People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 25, 2007
THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT
THIS week saw two days of parliament wasted over the issue of police action in Nandigram village in West Bengal. NDA members saw in it an opportunity to create disorder in both houses, demanding imposition of presidentís rule in West Bengal, which they have been demanding ever since the CPI(M) and Left Front came to power in the state.
On March 15, both houses witnessed a raucous situation and, with BJP led NDA members shouting slogans, normal business could not be taken up. Lok Sabha adjourned several times while Rajya Sabha was already adjourned at noon for the day. The home minister, Shivraj Patil, had already made a statement on the incident on March 14.
Next day, non-NDA parties raised the issue of naxalite attack on police force in the BJP ruled Chhattisgarh. The home minister made a statement on this incident in both houses. Though Rajya Sabha adjourned at about 3 p m for the day, Lok Sabha continued to function up to 6 p m after several adjournments. In between the time meant for private membersí businesses, all demands for grants on account, demands for supplementary grants and the appropriation on account bill 2007 were passed by voice vote amid furore in the house. In this very commotion the house also passed the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill and the National Institute of Pharmaceuticals Education and Research (Amendment) Bill 2007 by voice votes, sans any discussion.
Earlier, discussion on the general budget started on March 12 and P Karunakaran and Mohd Salim participated in it from the CPI(M) side. Karunakaran said the claimed 9.2 percent growth was accompanied by a 6.7 percent rate of inflation. There was a 16 percent rise in prices of food articles alone. Thus food and essential articles grab a substantial share of a poor manís income.
Coming to the pathetic condition of about 50 lakh bidi workers, a majority of them being women, he said the proposed excise duty on bidi will hit hard this poor section. Kurunakaran therefore demanded that the finance minister withdraw the proposal. About EPF pensioners, he said they are now getting only Rs 500 as pension, but the government is not ready to consider this issue. On the condition of plantations in Kerala, he said 22 estates in Idukki district alone are closed; 25,000 persons are unemployed for the last 3 to 4 years in Irumed area. The situation is so grave that many students are not going to school as their parents are unemployed for a long time. So more funds for re-plantation of these estates, a stop to tea imports, subsidy for coffee and tea exports and other measures for promotion of these crops are urgently needed. The member also urged the AIIMS status for Trivandrum Medical College.
Mohd Salim said the finance ministerís speech presented a rosy picture of our economy, but there was no clarity regarding the mobilisation of resources. While the budget did not take care of the poor, the government has failed to mobilise additional resources. In our country, the number of billionaires is increasing and some of them are among the worldís richest. But the government does not want to impose any additional taxes on them to augment the resource base. What will happen to the vulnerable sections of society --- the women, children, scheduled castes and tribes, minorities, rural people, agricultural workers, unorganised workers and so on --- who are expecting the government to do something for them?
Though the government has increased the allocation for health, it is still less than 1 percent of GDP. It ranges from 6 to 9 percent of GDP in developed countries and is above 3 percent in most of the developing countries. He asked when the government was going to increase this allocation to 3 percent. In fact, a more worrying fact is that whatever amount is provided in the budget, the actual utilisation is always less than it. Also, while the government has increased allocation on AIDS, crores of people are suffering from dangerous diseases like encephalitis, malaria and TB. Though the government had allocated Rs 250 crore for an important institution like AIIMS in 2005-06, the revised allocation was drastically brought down. And the same story was repeated in 2006-07. Salim strongly criticised the reduction in the allocation for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan also.
The governmentís move to extend the National Employment Guarantee Scheme to 330 districts is welcome but the nominal increase of 3.5 percent in its budgetary allocation amounts to a cut in real terms in view of the inflation rate zooming at above 6 percent. In the Economic Survey 2006-07, the government has conceded that employment generation has sunk in the last two decades. Yet it has provided only a miserly sum to the programme that was designed to reduce unemployment.
The biggest challenge is to rein in the inflation. But the government has failed. The government said it has temporarily suspended the forward trading in wheat and rice but, Salim wondered, why they had not banned it immediately after coming to power. The forward trading is a boon for profiteers only. Besides, to control inflation, you need to strengthen the PDS and put all essential commodities in this system, he said.
Dealing with the performance of various ministries, he said it reflects the poor will power of the government. Till December 31, 2006, disbursement to ministries like panchayati raj, urban employment, poverty alleviation, water resources etc was only 25 to 50 percent of their budget allocations. It means the government funds, mainly those for social sectors, are not being used properly. Hence Salim insisted that the government should come out with quarterly or half-yearly performance budgets. The outcome will be positive if the money is spread over the entire year.
Referring to three national surveys on health and family welfare, the member said it is shameful that the rate of anaemia among mothers has disturbingly increased. The government talked about the expansion of ICDS and it has been done but it does not match the expectations. The government has to universalise the ICDS in order to address the problem of malnutrition among mothers and children.
On agrarian crisis, Salim said the government must take steps like crop insurance, credit flow and price support for farmers.
On the problem of minorities, he said the government has allocated Rs 63 crore to the National Minority Development Finance Corporation after the Sachhar committee report. But when this corporation came into existence, the government had promised for it an authorised capital of Rs 500 crore, to be contributed equally by the state and central governments. However, West Bengal is the only state to have given its full share to this corporation, which reflects the Left Front governmentís political will. This money is used to provide loans to the unemployed among minorities there. Salim demanded that this authorised capital must be increased to Rs 1500 crore in the 11th plan, in accordance with the prime ministerís statement that the scheduled castes, tribes, OBCs and minorities have a bigger claim on our national resources.
From the CPI(M) side, M Baburao, P Satheedevi, K S Manoj, Lonappan Nambadan and T K Hamza also participated in the budget discussion. They criticised it for its failure to properly address the problems like crisis in agriculture and plantations, farmersí woes, unemployment, inflation and price rise, crisis, food shortage, weakening of PDS, womenís access to work, minimum wages for agricultural workers, problems of Anganwadi workers and helpers, of unorganised sector workers, the problems of fisheries, reduction of import duty on edible oil and so on.
TRIBAL AND OTHER ISSUES
In Rajya Sabha, March 14, Brinda Karat of the CPI(M) forcefully raised the demands of tribals from Jharkhand. She said hundreds of poor adivasi men and women from remote Jharkhand villages had come to Delhi on the day to demonstrate and stage a dharna. It is a matter of great concern that the reserved assembly seats in Jharkhand are going to be reduced from 28 to 21, though the popular demand is that they must be increased in view of the larger population of scheduled castes and tribes in the state. The central government must immediately intervene in this matter and see that there is no rift between the adivasis and non-adivasis. Secondly, districts and not blocks must be listed as fifth schedule areas in Jharkhand because the tribal peopleís rights get curtailed by taking block as the base. In fact, the provision of the fifth schedule is meant for the district level but it is implemented at the block level in Jharkhand. Brinda Karat also demanded that the Antodaya scheme must be extended to the whole tribal belt of the country as adivasi women are suffering and dying from malnutrition throughout the country.
In the same house, Suman Pathak, CPI(M), drew attention to the increase in immoral trafficking and sexual exploitation of village girls. He said in the name of providing jobs, pimps are bringing girls to Delhi and other cities from various areas in the country, in particular northeast and north Bengal, and push them into the flesh trade. These girls, after reaching the cities, find no channel to communicate to their parents and relatives about their condition and whereabouts. The parents approach the police but are unable to provide proper whereabouts of the girls and the police remain blissfully inactive. Even the girls supplied as maidservants on contract basis are not getting their wages as stipulated and are being sexually exploited by house owners. Suman urged the government to formulate a scheme to provide jobs to these poor girls in their villages, so that they are not compelled to seek jobs in cities. On the other hand, the persons and agencies involved in this racketeering must be punished severely.
Moinul Hassan, CPI(M), forcefully demanded that the government give up its move to impose a tax on bank withdrawals. He said the savings instruments like provident funds, small deposits and insurance policies have been exempted from taxation at all the three stages --- contribution, accumulation and withdrawal. The imposition of tax at the withdrawal stage is nothing but cumulative taxation on the entire corpus and it will be at the peak tax rate. This will only discourage the savings by vast sections of people, doom the institutions like LIC, GIC, PF and small savings schemes, cause financial hardships to millions of people and also prevent investments in social sectors where contributions by financial institutions like the LIC is immense. The previous government had cut down the interest rate payable on all these instruments from 12 to 8 percent. Now the retrograde move to tax all withdrawals is a further attack on small savers and a step towards winding up these institutions, Hasan angrily said.
In Rajya Sabha, CPI(M) members forcefully raised the issue of pension for freedom fighters. Sitaram Yechury and P Madhu said it was a shame for the entire country that the freedom fighters who fought for our independence had to sit in a dharna outside the parliament. It is a question of recognising the role they played in our countryís freedom. Many freedom fighters have already died in penury and those surviving are leading a pathetic life because of condemnable bureaucratic hurdles. Further, the UPA government promised pension for those who fought during the Telangana armed struggle. The home minister promised in a meeting that he would constitute a screening committee for the purpose and find some way out from bureaucratic delays but nothing has come out after six months. Yechury urged the government to immediately rectify the situation.
March 18, 2007