People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 10

March 09, 2008


Yechury's Intervention In Discussion On President's Address


36 Billionaires & 80 Crore Impoverished

The following are excerpts of the speech delivered by Sitaram Yechury in Rajya Sabha on March 03, 2008 while participating in the discussion on the motion of thanks for president's address.

WE are supporting this government not only on the explicit understanding of wishing to keep the communal forces and combination away from power but also on the basis of a Common Minimum Programme. This CMP contains a large number of issues, which, we think, are very important for the future of both the country and the people. And, this is the only year left for this government to implement this Common Minimum Programme. I think, in that, there have been a large number of omissions and a large number of weaknesses that need to be overcome, and, in this year, we hope, that the government will be able to overcome to implement this CMP.



And what needs to be done for that is precisely what I would like to concentrate on. I would like to begin with the preamble of the president's speech, which says, "The measures taken by my government for creating the necessary architecture of inclusive growth". The architecture of inclusive growth is a noble idea. But what has been the reality and what is the reality in our country today? If there is any architecture that I can see today or the people can see today, there is the architecture of an economic bipolarity in India. It is this economic bipolarity in India where, on the one hand, you see what the international magazine, Forbes, today is saying, that there are 36 billionaires in our country. According to our own statistics, there are 48 billionaires in our country. They are all the US dollar billionaires and not on the basis Indian rupees. I have nothing against them. But, while that is happening, this 36, according to Forbes, have a net estimated asset value of 25 per cent of India's GDP. Just 36 individuals! On the other hand, my esteemed colleague, Arjun Sengupta, the committee headed by him, has given the statistics that 77 per cent of India is living on an income of less than Rs 20 a day! 36 individuals with 25 per cent of GDP and 77 per cent of India, nearly 800 million, or 80 crores, living on less than Rs 20 a day! This is the economic bipolarity that we are seeing in our country.

If you have the 'shining India' on the one side, there is a 'suffering India' on the other side. It is this gap between shining India and suffering India that is widening. This is not the architecture of inclusive growth. This is the architecture of exclusion of a majority of my people or the majority of the Indian people. It is this architecture that has to be changed. Therefore, when we talk of bipolarity, we are used to the fact that in the international atmosphere, bipolarity was always associated with the Cold War. But, in India, you are developing a domestic bipolarity which, instead of being a cold war, is actually turning out to be a hot peace. Why am I using 'hot peace'? It is because tensions are growing. The economic inequalities are widening. If this is not corrected, all the visions that we may have of building a better India or building a better future and all the potential that we have today, I think, we will only be wasting them. This course correction will have to be brought about by this government. That is why, I am a little disappointed with the first few paragraphs, 1 to 12 to be precise, of the various economic measures that the president has outlined.



I would like to deal with paragraph 8 of the president's address, where she concentrates entirely on agriculture. She talks of the issue of agricultural indebtedness. But the question is, she has taken credit; yes, the targets set for doubling agricultural credit in three years have been achieved. The speech says that it is Rs 2,25,000 crore. If this is the case, it is good. But, then, the National Sample Survey Organisation, in its 59th Report tells you that of the entire peasantry that has taken loans, 42.3 per cent have taken loans from private sources.

42.3 per cent is more than even that one-third of what we were thinking of. 42.3 per cent are from private sources who today are completely out of the ambit of the loan waiver that has been announced in the budget. Now, how are we going to actually take care of this? Out of this 48,000 crore that is estimated which they have taken from these private sources, 18,000 crore is on an interest rate of more than 30 per cent a year. This is what your National Sample Survey shows. The bulk of your distress suicides is taking place within this section. If you have a loan waiver scheme, which excludes this entire section of nearly 43 per cent of our peasantry within which the bulk of the suicides are taking place, then, I think this is a partial measure that we have undertaken and not a complete measure. Secondly, the distinction between dryland and wetland has been made. The land ceiling that has been given for which complete loan waiver is given, it means entirely a different thing if it is an arid land or irrigated land. In arid land, we have known people even with five acres or six acres or seven acres, Vidarbha, your cotton growers, they have more than six or seven acres, even there the suicides are the highest in terms of percentage. So, this needs to be corrected. Anyway, I hope that will come. But the president has quoted Professor R Radhakrishna's Committee in para 8. What does the committee say? It says, "The objective must be inclusion of the financially excluded." Now, what does this mean? It means that no attempt to reduce the agricultural indebtedness is possible unless you also target those who are excluded from your institutional credit mechanism. But, that unfortunately is not happening. That needs to be done. If you want to ensure, that is where I am a little pained that the president did not refer to the peasants' suicides, but apart from that, any measure that you take must ensure that peasantry does not slip back into this indebtedness. And if that has to be ensured, not only the expansion of institutional credit to these sections, your rural banking system must be strengthened. Instead of that what we are seeing now is the weakening of the structure of the Regional Rural Banks (RRBs) that is taking place. That needs to be corrected, expand your credit, reach but at the same time, most important is the question of giving them the Minimum Support Price. Now on the Minimum Support Price issue, earlier the Bureau of Agricultural Costs and Prices, now it is called the Commission of Agricultural Costs and Prices, I do not know why this change has been made, but that Commission has recommended 24 agricultural products to be given Minimum Support Price. But today we talk of a Minimum Support Price only for rice and wheat and even in that it has been pointed out that we are willing to pay the foreign farmers Rs 1600 a quintal but to our farmers only Rs 850. Now under pressure it has gone up to Rs 1000. But unless you bring 24 of these items under the Minimum Support Price system and unless an adequate price is given to them with the expansion of credit facilities, this agricultural indebtedness cannot be resolved. That is where, I think, there has been a very, very serious inadequacy in this president's address, which needs to be corrected. If that is corrected, we also have to go in to the other aspects of it. It is not only a question of indebtedness of individual farmers but it is the entire question of what is the attention we are paying to agriculture as a whole. In the last three years, the growth rate has slipped from 5.6 to 3.8 to 2.6 per cent now. As a result of this today, -- our esteemed colleague, Professor Swaminathan is not present here, but his Committee has pointed out -- that the gap between actual production and the potential production with same technology that is there on your shelf is a whooping 200 per cent - 200 per cent more we can produce from the existing land, existing system, existing technologies.

Now why is this not happening? It is because you are not investing what is required to be invested and making the investment go where it has to go. We are talking about increase in irrigation. But, in this year's budget there is actually an absolute decline in the amount allocated for irrigation. There is an actual decline and if this is what you are missing out in the country, you are losing 200 per cent of your production because you are just not investing properly and managing properly and this is criminal in our country where there is a growing hiatus between a Shining India and a Suffering India that is taking place and this is something that cannot be accepted. So, immediately some corrections will have to be brought about and this is where there has been a great inadequacy in this address that the government must take into account and give the assurance to the House and to the people that this will be corrected.



The other omission which the president, in my opinion, has made is that there is no reference to the issue of price rise that is taking place in our country. All of us are aware that rising prices -- any economist will tell you; since we have been trained, we know that -- price rise or inflation is actually an income redistribution mechanism. As the prices rise, the income is redistributed from the wage earner to the profit earner. That is the economic meaning of inflation because of that pressure, the pulses, rice and wheat have been removed from the forward markets. But, unless all the 24 items listed by the Commission of Agricultural Costs and Prices are covered, you cannot stop this speculation in essential commodities, and, this speculation must be seen in the international context as well. In the last three months the international prices of foodgrains have grown by a whopping 70 per cent and much of this is because of the speculation that is taking place in the Essential Commodities' Forward Market in Chicago and in that background the government has brought an ordinance to be enacted in this House. It is there in the List of Business to be enacted in this Session permitting FDI in forward trading. There are international scandals going on. Internationally, the prices are rising because of speculation. Now you want to allow that FDI to enter your domestic forward trading market and expose yourselves to further vulnerability of this nature. I just can't understand this logic at all. For whom is this being done? You will just expose yourselves to greater price fluctuations and inflation, imposing greater burdens on the people. So, we are urging the government to reconsider that ordinance. Let it lapse. Don't bring it as an Act here now. In this situation, if that becomes an Act, we will oppose it.

(To be continued)