People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
September 02, 2007
The Week In Parliament
ON August 21, both the houses of parliament plunged into turmoil, demanding stop to the US ambassador’s interference in Indian politics and immediate recall of India’s ambassador to the US for his remarks against the members of parliament. The CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury, Prasanta Chatterjee, Moinul Hassan, Tapan Sen, T K Ray, Khabiruddin Ahmed and P R Rajan in Rajya Sabha and Basudeb Acharia, P Karunakaran, Varkala Radhakrishnan and Rupchand Pal in Lok Sabha submitted notices of privilege motion against Ronen Sen, also demanding from him unconditional apology.
In Rajya Sabha, Sitaram Yechury sharply reacted to Sen’s remarks as an affront to the legislature. He asked what action the external affairs ministry had taken against Sen to uphold the dignity of the parliament.
In a special mention in Lok Sabha, Hannan Mollah, CPI(M), appealed the government to take serious note of the barbaric, organised killings in Mumbai in 1993. He said nearly 1000 people were killed. There were protests all over the country against the communal holocaust and the Maharashtra government instituted the Srikrishna commission to enquire into it. After 5 years of working the commission identified many culprits. But, unfortunately, the government has not taken any action even after a lapse of 9 years since the commission submitted its report. It identified 31 police officials as criminals. But many of them were promoted, not punished. Many people identified for organising or taking part in the riots, are roaming free. It sends a wrong signal to the minorities. They think they are not going to get any justice. In the subsequent bomb blast cases, though there was a delay, punishments were awarded to the culprits and justice was not denied. But the Mumbai riots have not been taken care of. The member asked the government to take note of it and assure the nation that Srikrishna report would be implemented, the culprits would be given proper punishments and the country would be freed from communal holocausts.
In Rajya Sabha, Brinda Karat, CPI(M), expressed concern over wheat import at a higher price. The government has decided to import half a million tonnes of wheat at 317-330 dollars (Rs 12,700 to 13,500) a tonne, after having scrapped an earlier tender to import wheat at an average 263 dollars (Rs 10,500) a tonne in May this year. This means a loss of at least Rs 125 crore. If wheat had been bought from the domestic market, the difference would have been much larger.
The question is: Why the decision to import wheat at a higher price to maintain a buffer stock? The government bought around 11 million tonnes of new-season wheat from domestic farmers at Rs 8,500 per tonne, refusing to raise the prices. The government’s buying price sets the market trend in the country and a dip in its granary stocks can trigger a price-rise with private traders trying to profit, as they did last year when grain prices went up 40 percent.
Brinda urged the government to scrap this import deal and procure wheat from our own farmers by raising the minimum support price.
On August 22, Rajya Sabha passed the Warehousing (Development and Regulation) Bill 2007. During the discussion, the CPI(M)’s Matilal Sarkar raised some issues and said it was unfortunate that the standing committee consulted only three or four states and the bill ignored the concerns of many states. Clause 3 mentions the authority that will grant registration certificates to the warehouses, and state governments have no role to play here. There is no concern about the warehouses which already exist. The warehouses working in states and dealing with farmers, panchayats, municipalities, state level organisations etc are not in the state or even in the concurrent list. Therefore Sarkar insisted that the government must accept the recommendation for a constitutional amendment in this regard after consultation with the states.
Expressing serious reservation on allowing private accreditation agencies to issue certificates of accreditation to warehouses and issuing negotiable warehouse receipts, he said the state governments must be authorised to do this work under the terms and conditions laid down by the union government. The standing committee’s clear direction is for a state-based advisory council and Sarkar strongly demanded its acceptance. Before the implementation of the bill, Sarkar proposed, warehouses must be constructed at the grassroots level, so that farmers could get the warehousing facilities nearby and need not go far away to avail this facility.
The member also said the bill has great relevance in conjunction with the Forward Market Contract Bill (FMC), currently being examined by the Abhijit Sen committee. Therefore the FMC’s provisions, which attracted many notes of dissent, must be kept in sight.
Lok Sabha has passed the supplementary demands for grants (general) 2007-08. In the debate participated a large of number of members including the CPI(M)’s Anil Basu, C Sujatha and K S Manoj. Anil Basu lashed out at the government on the meagre, 0.3 percent growth of foodgrains production and the failure to initiate action for curbing the price rise. He asked the finance minister to explain to the house the utilisation of the amounts sanctioned in FY 2005-06 and 2006-07 for sectors like education, health and poverty alleviation. He said if we scrutinise the progress made in social sectors, delivery system has miserably failed. Dealing with the problems in agriculture, he said only 2 lakh tractors are sold annually in comparison to 10 lakh cars, 60 lakh motorcycles and 3 lakh three-wheelers. In China, more than 30 lakh tractors are sold a year. By treating agriculture in a shabby manner, successive governments have created a situation where the sector has become the synonym of poverty. A pair of bullocks costs nearly Rs 50,000 and it costs a farmer an equal amount per year to maintain them. What is the alternative available to him, the member asked.
Basu also discussed the issues like bank loans for farmers, unemployed rural youth, rural indebtedness, irrigation problem, etc, adding that the government has to come out with a concrete policy for poor and marginal farmers.
C S Sujatha said Rs 200 crore were earmarked for the National Food Security Mission to enhance the production of rice, wheat, pulses, etc and to make us self-sufficient in foodgrains. But the government is sabotaging food security of our country, she charged. While our farmers are producing enough wheat, the government is importing wheat at higher prices, depriving our farmers of a better deal price for their produce. A sub-committee headed by Dr Swaminathan was appointed to study the problem of Aleppey with special reference to Kuttanad, the rice bowl of Kerala, but no money has been allocated for implementing the recommended schemes. The recent floods, landslides, sea erosion and excessive downpour have damaged national highways in Kerala. But, unfortunately, there is no response from the union government to repair and maintain these roads. She demanded war-footing actions in case of natural calamities. Also, the projects under HRD ministry must be adequately funded, and the previous funding pattern in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan restored with 75 percent subsidy. Sujatha urged the health minister to make sufficient allocation for Kerala to fulfil the promises made in parliament.
K S Manoj said time and again it was proved that this government is pro-rich. It always boasts of high growth but agriculture, on which depends more than 60 percent of our population for livelihood, hardly has 2.2 percent growth. We are facing a severe crisis in agrarian sector. The agriculture policy is not compatible with the rural realities. The Swaminathan committee recommended 4 percent rate of interest for agricultural credit but nothing has been done. Banks are reluctant to give credit to the farm sector and manipulate the statistics by including the credit given to non-priority sectors in that given to the farm sector. The member also raised the issue of recent floods and the inadequacy of the relief provided. As against an estimated damage of more than Rs 600 crore, Kerala received only Rs 5 crore as assistance. It amounts to ridiculing the sufferings of the Kerala people, he charged.
In Rajya Sabha, Moinul Hassan said whatever development takes place does not reach the common people. Development and misery go side by side --- development for a few and misery for the already destitute majority. The number of sick and diseased people is on the increase; more than 40 percent people are anaemic. It appears the government is reluctant to contain the rise in prices. The National Food Security Mission is for increasing the production of wheat, rice, pulses etc but there is a big gap between promise and performance. In education, it was promised in 2005-06 that 5 lakh classrooms would be built and 1.5 lakh teachers appointed. But only 2 lakh classrooms have been built and 75,000 teachers appointed. Though India claims to have the fifth largest forex reserve, it is unable to address the issues of education, health and poverty. All the developments get nullified when we see the dark side of India, he warned.
Both the houses have passed the State Bank of India (Amendment) Bill 2007. The CPI(M)’s Sudhangshu Seal in Lok Sabha and Tapan Kumar Sen in Rajya Sabha participated in the discussions. The bill seeks to transfer the ownership of RBI shareholding in the SBI to the central government.
Speaking on the occasion, Sen said the government’s policy approach on the ownership of major financial institutions in the country raises many doubts. In a recent press conference, the SBI chairman mentioned the plan to raise around Rs 15000 crore through debt and equity route from the market. It may open the way for further divestment and further dilution of the equity.
It is being argued that RBI is a regulator and cannot be a service provider. For all this theory, an international standard or practice is being cited. But there are cases in many advanced countries where RBI like regulatory institutions also provide services. Also, all international standards need not be followed in toto. There is room for improvising depending upon a country’s specific situation.
So far as the financial sector’s autonomy in our country is concerned, Sen refused to support the “let free” approach --- that they can do anything they like. The financial sector affects our whole economy. So there must be regulation and guidance. Functional autonomy is important for an institution’s efficiency. But the government intervention is important in the policy matter and it has much role to play for the benefit of the rural poor and small industries.
The SBI’s functioning has improved a lot. But there are certain areas of concern also. The return on assets is declining. Increasing outsourcing is creating a serious situation. Outsourcing is done where in-house capacity is lacking. Here, they are going beyond the agreed areas for outsourcing. It is alarming and gets reflected in manpower erosion, needing close attention.
In Rajya Sabha, Tapan Kumar Sen said the issue of gas pricing is a serious one. It is a natural resource and should be used in the national interest, not to ensure windfall profit for contractors. But things are moving in that very direction, causing anxiety. The petroleum ministry’s committee said on the pricing mechanism that in the absence of a transparent bidding process, valuation must be done by the government on the basis of the recent competitively determined price, duly indexed to the present. Now the dispute is that the recent price was fixed through international competitive bidding and arranged by NTPC, and the lowest quote was by the RIL-NIKKO combine at 2.34 dollars per million British thermal units (btu). But even if that recent price of 2004 is indexed to the present, it cannot justify an 85 percent hike, which the same company is demanding for the Krishna-Godavari basin gas. If the government agrees to the contracting company’s price of 4.33 dollars per million btu at the well head, it will ensure a windfall gain for private contractors but totally frustrate the Planning Commission’s aim of a cleaner substitute for major polluting sectors like power, fertiliser, transport etc. Also, a just one dollar increase in price will mean a 33 paise increase in the cost of power. So this has got a serious implication. The question is: why this linking with the international price of the indigenously produced gas? Sen said the whole issue is fishy, and demanded a full-fledged discussion in the house.
Rajya Sabha has passed the Inland Vessels (Amendment) Bill 2005. Supporting the bill, the CPI(M)’s K Chandran Pillai suggested to see how the new technological advances could an be incorporated in improving the efficiency of a variety of vessels. A rehabilitation clause must also be added here in the bill. While we are widening and deepening the waterways, rehabilitation of the fishermen community is also important. Certain definitions are to be made more unambiguous. In clause 3(1) (c) and (g), “harbour water” must be included as a specific area to facilitate the transportation between ship and shore. As regards the pollution aspects and penalty clauses, the person or company involved must get an opportunity to be heard. This has not been addressed properly in the bill, Pillai pointed out. The time limit for temporary permits is too short and it could be enhanced a little, he suggested.
August 26, 2007