People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 17, 2006
THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT
BOTH houses of parliament observed a Black Day on December 6, forcefully demanding action against those who demolished the Babri Masjid 14 years ago. Proceedings remained disrupted over the issue. Before the houses met, placards waving and slogan shouting Left, RJD and SP members staged a demonstration in the portico of the Parliament House.
Within four minutes of meeting at 11 a m, Lok Sabha was adjourned amid interruptions. The speaker took this step when BJP members did not heed his advice of not distributing pamphlets as it was in utter violation of parliamentary rules. The house was again adjourned due to interruptions when it re-assembled at 12 noon. The same situation prevailed when the house again met at 2 p m and was adjourned for the day. Rajya Sabha had the same fate on the day.
STATE OF THE PANCHAYATI RAJ
In Lok Sabha, the CPI(M)’s Basudeb Acharia initiated a discussion on the Report on the State of the Panchayats: A Mid-Term Review and Appraisal 2006. He said it was for the first time after 1992 that the house was discussing the role and responsibilities of the panchayati raj institutions. The Common Minimum Programme of the UPA had committed to devolve more powers upon the panchayati raj institutions to make them the real loci of development in rural areas. Though more than 70 percent of our people live here, there is lack of even minimum infrastructure. There is still a wide rural-urban gap. The step most needed regarding our panchayati raj system is of devolution of finance along with devolution of powers; without this panchayats cannot implement developmental works. In West Bengal, a State Finance Commission was constituted for this purpose and panchayati raj institutions began to prepare and implement their own plans. The state has panchayats headed by the poorest of the poor --- the tribals, the scheduled castes, the agricultural labourers --- discharging their responsibility efficiently without any corruption. They have developed the irrigation system, set up primary schools and provided drinking water facilities. A vigorous panchayati raj system could be of immense help to our farmers in the midst of the ongoing agrarian crisis that has forced our farmers to commit suicide.
Acharia also reminded that a committee was constituted in 1976 for the dispersal of industries but its recommendations remain unimplemented. Unemployment is going up in rural India. The growth in employment opportunities is much less in rural as compared to urban areas. While a vibrant panchayati raj bodies would politically empower the people, their financial empowerment means that they must create job opportunities through development works, rural industries and self-help groups. In West Bengal, over one lakh families are engaged in lac growing in Purulia. Bankura has the largest number of rural artisans. These rural artisans need help, for which the state has created numerous self-help groups.
Acharia said the financial empowerment of and participation of people in panchayat bodies could create the basic infrastructure including irrigation facilities, boost agricultural production, and provide for health, sanitation and education. At the same time, this requires land reforms. His conclusion was: we cannot say our country is progressing unless there is a pro-people change in rural economy.
C S Sujatha, CPI(M), described the above report as a landmark document detailing the status of panchayati raj in the country. She said it is time that certain important policy decisions are taken at the national level in order to forge decentralisation. The Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRGF) should be utilised to strengthen decentralised planning, particularly the district planning committees. Major centrally sponsored schemes for villages must be restructured to facilitate decentralised planning. She said Kerala made a big bang in transferring to the panchayat bodies the functions, powers and resources at one go, and building capacity through learning by doing. The hallmark of Kerala’s decentralisation is transfer of a huge amount of funds to enable the local governments to prepare their plans according to needs and priorities. For the current year, Rs 2200 crore were set apart in three streams --- development fund, maintenance fund and general purpose fund. The most innovative feature of Kerala’s decentralisation is participatory planning, and this is the way to make decentralisation real. It goes to the credit of Kerala that the Planning Commission too is now talking of adopting this methodology for the eleventh plan. The government of India should take lead in identifying the best practices in local governance from other countries and creating a database that may be accessed by the states. She suggested that a special meeting of the National Development Council must discuss the 150-point action plan prepared by the panchayati raj ministry.
Varkala Radhakrishnan, CPI(M), said partisan political considerations must not mar the panchayats’ working. There must be clear-cut delineation of the way panchayats need to function.
A V Bellarmin of the same party said the states should be urged to ensure speedy devolution of funds, functions and functionaries to the gram panchayats. Only strict monitoring and vigilance at the central, state and district levels, and even at the block levels, with the people’s involvement, can help salvage the situation. He said the indirect election of chairpersons of the local bodies is creating numerous bottlenecks and unhealthy practices, necessitating a suitable mechanism to avoid this situation.
On December 7, Lok Sabha discussed the problems facing unorganised workers in the country. From the CPI(M) side, Tarit Baran Topdar and P Rajendran participated.
Rising to speak on the issue, Topdar said he was afraid that the entire workforce would soon be under a free hire and fire regime. Since 1991, successive governments have sought to institute such a regime; five draft bills on unorganised labour has been prepared in the last ten years and now the government is out to bring a new bill whose contents nobody knows about. But the dozens of laws enacted to protect the workers remain by and large unimplemented. Topdar wanted to know what for all these laws were enacted if nothing was to be implemented, and why there is rampant violation of labour laws but the violators are not punished.
And now, in the name of labour law reform, there are attempts to clamp a system of hire and fire upon big portions of organised sector workers. Even in the central government offices, there is downsizing the workforce, no recruitment is taking place and there is contractisation of various existing jobs. Thus unorganised labourers are soon to surpass the organised ones even in organised sector industries. Today, two persons are working on the same machine --- one employed in the pre-globalisation days is earning Rs 6000 to 7000 a month, while the other engaged in post-globalisation period is getting only Rs 2500. If the profits of establishments are going up and up, crossing the Rs 2000 crore or 4000 crore mark, this is happening at the cost of consumers or workers or both. No research is needed to know it; an executive working in IT industry gets Rs 60 lakh or Rs 70 lakh as salary, but the poor man who salutes him at the gate gets a paltry Rs 1200 a month. For this hapless man, moreover, there is no security.
Topdar said 90 percent of our workforce is in the unorganised sector and contributes 60 percent of GDP today. But the budgetary allocation for these hapless people is almost zero. Their majority is in agriculture but they are being dragged to somewhere else; gradually becoming like bonded labourers. It is clear that the era of globalisation is snatching away from the workers the rights they had earned through 150 years of struggle. Topdar demanded legislation for unorganised labourers, on the line of the National Employment Guarantee Programme.
P Rajendran dubbed as most unfortunate the utter neglect of workers in unorganised sectors, a large chunk of whom are women and children. They have no job protection or even physical protection, no minimum wages, no provident fund, no health facilities, nothing else. Most of the laws meant for them are violated with impunity. While we are soon to celebrate the 60th anniversary of our freedom, democracy or freedom for these crores of workers means the right to starve or commit suicide. Rajendran asked the governments to get pro-active in punishing the labour law violators, initiate welfare measures for these workers, and involve local bodies in their registration for extending to them the required economic and health assistance.
IT, TELECOM SECTORS
In a special mention in Lok Sabha, the CPI(M)’s Santasri Chatterjee demanded a comprehensive law to govern the working and living conditions of IT employees. He welcomed the development of IT sector in India as it creates new jobs, including some ancillary jobs, for a section of the unemployed youth. But the ban on formation of trade unions amounts to violation of laws of the land, as the Indian constitution guarantees the citizens the freedom to form associations. A survey conducted by the National Labour Institute throws light on the shocking conditions prevalent in the IT sector where there is neither security of service nor any protection of elementary rights. Chatterjee demanded that the labour ministry prepare a comprehensive bill to govern the working and living conditions of IT sector employees.
In the same house, Matilal Sarkar, CPI(M), expressed concern over the problems of telecommunication in border areas. He said the people of the international border areas are being deprived of the telecom facility, particularly of mobile phones. The BSNL is not inclined to provide landline phones beyond 5 km from a tower. As regards mobile phones, clearance from the defence ministry is not easily available. The matter is very serious in case of Tripura; more than 80 percent of its boundary is the international border with Bangladesh. A large population in the state lives within a 10 km distance from the border and a large number of villages touch the border. Saying that there is a large demand for mobile phones as well as landline connections in the state, Sarkar urged the prime minister to consider the issue, remove the barriers and make the border people telecom connected, which is their legitimate right.
In Rajya Sabha, P Madhu, CPI(M), expressed concern over violation of reservations in government jobs. He said while there is demand for reservation for the scheduled castes, tribes and other weaker sections in private sector employment also, posts reserved in government are being annulled by resorting to job outsourcing and contract employment. A regrettable feature of it is that both central and state governments are engaged in outsourcing, and eligibility criteria are also being given a go-by. Resort to outsourcing has got further fillip with a recent Supreme Court verdict that those recruited other than through stipulated procedure need not be regularised. Henceforth the constitutional provision of job reservation for the SC/STs would not be observed in recruitment because there would be no recruitment. Madhu demanded that the government make an amendment to this practice to ensure regular recruitments, regularise the contract workers and stick to reservations for the SC/STs.
In a special mention in Rajya Sabha, Moinul Hassan of the same party drew attention to the threat of loss of employment for lakhs of beedi workers. He said the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation) Act 2003 and the rules framed under it are threatening the employment and livelihood of about 50 lakh beedi workers in the country. These provisions favour mini cigarette units and deny a level playing field for the beedi industry. While the objective of discouraging tobacco consumption in any form is laudable, the way the act seeks to achieve this objective would only promote mini cigarettes. Moinul demanded rehabilitation projects for the beedi workers who are losing livelihood because of this act.
In a special mention in Lok Sabha, K S Manoj, CPI(M), demanded a review of the Employees Pension Scheme 1995. He said of late the PF authorities have curtailed the pensioners’ existing benefits. To neutralise the effect of inflation, the pensioners were given a relief of 17.5 percent for the period November 1995 to March 2000. But they have got no relief for the last six years. The minimum pension has also been reduced to Rs 265 a month. Manoj urged the government to streamline the scheme, enhance the minimum pension to Rs 2500 a month, introduce the CPI linked dearness relief, release ad hoc relief and upwardly revise the interest rate on the Employees Pension Corpus Fund investments.
December 10, 2006