People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 18, 2007
THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT
PARLIAMENT had its Holi holiday on March 5. Next day, the Lok Sabha adjourned in homage to a sitting JMM member, Sunil Kumar Mahato.
On March 8, the International Women’s Day, women members led by the CPI(M)’s Brinda Karat virtually seized both the houses, forcefully demanding that the women’s reservation bill be tabled in this very session. Conveying her greetings to all women on the day, Karat urged the prime minister to make a categorical commitment in the house that the bill would be tabled within a stipulated time in this session. The prime minister said his government was committed to work for a broad-based consensus for tabling the bill as soon as possible, though he knows there is little possibility of a “broad-based consensus” on the issue in a male dominated society. This delaying tactic angered the women members as well as other Left and progressive members.
On the day, Lok Sabha congratulated the women in India and the world for their achievements in various fields. On behalf of the house, its speaker, Somnath Chatterjee said women deserved admiration and support for their persistent and constructive striving to achieve equality in all spheres of society. On the day, he reaffirmed the commitment to improve the women’s lot, especially of the vulnerable sections, and to empower them so that they take their right place in society. Inspite of several disadvantages, women in India have set milestones in terms of education, health, freedom of choice, liberty and equality before law. One felt proud that women are today ready to assert their right to dignity and self-respect. On this occasion, Chatterjee assured them support of the house in their struggle to eradicate the social evils afflicting them and the nation. Women are embodiment of compassion and selflessness and possess an indomitable spirit in their fight against exploitation and deprivation, so as to lead a life of dignity with adequate participation in nation building. Chatterjee recalled the great contributions made by women in rural areas in successfully running the panchayats and other self-governing institutions. He reaffirmed the commitment for their complete empowerment to ensure the realisation of a democratic and progressive society where all citizens are treated with equal respect.
SAY NO TO FISCAL FUNDAMENTALISM
On March 6, Rajya Sabha began a debate on the motion of thanks on the president’s address, in which Sitaram Yechury and Prasanta Chatterjee participated from the CPI(M). Next day, the CPI(M)’s Suresh Kurup joined the discussion in Lok Sabha.
In Rajya Sabha, supporting the address with some reservations, Yechury said the deteriorating communal situation in various parts of the country undermined the very basis of our secular and democratic system. All this tension is being fomented with a certain planning and is creating a dangerous situation in the country. In this context, Yechury strongly objected to the usage of the term “Prakhar Hindutava.”
Referring to the National Common Minimum Programme (NCMP), he drew the prime minister’s attention to its commitments and said the spate of suicide by farmers is continuing while the issues of health, education and food security have not been adequately addressed. He pointed out that the allocation for agriculture has increased only by 15 percent, which in real terms means no increase. Total social sector expenditure declined from 28.26 percent in 2001-02 to 27.19 percent in the budget estimates 2006-07. Speaking on the grave employment situation, he said an increase in the number of districts from 200 to 330 under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is a good thing but the allotment is meagre. The situation of women’s employment is worst. All this is the cause of much concern and the government must correct this anomaly.
Yechury warned that we support this government against religious fundamentalism but it must not fall victim to fiscal fundamentalism either. People are dying of starvation, peasants are committing suicide and the mandarins are doling out the theory that the inflation is because money supply has increased. The recent assembly election results in two states are a warning to this government. It must immediately ban the futures trading in all essential commodities and strengthen the public distribution system so that these commodities reach the people. Referring to essentials like economic development, employment, income generation, education and food security, Yechury demanded pointed attention to them. This is imperative in a situation where, for instance, 80 percent of women are anaemic and over 40 percent of children suffer from malnutrition.
As for the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) the address spoke about, Yechury said the outdated land acquisition law needed to be reviewed. There must be a new law in place, legally incorporating the status of landowners and giving them not only proper rehabilitation but also a stake in the venture for which their land is acquired. But this is a long-term issue. The immediate issue is the rehabilitation of and compensation for the affected landowners. In West Bengal, the compensation is one and a half times the current market value of the land. Moreover, it is given not only to the landowners but to all those dependent on land for livelihood, like sharecroppers and agricultural labourers. Yechury said not including them in the package would be a great disservice to them. Also, as per the law today, only 25 percent of the land in an SEZ needs to be used for production. The rest 75 percent is used for ‘development,’ which really means real estate speculations. This is a wrong policy and must change. At least 50 percent of the land has to be used for production, 25 percent for providing infrastructure like schools, colleges, hospitals etc, and 25 percent for residential and commercial purposes. Regarding the growth of IT sector, Yechury said the government is out to give it the benefit of tax holiday for another 15 years by allowing them to have IT SEZs, instead of imposing a tax on it. Did it make any sense, he asked.
During his intervention, Yechury regretted that the president’s address made no mention about the women’s reservation bill. He urged the government to bring the bill in parliament as it is and see who is for it and who is against. Social security in the unorganised sector is an important issue and must be provided. Dealing with our foreign policy, Yechury said any sort of pressure by US imperialism on us regarding on the Indo-US nuclear deal cannot be accepted, and the government must ward it off for the sake of India’s future.
APATHY TOWARDS PEOPLE’S ISSUES
Prasanta Chatterjee expressed serious concern over the drastic reduction in foodgrains procurement by the government, forcing the consumers to pay high prices in open market. The government has failed to provide adequate price support to the farmers who are in distress. The agrarian crisis has intensified; farmers’ suicide increased. The organised sector’s share in employment has fallen from 9 percent in 1991 to 7-8 percent in 2004. Around 92 percent of workforce is engaged in unorganised sector, generally marked by the lack of regulated employment, denial of benefits, seasonal employment etc. But the long pending demand for proper legislation for unorganised workers remains unmet. According to the UNDP report, India ranks 126 in human development out of 177 countries, accounting for 23 percent of child death, 20 percent of maternal mortality, 68 percent of leprosy and 30 percent of tuberculosis cases in the world, due to the government’s apathy towards the people for a long time. On the other hand, we find that within one year, from August 2005 to August 2006, the wealth of rich Indians grew by over 32,000 crore. In the budget the service tax for corporate sector has been reduced, instead of raising it for mobilising resources for welfare schemes.
Regarding the SEZs, Chatterjee said the Left parties do not favour them in their present form. Much hue and cry is being raised about industrialisation in West Bengal; many are shedding crocodile tears over land acquisition there for industrial development. But it was the Left that initiated distribution of benami land to the landless peasants who took the rice production to a new height. West Bengal is almost self-sufficient in food. No state can develop without industrial development, Chatterjee reminded. During his intervention, he also drew attention to the serious problem of bank erosion in north Bengal.
In Lok Sabha, Suresh Kurup said the prices of all essential commodities are going sky high while the government is doing little to control them. He said inflation could be controlled even if the growth rate is high, if the government effectively intervenes in the market. While lambasting the government for not doing anything to streamline the PDS, he said the poverty line calculation is humbug. As they calculate it arbitrarily, it conceals more than it reveals and has pushed crores of the poor out of the PDS net. Therefore the FCI and PDS must be strengthened and universalised.
Referring to the systematic attacks on minorities in January and February, Kurup said there were at least 12 major incidents, including the one in Kerala where communal passions were stoked and the minority people systematically attacked. But what is the government doing? Even today, victims of Gujarat riots have not got compensation. In India, attacks against Dalits are continuing and in some places increasing. That must be stopped, he demanded. During his intervention, Kurup also raised the question of foreign policy, the Quottrocchi issue and the widespread apprehension as to what this government may do regarding him. He concluded with an appeal that, for its own credibility, the government must follow a path different from the one the NDA government followed.
This week both the houses passed the Sports Broadcasting Signals (Mandatory Sharing with Prasar Bharati) Bill 2007. In the discussions the CPI(M)’s Jyotirmayee Sikdar, Varkala Radhakrishnan, Sebastian Paul and K.S. Manoj participated in Lok Sabha and Saman Pathak in Rajya Sabha. Supporting the bill they demanded that, besides cricket, attention must also be paid to other games like hockey, football, kabaddi, atheletics, shooting, gymnatics, shooting etc. While the minister claimed it was a sports friendly legislation, these members asked how one could expect any achievement in these areas without developing the infrastructure and playgrounds. A large number of villages in India remain without power, meaning a large chunk of people cannot view even Doordarshan.
The members pointed out that in the recent past the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court delicately balanced the viewers’s interest and the broadcasters’ rights, and the present bill sought to give a legal frame to that attempt by breaking the unjustifiable monopoly. Such mandatory sharing of signals is not without precedents and most countries have imposed such conditions. Now Prasar Bharati would keep 25 percent and the AIR 50 percent of the revenue generated from the advertisements, they said.
However, the members demanded a transparent policy in this regard and strongly opposed the government resorting to the ordinance route. They said it deprived the people’s representatives of their democratic right as a discussion is not possible and they cannot make any change in the ordinance.
On March 9, last day of the week, Lok Sabha passed the railway budget 2007-08. While a large number of members participated in the debate, written speeches of many were laid on the table due to paucity of time. They mostly demanded introduction of new railway lines and trains, more coaches, electrification, gauge conversion, rail line extension, track renewal, freight haulage, security and passenger amenities, upgrading of railway stations and extension of Metro rail in their respective constituencies, etc. Some criticised the Public Private Participation and outsourcing in railways. From the CPI(M) side, Anil Basu, P Karunakaran, Minati Sen, Alakesh Das, Abdullah Kutty, Basudeb Barman, N N Krishnadas, Ajay Kumar, Amitava Nandy, Sunil Khan, A V Bellarmin, C S Sujatha, K S Manoj, T K Hamza, M Baburao and Jyotirmayee Sikdar participated in the debate.
March 11, 2007