People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 11, 2007
THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT
THE budget session of parliament began on Friday, February 23, with the president’s address to a joint session, followed by obituary references in both the houses. The Rajya Sabha paid tributes to Comrade Chittabrata Majumdar who passed away on February 20, at the age of 72, after protracted illness. Describing Majumdar as a political and social worker, the Rajya Sabha chairman deeply mourned his demise and said Majumdar devoted his whole life to the cause of the working class and poor people. As a trade union activist, he championed the workers’ cause in various sectors including jute and engineering. He wrote numerous articles and pamphlets on political and economic issues and made valuable contributions to the people’s science movement. He was the general secretary of the CITU since 2003. His distinguished legislative career commenced with his membership of the West Bengal legislative assembly during 1977-82 when he was minister of cottage and small-scale industries in the government of West Bengal. Majumdar represented the state of West Bengal in Rajya Sabha from June 2004 till his sad demise. The chairman said in the passing away of Shri Chittabrata Majumdar the country had lost an eminent trade unionist, an excellent organiser and an able parliamentarian.
BUDGETS AND THE ECONOMIC SURVEY
On February 26 the railways minister, Lalu Prasad Yadav, presented a surplus railway budget for 2007-08 --- of Rs 11,449.45 crore, up Rs 821.97 crore over the last year. It had some welcome features like a reduction in passenger fares, introduction of 32 new trains and of 8 more Gharib Rathas, but also moved further in the direction of privatisation of subsidiary services. The government is resorting to the so-called public private partnership (PPP) in railways through outsourcing even in as crucial an area as safety. The container service, run by the railways earlier, is now being pushed over to the PPP system. Passenger reservations, parcels, catering services, retiring rooms and Yatri Niwas have already been outsourced. Also, as usual, the railway budget has ignored the Left ruled states.
Finance minister P Chidambaram tabled the Economic Survey 2006-07 in parliament on February 27. The survey expressed concern over rising unemployment and inflation and said the current inflationary pressure was caused by a shortage in supply but there were no immediate, quick-fix solution. It expressed apprehension that the inflationary pressures might persist in the current year owing to a mismatch between supply and demand of some articles. It thus expressed helplessness to arrest the burgeoning unemployment and price rise.
The general budget 2007-08, presented on February 28, also failed to adequately grasp the severity of the inflation and unemployment problems. There was, for additional resource mobilisation, no new tax on the rich whose share in the national income has gone up. The budget proposed to increase the number of districts to be covered by the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme from 200 to 330 but made only a paltry increase of Rs 700 crore in the allocation --- from Rs 11,300 crore to Rs 12,000 crore. That means the allocation per district has reduced from Rs 56.5 crore to Rs 36.3 crore. That was one of the reasons the CPI(M)’s members described the budget as directionless, one that could not fulfil the pro-people commitments of the National Common Minimum Programme with regard to agriculture, education, health, employment generation, rural development and public distribution system.
March 1 at last saw an end to the impasse that prevailed in parliament for the preceding three days when proceedings in both houses were stalled and adjournments forced over the issues of extradition of Ottavio Quattrocchi and over the CBI probe against the UP chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav.
LACK OF DIRECTION
On March 1, a full-fledged discussion on the motion of thanks on the president’s address began. Participating in the discussion in Lok Sabha, the CPI(M)’s Basudeb Acharia strongly criticised the wrong Hindi translation of the word ‘secularism.’ The word in Hindi is dharmanirpeksh, not panthnirpeksh, he reminded. This showed the RSS infiltration into the government and administration, and was the handiwork of the RSS, he charged. That is why there is no mention in the address of communal incidents in various states of the country. There has been communal violence in a number of places --- from Bangalore in the south to Jabalpur and Gorakhpur in the north. It was the followers of a member of this house, Yogi Adityanath, who went on a rampage in Gorakhpur and the adjoining districts.
Referring to the plight of minorities in Gujarat where a communal holocaust had taken place five years ago, Acharia said they are living in ghettos in Gujarat. There is no water supply and no sanitation in the camps; educational facilities and health care centres do not exist for them. The government of Gujarat did not spend even a single paisa for them. Nay, it even returned the fund sent for relief by the centre.
As for the address referring to the GDP growth, this growth has not given any relief to the people; it is making the rich super rich. And the jump in inflation is making the poor poorer. There is tremendous growth in unemployment, with the claimed growth failing in employment generation and poverty alleviation. There is a shortage in supply and the prices of all essential commodities have increased. In 2004-05 and again in 2005-06, when there was a shortage in supply of agricultural commodities, the government made imports by giving higher prices to the farmers of foreign countries. The NDA regime introduced futures trading in April 2003, leading to speculations in agricultural market, hoarding and black marketing. Though the finance minister announced a ban on futures trading in wheat and paddy, speculation has in fact been taking place for all the essential commodities. Regarding petroleum prices, Acharia said whenever there was an increase in petrol and diesel prices, it had a cascading effect and led to a jump in inflation rate. As for strengthening the public distribution system (PDS), what is needed is that the PDS is not only strengthened but universalised. While the subsidy on food items is just 6.5 percent, the prices of food articles have gone up by 16 percent or more. To strengthen the PDS, we have to procure the farmers’ produces at remunerative prices. Without more procurement for the PDS, we won’t be able to tackle the problem of food security. Though the address expressed concern over the condition of farmers, they have been committing suicide in five states over the last seven years. During the NDA regime, capital formation in agriculture came down. There is no expansion in irrigated area; we have 400 irrigation projects pending. Increases in the prices of fertilisers, power, seeds and other agricultural inputs have pushed the farmers into a debt trap. The cost of production of cotton and other agriculture produce is higher than the minimum support price (MSP). Dr Swaminathan commission recommended the constitution of a fund to assist the farmers affected by crop losses, reduction of interest on farm loans to 4 percent, an all-India debt survey, appropriate measures for debt relief, waiver for distressed farmers, and creation of a price stabilisation fund. Though the allocation for agriculture has been increased, it is not enough to address the problems facing the farmers. On an average, only 36 days of employment is being provided to the unemployed in rural areas.
Mentioning the rehabilitation and resettlement of land oustees, the address referred to an age old Act of 1894 in this regard and said the government would amend it. Acharia said the issues of rehabilitation and fair pricing of agricultural land need to be addressed on priority basis. Thousands of hectares of land are being acquired in the name of special economic zones (SEZs). Industries are not being set up but real estate is being grabbed and traded. Hence the need to amend the SEZ Act without delay.
Acharia also said the address had failed to mention the need of reservations for women while the government has committed to it. We also see how effectively are the panchayati raj institutions functioning after empowering women. Before concluding, Acharia demanded the creation of a marine university in Kolkata where infrastructure for it already exists.
In conclusion, Acharia said the government needs to realise the disastrous impact of economic ‘reforms’ over the last 15 years, as the condition of peasants, workers and other poor people have gone from bad to worse. Hence the need of an alternative policy framework.
On March 2, Moinul Hassan of the CPI(M) participated in the Rajya Sabha debate on a private member’s bill --- the Agricultural Produce (Remunerative Prices) Bill. He said so far as remunerative prices for the farmers are concerned, there is no parity between the ground reality and the plans. There are many agricultural marketing organisations at the state and central levels but farmers are not getting remunerative prices and there are distress sales. Therefore we must evolve a mechanism to fix up the prices in a way that benefits our farmers. Today, agriculture is at a crossroads and its share in GDP has come down to 22 percent. There is rhetoric about agriculture but things have not moved for its development right from the second or third five-year plan. The finance minister announced to bring more farmers under the purview of formal credit system, but additional allocation is paltry. Increasing the credit availability to Rs 2,25,000 crore is alone not going to prevent farmers from committing suicide.
Dealing with crop insurance scheme that started in 1999-2000, Moinul Hassan said our farmers have not benefited from this scheme as there exist many shortcomings regarding the unit area of insurance, calculation of income, low indemnity level and delay in settlement of claims. The NCMP promised to remove such shortcomings and redesign the programmes, but the commitment still remains unfulfilled.
On the stagnation or decline in production of oil seeds and pulses, he said as per the National Commission on Farmers, the single important cause for this stagnation is the lack of remunerative marketing system at the field level in dry farming areas. We can see faster progress in the production of both pulses and oil seeds if remunerative and assured marketing is introduced.
The member demanded development of land, livestock and bio-resources, support services through training and knowledge connectivity, credit and insurance, assured remunerative prices and delivery system. The aim must be to double the irrigated area, improve the water management and soil quality, diversify into high-value fruits, vegetables and flowers, promote animal husbandry and refocus on land reforms, among other things. The need of the hour is to implement land reforms throughout the country instead of displacing farmers in the name of SEZs. Today, a canard is being spread against the government of West Bengal in regard to Singur and Nandigram. But neither Singur falls under the SEZ category nor has any land been acquired in Nandigram, the member said. He demanded that the government of India must stop acquiring land according to the SEZ Act 2005, and must amend the Land Acquisition Act 1894 that has become obsolete in terms of rehabilitation, compensation and land fertility. There would of course be some displacement for development, industrialisation and job creation for the unemployed, but he said there must be proper compensation for and rehabilitation of the oustees. March 4, 2007