(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 23, 2008
Left Front Submits Memorandum To PM
A delegation of Left Front leaders from Bengal led by Biman Basu, chairman, Left Front Committee and accompanied by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and MP Sitaram Yechury met the prime minister Manmohan Singh and drew his attention to the urgent problems that affect the vast majority of the population across the country as well as in West Bengal.
The members of the delegation included Debabrata Biswas (AIFB), Abani Roy(RSP), Srikumar Mukherjee(CPI), Kiranmay Nanda(WBSP), Pratim Chatterjee(MFB), Rantan Majumdar(DSP), Mihir Bain(RCPI), Md. Salim (CPI(M).
Below is the text of the memorandum submitted by the Left Front to the prime minister on this occasion.
It is a matter of serious concern at the continuing rise in prices of essential commodities. As the series of decisions and actions of the government of India since 1991 have made the market play the dominant role in determining prices of essential commodities, the people have been facing its disastrous impact.
Another major reason for present price rise is that the UPA government has not rescinded the pernicious measures taken by the BJP-led NDA government in April 2003 to permit futures trade in agricultural commodities, including essential commodities. Furthermore, the relaxation in the Essential Commodities Act has given rise to rampant hoarding and black marketing.
The increase in the prices of petrol and diesel for the eighth time during UPA rule has pushed up the prices of essential commodities to an unbearable level.
FOODGRAINS FOR PDS IN WEST BENGAL
While the Planning Commission in its 2005-06 annual plan document says, ‘Public Distribution System (PDS) is the most significant instrument in government policy to moderate open market prices and to ensure food security at assured prices,’ the government is nonetheless moving in the reverse direction and pursuing a deliberate policy of weakening and eroding the PDS in different parts of India. When the market prices are so high, there is an urgent need to expand the network of distribution through FCI and fair price shops but both are being weakened. Foodgrains allocation to the states is being cut drastically.
The only alternative to save the suffering people from soaring prices of essential commodities is to introduce universal system of public distribution system as recommended by the Abhijit Sen Committee. Along with this, the present system and criteria of determining BPL that deprives huge numbers of our poor and distressed population must be abolished.
We demand immediate intervention of the central government in this regard.
Restore 139 lakh tonne foodgrain allocation to the states under the PDS which was cut by the government.
Reverse the price rise in petrol and diesel prices by cutting excise and customs duty.
Ban on futures trading in agricultural commodities as proposed by the standing committee of the parliament.
Make Essential Commodities Act more stringent and take firm action against hoardings and black marketeering.
Introduce universal PDS and include in it at least 15 items including pulses, edible oil, and sugar.
As you are aware, in the early fifties, the West Bengal Congress government agreed with the insistence of the then Congress union government to allow jute cultivation in larger areas in place of foodgrains as it would fetch foreign exchange to the exchequer of India. The government of India at that time assured that necessary help would be provided to West Bengal in terms of foodgrains to compensate for the loss. We strongly urge upon the UPA government to supply adequate foodgrains for the PDS in accordance with the pervious understanding.
Another issue of serious concern is that monthly allocation of wheat for West Bengal is reduced by about 50 per cent for March, April, and May 2008. Despite repeated appeals, the centre did not respond to the demand for allotting full quota of wheat for the PDS.
The chief minister of West Bengal has written twice to the union minister of agriculture and consumer affairs to intervene in this urgent matter. This has not been responded to properly. The results would lead to total disruption of the PDS of West Bengal as more than 5,76,15,048 beneficiaries belonging to the APL category would be adversely affected. The quota should be allotted immediately.
PROBLEMS IN IMPLEMENTING THE NREGA
The work of NREGA has been augmented. Minister of rural development of the government of West Bengal has already drawn attention of the minister for rural development, government of India, that a serious problem faces quite a few districts of West Bengal in implementing the NREGA because the demands of those districts for further release of funds are not being met properly by the ministry of rural development (MoRD) of the government of India.
The present system of releasing funds by the MoRD is unable to meet the requirement of the state and, thereby, putting the programme implementing units under tremendous constraint. Since they are accountable under the Act for meeting the demand of employment, government of India must come out with a solution to this problem by reviewing the current arrangement of releasing funds. The norms for being eligible for receiving next instalment of fund should be clearly laid out and followed.
The present system of releasing funds districtwise is leading to a lot of problems. It may be considered if fund in bulk is released to the state government so that the district specific needs may be met more promptly and adequately. That will also reduce the burden of handling so many individual proposals by both the state as well as the central government and more attention may be paid on other important issues related to implementation of NREGA. Moreover, rigid guidelines of the scheme are creating general problems for not only West Bengal but also for all the eastern states of India.
You are aware of the fact that the UPA government has announced the Rajiv Gandhi Rural Electrification Scheme on April 1, 2005. The implementation of this scheme will supply power to every village by 2007 and to every household by 2012. The central government will bear 90 per cent and the state government 10 per cent of the costs to be incurred. In West Bengal, 99 per cent of the work of the first phase has been completed.
In the Eleventh Plan, Rs 16,000 crore was allotted for the completion of the second phase, that is, power connection to every household whereas it requires Rs 40,000 crore.
After a long meeting with the chief ministers, power ministers, and central ministers on May 28, 2007, the prime minister announced that the UPA government would allocate more funds for rural electrification by July 2007. After several persuasions and demands, the allotment was raised only in September 2007, to Rs 28,000 crore.
West Bengal is the only state that submitted all the projects of 18 districts to the power ministry and concerned ministries in Delhi.
In a letter to the power minister of the central government, the chief minister of West Bengal has said that all the 20 rural household electrification projects submitted from West Bengal should be sanctioned under the RGGVY outlay as presently revised for the Eleventh Plan as the overall approved cost of Rs 2,330 crore. He has also stated that the West Bengal government shall meet the residual costs necessary to complete our rural household electrification under the RGGVY guidelines. The proposal may be considered and approved expeditiously.
The UPA government failed to keep its promise. The West Bengal chief minister has reminded the central power ministry to keep the commitment made by the prime minister. The power minister has announced on February 11 on an occasion in West Bengal that the second phase of the work will be started in 18 districts, not in 11 districts.
Because of the acuteness of the problem, the West Bengal government is even ready to bear a bigger share for speedy implementation. However, the series of monitoring committee meetings raised newer and newer hurdles and failed to make any progress in this regard causing sufferings to the rural people.
RE-IMPOSITION OF IMPORT DUTY ON NAPHTHA
The budget of 2008-2009 has re-imposed a 5 per cent import duty on naphtha used for polymer production. Of the three petrochemical producers in India, Haldia Petrochemicals limited (where the state government is the major stakeholder) that uses naphtha as a raw material does not produce naphtha. The import of naphtha at high prices will increase the prices of polymer goods and cause a serious set back to the economy of the state. The state industries minister has already written to the union finance minister in this regard on March 6, 2008.
SAVING THE KOLKATA & HALDIA DOCK COMPLEXES
The need for dredging of the Kolkata and Haldia ports has assumed emergent proportions. The silting up is going to affected adversely the economy of West Bengal and of eastern India. Total quantum of dredged soil is estimated to be 12 million cubic feet. Total involvement is more than Rs 14,000 crore. Immediate intervention of the central government is necessary because both dock complexes are suffering very badly on this account.
ON RAIL CONNECTIVITY
Kolkata has rapidly urbanised and expanded with a sharp in crease of population. With road space limited, and high density of population, there is need for expansion of the metro rail between Howrah and Barasat (in north 24 Parganas) and to Baruipur in the south 24 Parganas.
There is general need for upgrading of railway tracks, repairing of railway bridges, overhead wiring, signalling system, mechanically operated gates at level crossings, and more railway connectivity and frequency of train services across the state.
Flyovers across townships, along townships, and national highways are considered essential considering the increase in the volume of vehicular traffic and safety considerations for the pedestrian traffic. There is also a critical need to augment entire suburban railway system.
SUB-PLAN FOR THE MUSLIM MINORITIES
Ninety districts have been identified where the population is Muslim in substantial numbers. Of these districts, 12 districts have been identified to be in West Bengal. However, there are Muslim people in good numbers in all the 19 districts of the state. The problem aggravated in this matter by the aftermath of the partition is a well-known historical fact. Apart from the land reforms, the West Bengal government over the past 30 years has given special attention to the Muslim community in terms of employment, education, general welfare.
In view of the recommendations of the Sachar committee, the government of India should come out in a big way and with effective measures in this regard. In actual practice, the overall welfare of the minority community is possible only through the introduction of a sub-plan as already recommended by the government of West Bengal. We believe strongly that there should be a sub–plan for the Muslim minority on the lines of the sub–plan for the scheduled tribes so that dedicated funds for the development of areas with substantial Muslim population can be allocated.
PROBLEM OF REFUGEE REHABILITATION
As it is well known, the post-partition refugee influx in Bengal was never properly looked at from the point of view of rehabilitation and compensation by the government of India, as promised. This has continued to put on a huge economic burden on the state. Despite repeated reminders, the government of India has not taken any effective steps to ameliorate the problem. We demand that this issue should be looked at immediately for redresssal of the economic burden with adequate funds.
The problems of centre–state relations have acquired a new dimension after liberalization and deregulation. On the one hand, there is a withdrawal from economic and investment activities and on the other, the centre seeks to push through neoliberal reforms, by setting conditions on transfer of resources to the states. Every central grant or devolution of resources is attached with conditions.
The central government has refused to devolve the share of taxes to the states to the extent of 50 per cent. Debt problems of the states, particularly those related to small savings loan should be solved on a state-specific basis without any further delay.
Repeatedly the state government of West Bengal has called upon the central government to take an immediate stand on the issue of riverbank erosion especially of the Ganges-Pudma. The erosion causes flood every year, resulting in immense misery for the people of several districts through which the rivers flow. Special attention must be paid to this problem by the central government and appropriate steps taken early.
There is urgent need for protecting the rights of states against the growing encroachment from the centre. Not enough has been done in this direction. A serious effort must be made to frame the issues concerning the states’ rights and devolution of powers and rally the widest forces for the restructuring of centre–state relations.