People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
May 27, 2007
THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT
ON May 14, in both houses, when some members stood up to raise the issue of fake encounters in Gujarat, opposition NDA members vociferously created commotion, leading to adjournments. And the turmoil continued next day though order was restored in Lok Sabha and the post-lunch session ran smoothly.
On May 10, parliament held a joint session in Central Hall to commemorate the 150th anniversary of our First War of Independence in 1857; President A P J Abdul Kalam, vice president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee addressed it. Later, both the houses had adjourned on May 11 in homage to the martyrs of that war of independence.
RIDICULOUS HEALTH SITUATION
In Rajya Sabha, the CPI(M)’s Brinda Karat initiated the discussion on working of the ministry of health and family welfare. Lashing out at the government, she reminded that India is a signatory to the Alma Ata Declaration on “Health for All” but the government was reneging on its commitment. The situation is so grave that a woman dies in this country before an MP concludes a speech and 50 children die in half an hour. India has earned a dubious distinction with the highest ratio of avoidable deaths among the poorest sections, particularly women and children. Now that the next year would mark the 30th year of that declaration, it is very crucial that we introspect our health policy. Health is a fundamental human right and attainment of its highest possible level in all the three aspects (prevention, promotional and curative) is an important social goal.
But, the member said, a look at the way the National Health Policy guidelines are being implemented in the country highlights many shortcomings. Health is a concurrent subject, the responsibility of the centre as well as the states. But it has been allowed to become a profit-making private sector industry. Some 40 percent of the families seeking health are in debt because of health expenses; 25 percent of farmers run into a debt trap because of it. It is assessed that, after dowry, health is one of the prime reasons for debt in this country. But the government has no regulatory role vis-à-vis private sector. In private hospitals, doctors prescribe several kinds of expensive tests, most of which are unnecessary. Pregnant women invariably have to undergo a caesarean there; there seldom is a normal delivery in a private hospital. But there is no consciousness about taming these hospitals. On the contrary, the government is moving backward, giving them more tax exemptions and other concessions.
Brinda then asked the minister what had happened to the Quereshi recommendations. Was any action taken against a single private hospital in Delhi for not earmarking 30 percent free beds for the poor? On the other hand, the government itself is downsizing the CGHS and privatising it piecemeal, outsourcing many tasks to private hospitals. And what are we doing to kill our best government hospitals?
Health of pregnant or breast feeding mothers, the
malnutrition and anaemia prevailing among them and their infants, maternal and
child mortality are among the most crucial issues to be tackled. Unless the
health ministry deals with these issues, the situation is not going to improve.
Therefore, provision of enough nutritious food for pregnant women and new-born
children is a must in the interest of the country. Non-availability of drinking
water and improper sanitation are other areas of concern. People are suffering
from all sorts of water-borne diseases and lack of sanitation.
Today we see very poor allocations for each of the preventive, promotional and curative aspects. Health has a very small pie of our GDP. Today we are among the lowest in the world regarding health expenditure: our per capita expenditure is a princely Rs 17 a month! Who is responsible for it? It squarely is the government; its language is not matched by policy. It talks about health and the National Rural Health Mission but does not put in money where it is needed. Here the member cited some figures about the incidence of malaria, chikungunya, polio and TB etc to show that the health ministry does not even know its priorities.
A very crucial point is the issue of drug prices. While the chemical and fertiliser ministry has to control the drug prices, actual drug control is under the health ministry. Another problem is that there is the worst kind of lobbying in the Drug Control Authority to get licences for bringing new drugs into the country. The body stands too paralysed to take action against erring pharmaceutical companies. But, instead of strengthening this body, the government is moving to take over the licensing of drug manufacturing. There must be a monitoring committee about it, she demanded.
Welcoming the National Rural Health Mission, Brinda insisted on a categorical assurance from the minister that user fee won’t be a part of this mission and that it would engage in the creation of necessary infrastructure.
Lok Sabha passed the Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2005 on May 7, with P Karunakaran, Anil Basu and V Radhakrishnan participating in the discussion from the CPI(M) side. While hailing the incorporation of some valuable standing committee suggestions in the bill, these members forcefully opposed the reduction in cross-subsidy. Making power available to the poor sections of the community, in both rural and urban areas, is part of the Common Minimum Programme of the UPA government, they reminded. Karunakaran said there is a reduction in subsidy even though the idea of cross-subsidy has been accepted. Also, the bill creates a doubt by defining unauthorised usage and theft in identical terms though they are not one and the same thing. If there is any unauthorised usage, it can be taken into account but theft has to be minimised by serious punishment.
Karunakaran also pointed out that power supply from the central pool to Kerala has been reduced by 12 MGM --- from 148 to 136 MGM --- but the shares of some other states have increased. This has upset the plans made by the State Electricity Board of Kerala. Because of the high cost of electricity generation in Kayankulam thermal plant, the state is unable to use it. So the central government must take initiative to solve this issue and reduce the excise duty on naphtha. A discussion on power purchasing agreement is going on, but one of the conditions is that the state has to privatise the distribution in town areas. This will create a serious problem in getting electricity and affect all distribution systems in the state. It has to follow the franchise system to get funds from the Rajiv Gandhi Scheme. But in some areas it won’t be possible for private parties to lay their lines as they are in the jurisdiction of State Electricity Board. So there must be flexibility in regard to utilisation of the central fund, in accordance with the needs and demands of a state. In context of scarcity of electricity, the member demanded Kerala’s inclusion in the “power block” the government of India has introduced.
Anil Basu said community projects like the Swajal Dhara Project, crematories, the projects run by cooperative societies, panchayats and the government must be given enough subsidy. The subsidy component of Rajiv Gandhi Electrification Scheme in the years 2005-06 and 2006-07 stood at Rs 5,000 crore, but West Bengal was not provided anything out of it. Basu insisted that the government come clear about it and tell the house how much amount it would release this year for West Bengal.
During the course of his intervention, Basu also dealt
with issues like power generation in the stations of the state governments, the
problems with the low tension lines, and the estimated expenditure of Rs 70,000
crore for switching over to high tension lines about which nothing has been done
V Radhakrishnan reminded that power generation is a concurrent subject, requiring due consultation and consensus between the centre and the states. Unfortunately, we did not have any such discussion with the states before dismantling their electricity boards. Some of the issues involved are still pending.
The member also dealt with the special experience of Kerala that has only hydroelectric projects, all of them in the hilly and forest areas. Thus they face obstacles because of the Forest Act and in getting the environment clearance. He urged the power minister to get such projects cleared without delay so that the people of Kerala are saved from a shortage of power. The member also dealt with the role of police in investigating the crimes under the Electricity Act and the special court’s suo moto cognisance of such offences even if they are not referred to it.
CIOOPERATIVE BANKS TAXED
In Rajya Sabha, the CPI(M)’s Moinul Hasan raised through a special mention the issue of the government’s decision to withdraw the exemption granted under section 80P of the Income Tax Act to the urban cooperative banks; the latter are now forced to pay as income tax a hefty 33 percent on the profits they earn.
The member pointed out that cooperative banking is one of the important components of the cooperative movement and has rendered great service over the years to the salaried people, weavers, farmers, artisans etc. Cooperative banks were encouraged by the government of India to enable a vast section of our society, excluded from the financial system, to get the much-needed financial assistance in order to save them from the grip of moneylenders. The growth of cooperative banks amply justifies this encouragement. The urban cooperative banks have shown a stupendous growth in mobilising the small savings from Rs 11,108 crore in 1991-92 to Rs 1,05,000 crore in 2005. Credit facilities too have shown an impressive growth in the same period. Even the state level apex banks and DCC banks have done exceedingly well in performing their assigned tasks. They have been providing loans to the agricultural sector at cheaper rates. Several committees have recommended active promotion of cooperative banks. Of late, RBI has been talking of financial inclusion to cover the underprivileged sections.
However, ever since the onset of liberalisation, cooperative banks have been caught in an unequal, disadvantageous competition with giant public and private sector banks. It is therefore imperative to maintain their exemption under section 80P and extend them concessions under section 80C, Hasan said.