People's Democracy

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


No. 18

May 18, 2008




Subhas Ray

AFTER dilly-dallying to introduce 'The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, popularly known as Women's Reservation Bill for a long

period, it was ultimately introduced in Rajya Sabha on May 6. Amid interruptions and attempts to snatch the copies of the Bill by a

section of male members, union law and justice minister H R Bharadwaj introduced the Bill. Women members, cutting across party

lines, formed a ring of defence to the minister and thwarted the attempts of the few belligerent members to tear copies of the Bill.

Almost immediately after the introduction, chairman A N Ansari adjourned the House sine die.


After passing various demands for grants for various ministries, parliament passed the Finance Bill, 2008. From the CPI(M),

Rupchand Pal participated in the discussion on the Bill in Lok Sabha while Tapan Sen took part in Rajya Sabha.

Rupchand Pal in his address dwelt largely on the burning issue of inflation. He criticised the finance minister for imposing

self-constraints in dealing with the problem due to his obsession with the neo-liberal policies. The government is trying to shirk

away from its responsibility by terming the price rise as an international phenomenon. It has always been a convenient way for the

governments to blame difficult situations on international factors. The standing committee on civil supplies has strongly advocated

that the 25 agricultural and food articles it has identified should not be allowed to be traded in the commodities market. He

wanted the government to come out clearly with its stand on the unanimous recommendation of the mini parliament i.e. the

standing committee. Pal drew attention to the Left parties repeated assertions that the complex price situation is being further

compounded because of the government’s oil pricing policy. He reiterated the demand that the government must not impose

customs duty on oil and excise duty should be reduced further. The oil sector should not be treated as a milching cow.

Pal appreciated the reduction of the excise duty on essential medicines but felt the CENVAT could have been reduced further. He

criticised the lack of transparency in the budget, particularly important items like subsidies and borrowings being kept out of the

budget. He asked the government to spell out what it is doing for ensuring that taxes are paid by the super rich. He pointed out

that billionaires are paying less amount of tax than our common people. He welcomed the raising of the limit for personal income

tax. However there were still many anomalies in the taxation structure. As an example, he cited how the public sector oil companies

have to pay more in the form of tax than the private sector oil companies. The marketing companies in the oil sector are paying

about Rs 70,000 crore as taxes to the government. The government says that it would give duty concessions to certain refineries

who would complete their projects around 2008-09. But only private sector industry is enjoying these concessions due to utter

discrimination by the government. He demanded a level playing field for the PSUs as they are quite capable of competing with the

best in the world.

Tapan Sen in his speech in Rajya Sabha made a sharp attack on the Planning Commission and accused it of doing everything except

planning. There is a need to make the Planning Commission realise the imperative of moderating the market forces in favour of the

people and to ensure the most equitable allocation of resources as per national priorities. Sen termed the statement issued by the

prime minister's office (PMO) after a delegation of Left parties met him on the issue of price rise as “utterly irresponsible”.

Criticising the political parties for raising the burning problem of price rise as politicising the issue is a shocking response and an

effort to shirk responsibility, felt the CPI(M) member. He disputed the misinformed claim being made that the inflation rate in India

is the lowest in the world. Identifying the speculative forces playing in both the commodities and the financial market as the main

culprit for this runaway price rise, Sen reiterated the demand for banning future trading in the 25 items suggested by

parliamentary standing committee. He also demanded increase in food subsidy and universalisation of PDS, reduction in the prices

of petrol and diesel and also containing the private procurement of foodgrains.

The high GDP growth rate is accompanied by a very high rate of unemployment and underemployment. The benefits of growth are

not percolating down. Sen demanded that the lending practices by the banks and other financial institutions should be seriously

reviewed and they should be encouraged to lend to the priority sectors at a differentially lower rate of interest. The immediate

fall-out of US recession and dollar devaluation is being felt in our export-oriented sectors. Job losses have already taken place to

the tune of 40 lakh in just the textile sector alone. The key issue here is not to allow further appreciation of the rupee and to

discourage the huge unproductive financial inflows into our country which neither augment investment nor generate employment,

he pointed out. Moreover the capital gains made by these FIIs in our country go largely untaxed, contributing both to the

inflationary situation and the appreciation of rupee. He requested the finance minister to withdraw the 5 per cent import duty on

naphtha introduced in the budget. Pointing out the anomalies in taxation, Sen said ONGC is one of the top taxpayers in the

country. But there is another private company in the same sector, and of similar size in terms of sale, turnover, profit and

everything, but pays much less tax on all counts than ONGC. He demanded a serious probe into this matter. On the Unorganised

Sector Workers’ Security Bill, Sen said that since it is meant for the BPL people, the Bill should be redrafted and made universal for

the entire unorganised sector workers.


In a call attention motion regarding the situation arising out of subsidence (a sinking down of a part of the earth's crust due to

underground excavations) in coal-belt areas, CPI(M) leader in Lok Sabha Basudeb Acharia drew the attention of the House to the

dangerous situation in Jharia (Jharkhand) and Raniganj (West Bengal). He demanded that the situation in both the areas be

declared as a national disaster. The people of the area are spending sleepless nights because almost every week subsidence occurs

in one place or other, making their lives perilous. He recounted an incident of subsidence last year near Dhanbad, Gidhore colliery,

during which he was present in the area. Around midnight there was a subsidence and 25 houses belonging to the contract

workers, engaged by BCCL in its mines, just sunk into the ground. Five persons were killed and hundreds were rendered homeless

in this incident. A few months back, near Nimcha colliery, in Eastern Coal Fields in West Bengal, there was subsidence and people

died. Last year, subsidence occurred on National Highway 2 leading to suspension of traffic for a few days.

Acharia blamed this state of affairs on the unscientific mining being done under private management. Sand-stowing, which is a

must to fill the vaccum created by indiscriminate extracting coal in the mines, is not being done particularly in BCCL managed

area. Contractors get their bills paid without their doing the sand-stowing work. That the government is quite indifferent is seen

from the fact that last year's statement circulated by the ministry of coal on a similar calling attention motion is circulated again

this time -- with same words, same commas and full stops, said Acharia.

Although a master plan was formulated after a number of committees (Gugnani committee, Bagchi committee etc) gave their

reports, till date no action has been taken to implement it. Rather the situation has deteriorated further, said Acharia. He pointed

out that the government of West Bengal has cleared the master plan but the government of Jharkhand is yet to clear the same. He

demanded that the central government must take prompt action to implement the recommendations and suggestions contained in

the master plan for tackling the subsidence and fire in coal mines area of ECL and BCCL. This was essential to save lakhs of people

residing in the two towns of Jharia and Raniganj.

RAJYA SABHA witnessed heated objection to the prime minister’s remarks against politicising the misery of common people when a delegation of Left leaders called on him seeking urgent steps to rein in the price rise.

Leader of CPI(M) in Rajya Sabha, Sitaram Yechury on April 28 strongly objected the prime minister’s remarks against political parties on the issue of price rise. He quoted from the statement that was issued by the prime minister’s office after a delegation of the Left parties met the prime minister demanded six concrete steps to be taken to control the price rise, “the prime minister urged all political parties to eschew the temptation of politicising the misery of the people and warned against creating an environment of scarcity” etc etc. Yechury, amid interruptions said, it is very objectionable that the PMO has denigrated our intervention of going and asking the prime minister to take concrete steps to contain the price-rise as scare-mongering. As a political party it is our responsibility to raise the issue of the plight of the people, he said. Terming it as an insulting remark Yechury advised the PMO and the government to eschew all temptations of being irresponsible towards the plight of the people. Instead of responding to the six concrete demands raised by the Left parties on this issue, this sort of levelling of baseless charges is not good, he said. The government, which ought to have taken the lead in curbing this price rise, must at least now tell whether it is going to act on the six points raised by the Left parties.


CPI(M) members, Rupchand Pal and K S Manoj participated in the discussion in Lok Sabha on demands for grants, ministry of defence. Speaking first, Rupchand Pal expressed grave concern at the delay in procurement of defence supplies. He strongly advocated for self-reliance in this crucial area. Complimenting our defence forces and DRDO for doing an excellent job, the member criticised the government for not supporting DRDO. This is leading to, as per an estimate, around 55 per cent of scientists in DRDO quitting and joining the private sector. Pal asked the government to spell out what measures it is taking to stem this exodus. He also expressed concern at the failure of defence forces to attract our youth resulting in severe shortage of officers and men in the three services.

Rupchand Pal strongly opposed the government's decision to allow 49 per cent FDI in defence production and warned that it will cause immense harm to our self-reliance in defence production. He called upon the government to support our navaratna companies, which are doing an excellent job, and take their help in defence production. The government must come clean on the reports about US defence producers and suppliers bringing pressure to either undo or dilute an offset clause in the Defence Purchase Agreement, 2006. In a purchase of $30 billion, it will be a serious case of denial of transfer of technology, felt Pal. He demanded an assurance from the defence minister that justice would be done to the young jawans and officers in regard to the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations.

K S Manoj expressed concern over the attrition rate in the defence forces and felt the injustice done to them by the Sixth Pay Commission would further increase this process. He called for promotion of research and development activities by the public sector units engaged in defence production. The allocation for Coast Guard must be increased. In Kerala, public sector firms like BSNL were employing the ex-servicemen as security guards. Now they were taking from private agencies. This should not be allowed, felt Manoj. He anted the ministry to look seriously into the issue of gender inequality in the defence forces. Later Lok Sabha passed the defence budget.


Rajya Sabha held a discussion on the working of the ministry of labour and employment. T K Rengarajan of CPI(M) participated in the discussion and made his maiden speech. He criticised the ministry for not implementing the unanimous recommendation of the Indian Labour Congress to fill all vacant posts in the enforcement machinery. Millions of organised and unorganised workers are thus left unprotected. There has been steady decline in the number of inspections and inquiries conducted during the last three years. On top of this, the government itself is promoting violation of labour laws. A system of self-certification by employers on compliance of labour laws has been introduced by the centre and few states. He pointed out that around Delhi itself -- in Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Western UP, Haryana -- several units are forcing the workers to work 12 hours a day without paying any over-time allowance. The union textile minister has openly proposed 12-hour workday in garment factories, totally violating the labour laws of the country. The labour minister must clarify whether this is government of India’s policy, insisted Rengarajan.

Rengarajan found fault with the non-spending of complete amounts allotted in the budget for Beedi Workers’ Welfare Fund, Rehabilitation of Bonded Labour etc. He also opposed the Sixth Pay Commission's recommendation for abolition of all Group ‘D’ posts leading to further contractorisation of jobs. The New Pension Scheme is an attempt to invest pension funds in speculative market. Rengarajan pointed out how the Supreme Court has been intervening in many cases and giving adverse judgements against workers. Emphasising that the judicial encroachment on basic democratic rights of workers should not be allowed, he demanded from the government to bring a legislation guaranteeing the workers’ right to strike. He also wanted the government to bring a bill protecting the rights of women workers. The government made a mockery of the tripartite consultations by not even getting most of the 37 tripartite committees under the labour ministry to hold even meetings in the year 2007. The legitimate demands of the trade unions are not being considered. Rengarajan urged upon the labour minister to review the labour policy and take expeditious steps to implement the NCMP commitments. Otherwise the government will have to face serious consequences in the forthcoming elections, he warned.


Participating in the discussion on the working of the ministry of commerce and industry, CPI(M) member Shyamal Chakraborty -- in his maiden speech in Rajya Sabha – charged the government of decontrolling and reducing import duty on many commodities under pressure from WTO. As a result, the agrarian crisis intensified further and our food security threatened. Gradually, we are being forced to depend on advanced countries for our food supplies. On the one hand, we have a situation where more than one lakh farmers committed suicide and on the other the rich farmers of US and European Union are getting heavy agriculture subsidies. This is definitely not a level playing field, said Chakraborty. With both the European Union and the US refusing to reduce their huge farm subsidies, most of the developing countries want India to take the leadership role in resisting this onslaught of the developed world.

On the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) he criticised the government for not accepting the amendments to the SEZ Act and Rules suggested by the parliamentary standing committee. The CAG has pointed out that the total duty forgone by the government due to the SEZs in the year 2006-07 was Rs 66,368 crore. This works out to 77 per cent of the total customs duty received during that fiscal year. The CPI(M) member asked the government to seriously consider whether such huge tax concessions are necessary for the corporates. The Left parties suggested that SEZs should be granted only for two categories of industries -- advanced technology and export-oriented centres.

As more than four crore people are involved in retail trade, the government should take into confidence the small retailers, hawkers etc while allowing big players into this sector, felt Chakraborty. He suggested formation of a committee for taking decisions on granting of licences to organised retailers. The retail trade contributes around 10 -11 per cent of the GDP. With respect to foreign trade policy, he said our objective should be to double our percentage share of global merchandise trade within the next five years and to act as an effective instrument of economic growth by giving a thrust to employment generation. As far as rubber is concerned, the uniqueness of this industry is that 90 per cent of the production and 89 per cent of the area are in the hands of the small holders. Research on growth and production of rubber in the North East should also be promoted, he suggested. He suggested to the government to diversify trade and foreign exchange reserves in order to reduce dependence on the dollar. More emphasis should be given to increase our trade with countries in East and West Asia, China, Latin America and Africa.


CPI(M) member A Vijayaraghavan took part in the discussion on the working of the ministry of agriculture in Rajya Sabha. He lambasted the government for not coming up with any concrete solution to the ongoing severe agrarian crisis. He stressed on the need to reverse the trend of declining public investment in agriculture, which was resulting in a sharp fall in production and productivity. There is a wide gap between the input costs and the income of the farmers, making them indebted and consequently driving them to suicides. The government's loan waiver scheme will not benefit the poor farmers as most of them have taken loans from private moneylenders. Waiver of institutional loans would mean only the rich farmer will get benefit, felt Vijayaraghavan. In this context he cited how the Kerala government set up the Agricultural Debt Relief Commission to go into the details of different kinds of loans availed by the farmers in the state and give a report. On the basis of the commission's advice, the government will chalk out steps to help the poor and debt-ridden farmers. He requested the central government also to come forward with such a viable programme to help the highest number of farmers. This was needed in the context of our farmers having to compete with the highly subsidised farmers of the developed countries. He criticised the government for failing to address the problem of acute price rise.

Vijayaraghavan pointed out that the budget allocations for most of the sectors do not match with the proposals. 'Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana' is a very important programme of the ministry to give incentives to the farmers. However the allocations have been meagre and even they were reduced at the Revised Estimate stage. He pointed to the alarming situation in the milk production and wanted a proper programme for feed and fodder. Also steps must be taken to enhance the falling production of marine products. He demanded from the government announcement of a special package for increasing foodgrains production in Kerala. He concluded by calling for effective implementation of the NREGP for improving productivity in agriculture.


Lok Sabha passed the demands for grants of the ministry of information and broadcasting on on April 24. Participating in the discussion, the CPI(M) member, P Karunakaran, said the main objective of the ministry should be promoting national integration. Cinema, Radio, TV channels and short films are all influential instruments of mass media and any unrealistic views that are projected through them may cause damage to the main objective of the ministry. He stressed the importance of Prasar Bharati in this context and felt both the government and Prasar Bharati owe an explanation to the nation as to why they failed miserably to achieve the targets. The employees are unhappy. Around 40,000 of them want to go back to their parent ministry. There is shortage of programmes. But many of the posts are lying vacant. They need funds to develop better broadcasting systems. Karunakaran demanded that Prasar Bharati Act must be amended to enable it to fulfill its objectives.

The casual staff artists of the All India Radio are being discriminated. Although they work day and night, they are not accorded the same status as that of the DD casual staff. Despite many agitations by these employees no action has been taken to remove this anamoly. Similarly, administrative employees have not been granted the upgraded pay scales like those given to the engineering and programme staff. Pointing to the indefinite hunger strike launched by AIR employees, the CPI(M) member asked the government to intervene in the matter and settle the demands of the employees.

Karunakaran also sought some sort of regulation of the mushrooming radio, TV, channels. The culture of consumerism courtesy globalisation and liberalisation being pervaded by these channels is having a serious impact on the viewers. There is a need to study the effects of these channels on our culture, education etc, felt the member. He criticised the advertisements in electronic media as mostly false, extreme exaggeration and vulgar. He concluded by praising Doordarshan in this aspect vis a vis private channels.