People's Democracy

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


No. 11

March 16, 2008




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.

THE index of industrial production, when compared to the last year, fell from 11.2 per cent to 9 per cent this year. So, there is a decline in the manufacturing sector. What is this economic boom we are talking about? If manufacture declines, employment declines. I just quoted from a study conducted by the CII. It is not my study. So, don't charge me with a labour perspective in it. It says, "Contraction of consumer expenditure due to high interest regime has adversely affected consumer goods and particularly consumer durable segment. During April-December, 2007-08, consumer goods registered a lower growth of 5.8 per cent when compared to 9.9 per cent last year." So, your manufacturing is down as a result of high interest rates and, employment will, naturally, be down. And, because of that, economic problems will come. On the other hand, you have the rupee appreciation. Tirpur, near Coimbatore is called the hosiery capital of India. 60,000 people have lost their jobs last year there, because export orders have fallen! Rupee appreciates, stock market booms and 60,000 people lose jobs in one city, in one centre of our country! So, for whom is all this? The impact of the rupee appreciation on textiles exports has also been drastic. The total revenue has declined by 8 per cent. Operating incomes have declined by 9 per cent. The profit margins have declined by 8 per cent and they expect in the next 6 months the profit margins would decline to 10.5 per cent. Your textile exports will completely be decimated at this rate. And textiles are your biggest next export earner in the country. What has appreciation of rupee done to the leather sector? The net profit margins have declined roughly by 9 per cent and they are expected to decline to 14 per cent in the next 6 months. This is what the study of the CII says. It is not our trade union study. Now your exports declined. What you are thinking in terms of export growth is drastically affected. Your employment falls very drastically and, because of your interest rates, your manufacturing and index of industrial production decline. So, where is that assertion that is made in the president's address that we are insulating ourselves from the global economic slowdown? We are not insulating ourselves from the global economic slowdown. This global economic slowdown led by the US crisis is going to get intensified and we are going to suffer more. So, a serious rethink on the entire issue is required and, I think, the government will pay sufficient attention on this point. In taking up the issue the president has said, "The government will give a serious consideration to these aspects."

A very grievous omission that has been made in the President's Address is the issue of women's reservation. All of us have been actively propagating it, asking for it. We have been asking this government to bring the Bill and find out who is for it and who is against it. Then, the president has quoted 'Women hold up half the sky'. As far as I remember it is from Mao Tse-Tung. She has made this quotation in paragraph 20. She talks very laudably about the role of women. But what is absent is, whether her government is going to bring this Bill in the last year of its existence or not. We want the government to bring the Bill. And, let us see on the floor of the House who will support it and who will oppose it. Mahatma Gandhi has been quoted in various other contexts, but very rarely he is quoted in the context of women. Our former esteemed president, K R Narayanan, in his Address in July 2002, he had quoted Mahatma Gandhi. He said, "Above all other corrections, what we need is to clean our public life. And, if you permit me to say, to give adequate representation to women in our legislature." In fact, cleaning of public life and representation of women in legislatures go hand-in-hand.

The other issue, which the president of India has really laboured upon in her speech, was on the entire issue of building our social and economic infrastructure. Very correct, there is a lot of emphasis on it. But the roadmap, which the government has, I think, we are going at a complete divergence. The Economic Survey, on page 25 has a box where it lists what all is required to do in order to build our economic infrastructure and social infrastructure. And, what is the emphasis? Open up every sector to the FDI -- insurance, banks, retail trade. Everything is listed. Open up everything. Any further infrastructural development programme in India will only have to be through the PPP routes, that is, Private Public Partnership. And, more important is, they talk of changes in the labour laws. It is very important and sensitive issue because the entire social edifice of our country is built by the labour class. And, what does the Economic Survey prescribe: the working hours of labour should increase from 48 hours to 60 hours in a week. Is that the road forward?

I would like the Government to please let us know if this is the road forward to build the social and economic infrastructure, then, what you are actually doing is widening this hiatus between your shining and suffering India more. Sixty hours a week! That means, you are expecting the working class and the working people to work non-stop eight hours a day for the entire seven days of the week. Or, you have a twelve-hour day, without any holidays.

Whenever anything of this kind happens, China is brought up. Last time also this issue came up when we opposed the increasing of the limit of FDI in the telecom sector. Immediately we were charged that China does it hundred per cent, so, why are you opposing here? Sir, I went to China. All services provided in China in Telecom Sector are provided by three public sector companies which are hundred per cent public owned. You are also right. There is hundred per cent FDI. But, where is that hundred per cent FDI? It is in the production of hardware. All the Nokia sets are made in China. So, what we tell our government is, 'Yes, bring foreign investment to invest here. Let them open factories and give my people jobs. You increase the production and export from my country so that I get the benefit of those exports. You do that. Why are you opening up those most lucrative areas of fast profit making to foreign countries? As far as labour laws are concerned, there is a new law that has been enacted in China. Now, it is all over the place. There was never a hire and fire system in China. Please remember it. There was never a hire and fire system there. I will give you all those details.

I agree that what is said in the Economic Survey is not law. I concede the point that it is not a law. My concern is this. Here is the president of India outlining in a large number of paragraphs to the need to strengthen economic and social infrastructure. Here is the roadmap given by the Economic Survey of the government on how they want to do it. And, how do they want to do it? They are only strengthening those instruments which, in the first place, have widened the inequalities in our country. That is my concern and that is what needs to be corrected.

The next important issue which the president refers to in one paragraph, but which is of serious concern to all of us, is the issue of internal security. On internal security, I think, there can be no compromise. This is something which is absolutely non-negotiable and anything that needs to be done by the government needs to be done to protect ourselves from any type of attacks by any type of extremist forces. But, in saying that, we must be very clear that India has been a victim of terrorist attacks of a variety which is as diverse as our society. We have lost two of our prime ministers -- one to the extremists and the other one to the LTTE. You have the ULFA in the North East area.

There are extremist elements of different hues and cries. You have the Left extremists. They tried to ascribe it to us, but, they left us. We have been victims of their extremism in Nandigram, Bengal. But there are certain aspects of it which the president has also dealt with. It is a little unnerving for me.

One is on the question of the nuclear deal. The president has said that she expects her government to evolve a consensus on the nuclear deal and nuclear cooperation. Sir, the government may make its efforts to evolve a consensus. We have our own points of view which we have stated at least five times in this house and we continue to stick to that point of view. Let there not be any doubt on that issue, that will remain. But Sir, what I am saying is that even before this nuclear deal happens, there are two issues of concern, and I hope the government would tell us categorically as to what our position is on them. One is with regard to the attitude to Iran. Now, part of this entire Nuclear Deal was about Indian foreign policy positions particularly vis-a-vis Iran. The Indo-Iranian gas pipeline is a very important issue. Each one of us today is talking about augmenting India's power generation and power capacity. At that time, that was the cheapest and the most efficient option available to us. All of us have agreed upon that and the government itself accepted it. Why is that not progressing? Is it under American pressure? Is it under American pressure that the State Bank of India does not allow lines of credit to be opened for firms dealing with Iran? Is it under its pressure that a big Indian corporate house is told by US multi-national corporations that if they have a joint venture in Iran, then that company's joint venture in USA would suffer? If these things are happening, it is very disturbing. Even before the Nuclear Deal comes through, we see all this happening. This is a matter of concern that we wish the government to seriously address and convince all of us about what is happening.

The other thing is about Israel. It has been government of India's tradition, even before we got Independence, to express our solidarity with the Palestinian cause. It was Mahatma Gandhi who said that if the French can have a country for the French, if the English can have a country for the English, then the Palestinians must have a country for the Palestinians. This was way back in the 1920s. Today, what is happening with that poor nation? This is absolutely unacceptable in any modern dispensation. Now, in such a situation, how could we commercially launch an Israeli satellite? I can understand the government of India's position when they say that it is only a commercial launch, but for whom is that commercial launch and for what purpose? I laud our scientists and it is very good that we are able to launch a satellite and, we are capable of becoming an international player and people are coming to us. In fact, we had an Italian launch and the Italians and Indians together addressed the media and talked about it.

Now, Sir, we are talking of this Israeli launch as only being a commercial exercise. In our country, there is not much information about this. But Israel is putting out information. They say it is part of our growing military ties. What has launching a commercial satellite got to do with growing military ties? If you launch a commercial satellite, any country can approach you and for some charges, you could launch their satellite for any purpose. This decision to launch the satellite was reached three years ago during the visit of the then Israeli defence minister. And as per the agreement, two more satellites are going to be launched. Now, what is the purpose of this satellite launch? The headlines of the most popular newspaper of Israel, Haaretz, after the launch read "Satellite launch bolsters ability to spy on Tehran". Are we to assist Israel on its spying on Tehran? Why are we getting into this? All your budgetary estimates have shown that you are not really in such a dearth of resources that you have to do this -- launch spy satellites to earn money! And two more are going to be launched. This is something that is absolutely not acceptable

It also says, "The launch is also an expression of the growing cooperation between Israel and India in the security sphere as a whole, and in particular in the fields of missiles, radar, and satellites. On the other hand, Iran, which has close ties with India, which in the past supplied Tehran with materials and equipment for developing chemical weaponry, would be expected to be angry with India over the launch of an Israeli satellite." This is the general public perception in Israel. What is the perception? The perception is that we are now aiding Israel to launch spy satellites. You know the technology of spy satellites today. They can identify to the dot who the enemy is and can actually eliminate them. This is something which I don't think India can actually enter into such agreements and in such situations where not only are we betraying the cause that we are supporting, but we are actually entering into the market of sleaze in the world of spy satellites in spying other countries which is something we don't think India should enter into.

The president of India has in paragraph 59 talked of the nuclear deal and in the last paragraph has given an exhortation to all of us. I quote, "each one of you must remember that as elected representatives of the people what you do gives new hope not just to your own voters, but to all our people, and to all peace and freedom loving people in our region and around the world." It is a very noble point and it is something with laudable objective. I begin by this talking of the architecture of inclusive growth which the President of India spoke of. The architecture of that inclusive growth has also shown how this hiatus between the shining and suffering India is growing. We have to bridge that hiatus and this is what the president of Republic of India is asking us to do. How to bridge it? And that is connected with your nuclear deal. The prime minister talked of 40,000 MW to be generated through nuclear power. Let us assume only 3000 and odd is being generated by nuclear energy today in our country through domestic reactors. Let us presume and I wish we can do that that we can grow up to 10000 MW. Remaining is 30,000 MW. What we have been told is that one megawatt of nuclear energy production will cost us something like, if we are importing nuclear reactors and through that we are producing, Rs 11 crore. The same megawatt will cost you Rs 3 crore if you use your hydroelectricity or your gas even in the finest technology. It will cost you about less than Rs 4 crore if you use coal.

The Planning Commission says that we have enough coal and we have enough water. We have gone through that debate here. They say, use that water so that you can save people from floods and devastation which happens every year and you have gas. The place I come from Andhra Pradesh has abundance of gas which we knew from our childhood, but it was subsequently discovered by some private company. But that is a different matter. Why don't we use our resources and produce? Rs 3,30,000 crore for 30,000 MW is the cost of energy through imported reactors. The same is Rs 90,000 crore by using my country's water, my country's gas. What is the differential? Rs 2,40,000 crore! With that Rs 2,40,000 crore we can invest in education and build two-and-a-half lakh new Navodaya Vidyalayas in the country. And, in the new Navodaya Vidyalayas, you can educate a hundred boys and girls on a scholarship till class XII. Two-and-a-half crores of our country's children will get free education till class XII with that price difference. The government can use the same price difference in public hospitals and build 20,000 All-India Institutes of Medical Sciences in the country. Twenty lakh people can be given quality medical care at government cost. Should we forgo all this for giving some profits to multi-national corporations? And, that is where it is linked to what president said. I am reading the continuing part of that paragraph. It states, "Therefore, what you say and do in these hallowed portals of democracy will have a bearing not just on the destiny of our people but also on the future of democracy and free societies around the world." The destinies of our people are in our hands. Are we going to allow this hiatus to widen between shining India and suffering India?