggling workers. Citing the killing of workers by the Chamba hydel power project’s management. Nandy said an eyewitness of those killings was also arrested and harassed. This is the situation prevailing in the country. He insisted that the government must come forward to ensure implementation of various labour laws in the country.
The situation is alarming, according to Basudeb Acharia and Sunil Khan, though the government’s statistics do not reflect the grim reality in labour sector. There are about 40 crore workers in the country, out of that 37 crore in unorganised sector, and the extent of their exploitation is much more than what is visible. Referring to the BSESI, a central public sector undertaking, the CPI(M) members said it is violating the provisions of the Minimum of Wages Act. Various ministries too are not absorbing the contract labour even after a notification issued by the ministry of labour. BSCL management is obstinately denying payment of provident fund to its employees since 1975-76. BSEL is a government of India undertaking but has never paid the provident fund at the statutory rate declared by the government from time to time. Minimum wages and legal dues are not being paid to workers in HSCL; some employees of RCI are deprived of provident fund. If this is the situation in CPSUs and various ministries, one may well imagine the extent of violation of labour laws and repression unleashed by private sector managements in the country, they said.
In Rajya Sabha, Tapan Sen (CPI-M) drew attention to the ongoing repression on construction workers at the hydel power project at Chamera III at Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh. He said construction work at the project has been suspended since June 11, and the 400 workers deployed there not paid wages for months. To top this gross illegality, they murdered three workers at the dam site. Now the move is afoot to drive the workers away from the spot and bring in new workforce in their place. Sen asked the government to bring to book the NHPC officials responsible for this situation, blacklist the guilty contractor, and immediately recall and compensate the affected workers.
August 27, 2006