People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
August 26, 2007
The Week In Parliament
BEGINNING its monsoon session on August 10, the parliament adjourned for the day after an obituary to Chandrashekhar, a former prime minister. On the day members also cast their vote to elect a new vice president. Winning with a huge majority, UPA-Left candidate Hamid Ansari took over as Rajya Sabha chairman on August 13. While congratulating him, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury offered him all cooperation in running the house, expecting that voices of dissent would not be suppressed in the house.
CPI(M) members in both houses submitted a large number of motions on important issues, including price rise, PDS, farmers’ commission, wheat imports, unorganised workers, flood situation in the country, special economic zones, Sachar report on the condition of minorities, Srikrishna commission report, manipulation of gas prices, malnutrition among the poor, subsidence in entire Asansol-Jharia-Raniganj coal belt, Indo-US nuclear deal and Agreement 123, foreign policy, recent political developments in Bangladesh, growing Indo-Israel military collaboration, large-scale eviction of tribals, drug prices, entry of foreign education institutions, human trafficking, women reservation bill etc.
Under intense pressure from the Left and other parties, the prime minister made a statement on August 13 regarding the nuclear deal with the US. Strongly reacting to India’s capitulation vis-à-vis the US, CPI(M) members in Lok Sabha walked out. However, more interested in the fall of the UPA government than in the dangers of Agreement 123, the BJP brought in a motion under Rule 184 that entails voting.
PLIGHT OF THE SCHEDULED CASTES
On August 14, Rajya Sabha passed the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order (Amendment) Bill 2007. During the discussion, the CPI(M)’s Tarini Kanta Ray, Brinda Karat and Tapan Kumar Sen supported the bill, demanding the inclusion of Rajbansis and Namasudras among the scheduled castes. Pointing out the anomalies in the bill, Ray said Rajbansis are considered a scheduled caste in West Bengal, a scheduled tribe in Meghalaya and none of the two but OBCs in Assam. It is unfortunate that the SC/ST and OBC communities are still backward after 60 years of independence. Serious efforts are needed to take them forward and bring them to par with other classes. But the period has underlined the failure of the government policy. There is a huge backlog of vacancies for the SCs/STs, as we could not fill them up because we have not been able to take them forward. This is the ugly reality, Ray reminded.
Brinda Karat referred to the problems relating to the identification of scheduled castes and tribes in different states. In February 2006, a Supreme Court judgement clearly stated that if a caste is identified as a scheduled caste in a particular state and if that person goes to another state, her/his caste won’t change. But, unfortunately, there are many such examples in different states. Referring to the Namasudras in Bengal, she said they were forced to get the refugee status in India at the time of partition. Most of them belong to the most depressed and oppressed Namasudra community. They were settled in different states by the central government. In West Bengal and Orissa, they have got the scheduled caste status but not in other states. The Registrar General of India, after a survey, came to the conclusion that their socio-economic condition in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh or Chhattisgarh is not such as to warrant for them the SC status. The member asked the minister to seriously consider and rectify such anomalies.
Brinda Karat described casteism as the biggest disgrace to our country, a blot on our independence. Dalits are not allowed even today to enter temples or draw water from wells to quench their thirst. The condition of Dalit women has become very critical. The member appealed to the house to take steps to eradicate casteism from the country.
Tapan Sen drew attention to some basic points. We talk of empowerment of Dalits but our economic policy and philosophy of governance are moving in the opposite direction. That is why, even after 60 years of independence, the SC quota in government jobs is not yet filled up. Apart from the feudal mode of thinking, our economic policies have generated such distributive perversion in the economy that a majority of the 40 crore unorganised sector workers are from the SC/ST communities and are living at Rs 20 a day. This inhuman attitude of ours must go, he said.
Both the houses held a discussion on flood situation in various parts of the country, with a large number of members participating in it. From the CPI(M) side, Hannan Mollah participated in it in Lok Sabha and Moinul Hassan in Rajya Sabha.
On the occasion, the CPI(M) members said this was the most devastating flood in the history of India, as per the UN’s opinion, has affected more than 19 districts in Bihar alone and caused massive losses of life and property. In Kerala, to date, 252 people had lost their lives. According to the government, severe floods have affected 10 states. Though members have been discussing this tragic situation repeatedly, every year, the government does not take preventive measures to check it even when it is known that floods are imminent. There is hardly a year without the flood menace especially in Bihar, West Bengal and the northeast. Every year there are relief and rehabilitation measures after flood havoc but it seems that relief has itself become an industry, catering more to other people than the flood victims.
This means we need to think how to evolve a durable solution to this problem; only making embankments won’t do. But, the CPI(M) members asked, where is the planning the government repeatedly promises every year? We have to create more reservoirs as a long-term measure; yet there is no reservoir on the Brahamputra. Regular desiltation and dredging of riverbeds can control the swelling of river water. But the drainage system has become outdated everywhere. We have to see how massive erosions can be checked. Similarly, we have to take adequate measures to check the deforestation. Achieving these objectives requires the local people’s help.
To the CPI(M) members, there is urgent need of a contingency plan; we cannot solve the various problems emanating from floods unless we have a contingency plan. This does not, however, preclude the necessity of a long-term plan, proper monitoring of rivers, flood protection programmes and their proper implementation. As the floods destroy kutcha houses, the government must also implement the Indira Awas Yojana thoroughly. While we must liberally use the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme, its rules may be relaxed in case of the victims of floods and other calamities.
The CPI(M) members also asked the government of India
to start a dialogue with the government of Nepal for the control of floods in
Bihar and some other parts of North India and to evolve a permanent solution to
The debate on floods remained inconclusive in both houses due to interruptions by BJP members, resulting in their adjournments. It was to continue the following week.
Under a calling attention motion, Lok Sabha discussed the sale of spurious drugs in the country. During the discussion, the CPI(M)’s Basudeb Acharia said the situation in regard to circulation of spurious and counterfeit drugs was serious in Orissa. Opposition parties in the state had decided to observe a one-day bandh demanding a CBI enquiry into certain incidents. But the problem is not confined to one state. In our country, 30 to 40 percent of the drugs are spurious and one can imagine what will happen to the patients if they consume these drugs.
Drugs are an essential component of health care. Their quality is of paramount importance as these are consumed mostly by ailing patients. So the circulation of spurious drugs is of great concern. The IMA, WHO and Federation of Medical and Sales Representatives of India have been campaigning for several years against spurious drugs but no concrete action has been taken to stop their circulation. It is a criminal act but no concrete action has been taken against this criminal act being perpetrated in our country for years. There is no stringent law for it in our country. The government of India has appointed a number of committees, starting from Hathi committee to Dr Mashelkar committee, but takes no note of their recommendations.
Acharia said many such drugs are being prescribed by doctors and supplied by the government hospitals to patients, which is a matter of serious concern. The minister says the figures stated by various organisations are exaggerated. But how did he come to this conclusion? Does he know that many newspaper editorials have described New Delhi as the spurious drugs capital?
As for the UPA government’s commitment to reduce the drug prices, what action has been taken to fulfil it? Though the health ministry is not concerned with the issue of prices, the government is answerable to this house. While the number of spurious drug manufacturers has enormously increased, there is no commensurate increase in the testing facilities, Acharia said.
The CPI(M)’s Swadesh Chakraborty in Lok Sabha and Moinul Hassan in Rajya Sabha forcefully demanded adequate representation of West Bengal in the recently reconstituted Jute Advisory Board and Jute Development Council. They said out of 28 members in the reconstituted Jute Advisory Board, a majority belong to the states which have no presence on the jute map of India, either in jute growing or product manufacturing. The CPI(M) members expressed their strong apprehension that this reconstitution aimed to serve the interest of the synthetic fibres lobby. The board does not have even secretary level representation of the government of West Bengal, the biggest jute growing and product manufacturing state in India. Similarly, in the 32-member reconstituted Jute Development Council, no genuine representative from jute growers is there from West Bengal. In the workers’ representative category, there is nobody from jute workers in the state. This is nothing but a move to doom the environment friendly jute industry in the country. The CPI(M) members strongly opposed this attitude of the government towards the biggest jute growing and product manufacturing state in India and asked it to immediately recast these bodies to include genuine representatives from jute growers and workers in West Bengal.
In Lok Sabha, the CPI(M)’s N N Krishnasdas demanded periodical maintenance of National Highway No. 47 between Walayar and Mannuthy in Kerala. He said this highway in South India, connecting Cochin to Salem, has been selected as a corridor in the National Quadrilateral project, a part of the Bharat Nirman, to be made into an express highway. Unfortunately, however, the condition of this important highway is very bad because of the absence of periodical maintenance in the last four years. Due to heavy rains in the ongoing monsoon, it has got severely damaged and road accidents have increased manifold. Yet the National Highway Authority of India is not sanctioning adequate funds for its periodical maintenance, he pointed out.
On August 14, Lok Sabha passed the Merchant Shipping (Amendment) Bill 2004. Participating in the debate, the CPI(M)’s Samik Lahiri said there was no doubt that the ISPS code must be implemented in our country too. We should think about the security of our ports, ships and the foreign ships coming to our ports, and take the necessary safety measures. Earlier, after this bill was presented in this house, it was referred to the standing committee. But the ministry did not pay any attention to the standing committee’s recommendations, what to talk of implementing them. Drawing attention to certain provisions in the bill, Lahiri warned that these could be misused. About Section 344(J), he said the standing committee had clearly stated that it was a contradictory provision and asked the minister to ponder over it. Section 344(M) has no mention of the human element, and it is not clear how the interests of the concerned workers would be protected. Lahiri urged the government to implement the standing committee recommendations emanating from a lot of hard work.
In Rajya Sabha, Prasanta Chatterjee of the CPI(M) forcefully demanded grant of pension to Kerala’s freedom fighters of the 1946 naval mutiny. He said nearly 75 veterans in the state of Kerala, all octogenarians, have been waiting for an order of the ministry of home affairs to make them eligible for freedom fighters’ pension. It is a matter of shame for the nation that these freedom fighters had to approach the Kerala High Court. The court gave a favourable verdict in 2006, but the union government has yet to take action about it. Chatterjee demanded that the government take immediate positive action in this regard. The CPI(M)’s P Madhu, Brinda Karat, Tarini Kanta Ray and others supported the demand.
August 19, 2007