(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 01, 2009
THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT
BEING the budget session, the last session of 14th Lok Sabha started with the Presidentís Address to a joint session of the two houses on February 12, 2009 after which CPI(M) members in both houses submitted a number of amendments to the address and sought division. However, their amendments were defeated because of the lack of number.
On February 19, members of Left parties staged an angry walk out in Lok Sabha. Gurudas Dasgupta (CPI) and Rupchand Pal and Santasri Chatterjee, both from CPI(M), moved a Calling Attention Motion regarding large scale retrenchment, layoffs, wage cuts and withdrawal of statutory benefits of workers in organised and unorganised sectors. They accused the government of hiding behind the global meltdown its failure to generate jobs in the country. The retrenchments were going on even before that. The magnitude of the distress is such that nearly 20 lakh people were thrown out of job in the recent period. According to ILO five crore jobs are going to be lost in the whole world and the main brunt is to be borne by people in the developing countries including India. They will be in several sectors from real estate to textile industry to export business, and what not. According to Times magazine, the Federation of Export Organisations is apprehending the loss of one crore jobs in India. The situation is too grim to be overlooked, the CPI(M) members told the labour minister, holding his statement as disappointing. The government is banking on the old hype of growth story, but is trying to protect only employers who are not passing over to the workers the benefits they are getting from stimulus packages. The minister has joined the Ďprivatisation of profit and nationalisation of lossí chorus. The members said the bailout package for employers with taxpayersí money cannot be supported unless the safety of jobs and social security are guaranteed.
In a special mention in Lok Sabha, Basudeb Acharia referred to the gathering of about one lakh workers and employees belonging to the central trade unions, federations and associations, at Jantar Mantar. He said they were demanding concrete measures against retrenchment, layoffs and wage reductions etc. The impact of the crisis on the living conditions of the working class is very grave. Over 71 diamond workers have so far committed suicide in Gujarat and many have offered themselves for medical research in laboratories to earn money. Though the government has come up with a bailout package for the industry, it has shown meagre interest in protecting the workers.
From the CPI(M) side, Sitaram Yechury and Brinda Karat participated in the discussion on the Presidentís Address in Rajya Sabha and Mohd Salim, Khagen Das, K S Manoj, Sebastian Paul and A V Bellermin in Lok Sabha. (Excerpts from the speech by Sitaram Yechury, CPI(M) leader in Rajya Sabha, has already been published in these columns.)
In her speech, Brinda Karat described the address as directionless. It has failed to address the realities of aam aadmi in India where a farmer committed suicide every 31 minutes on an average. The government statistics show over six crore farm households today are indebted. She also castigated the ruling partiesí sickening prejudices against women, which prevented the passage of womenís reservation bill in parliament. She said we know the deal within the deal for the sake of power, preventing the government from fulfilling the promises it made to women. This is exactly what the BJP had done.
Brinda accused the government of ignoring most of the recommendations of standing committees where most of the political parties are represented. It has ignored important issues like scheduled caste reservation. The standing committee rejected the afforestation bill but it was tabled in Rajya Sabha. Under whose pressure and to satisfy whose interest, she asked, did the government take this decision behind the back of parliament? The member also raised points like the surfacing effects of crony capitalism, Rs 1,00,000 crore scam in telecommunication, soaring prices of essential commodities etc. The monster of price rise is one of the major weaknesses of our policies. Our granaries are full; the production has increased. Yet this government imported wheat at higher prices, dealing a body blow to Indiaís food security that was built up assiduously over the years.
In dealing with communalism, Brinda said a BJP member had drawn attention to the looming Taliban danger. We are extremely concerned about it. But the Hindutva forces are nothing but the Talibanís twin brothers. A related issue is of the UPA governmentís will or otherwise to fight these forces. It has banned the SIMI, but did nothing much against the Hindutva organisations. Today the fight against terrorism has to be combined with a fight against communalism. A cause of concern is that Muslim youth are being thrown behind bars and tortured on false charges. This has happened in Hyderabad, Jaipur, Delhi and many other places.
In regard to foreign policy, Brinda said the democratic people all over the world are appalled by the genocide in Gaza. But the government of India is today is the biggest buyer of Israeli arms and defence equipment. Regarding Sri Lanka, we need a proactive stand to protect the Tamils. The government of India must ask for protection of Tamil civilians and also a political solution with genuine autonomy for Tamil speaking region within a united Sri Lanka.
In Lok Sabha, Mohd Salim said though parliament has its own dignity in a democracy, no session was called for taking important decisions for the last one year, and little discussion took place on the bills introduced in parliament. This is undermining the parliament, and a blot on our democracy. After referring to the undermining of parliamentary institutions in the age of liberalisation, the member said the entire world has been reeling under recession for the last two years, but the government was busy in pushing the India-US nuclear deal through. It had no time to assess the developing economic situation. Today the situation in India is such that about 47 per cent children in the 0-5 age group and 70 per cent of women are suffering from malnutrition. The challenges of a food crisis and retrenchment are looming large over our country and these have a direct bearing on the poor sections of our society who spend 50 percent of their income on food. The government must realise the threat and they frame a strategy accordingly. Salim raised some other vital issues as well before concluding his intervention.
Khagen Das reminded that every third hungry person in the world is an Indian. Quoting a newspaper, he said even now 10,000 Indians die of hidden hunger everyday, i.e. over 3.6 lakh a year. According to Arjun Sengupta report, 77 per cent of our population is leading an inhuman life with a daily income of less than Rs 20. But the address did not have a word about why this is so after 61 years of independence. What is the future planning of this government for these people, he asked. He charged that both the Congress and the BJP are responsible for this state of affairs in the country. During his intervention, Das raised important issues like farmersí suicide, food insecurity, public distribution system, land reform, regional disparities etc, saying the government must go deeper to the roots of our maladies and take immediate corrective measures. He also demanded a special dispensation for the special category states, adding that the government must invest more in the North East and other backward areas. Immediate steps must be taken for extension of the Golden Quadrilateral road network from Silchar to Agartala, and for realigning the Trans-Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway to make them pass through Tripura. Emphasis must be laid on developing and strengthening our trade, commerce, economic and cultural ties with Bangladesh. There must be evolved a strategic communication link with the North East region through land, sea and water routes via Bangladesh, and a land route link with Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam etc via Myanmar.
K S Manoj said the UPA came to power with support from the Left parties but began to move away from the CMP after forming a government. In fact, it was the resistance from the Left parties that prevented the government from taking several anti-people decisions. It was thus that the Left, to an extent, saved the country from the adverse effects of economic meltdown. By signing the India-US nuclear agreement, the government has put at stake the freedom and sovereignty of our country. Manoj demanded that the government come out of this agreement. He also asked it to ensure the safety and security of Christians and Muslims in the country.
Sebastian Paul said the country is passing through difficult times with the spectre of various shades of terrorism and Talibanisation haunting the civilised life. The minorities are in a state of constant fear. The Presidentís Address failed to take note of this terrifying situation. He warned that any soft approach to this lurking danger would shake the foundations of our democratic edifice. Referring to the entry of FDI in telecom, defence, civil aviation, retail trade and of course media, he said we have learnt nothing from Enron or Satyam. He also castigated the address for not paying heed to the genocide in Gaza. This is evidence enough of the undesirable effects of Indo-US nexus, he said.
To A V Bellermin, the address did not spell out any direction for the future. Whatever positive the government did, was under pressure from the Left. But it failed to address the key issues like agrarian crisis, price rise, job losses, the increasing number of people living below the poverty line, plight of unorganised sector workers, housing etc. He also raised some problems facing the fisherfolk living along the three coasts of Indian peninsula. Dalit Christians are deprived of the rights and protections guaranteed to their non-Christian counterparts.
During the discussion on Agricultural Processed Food Product Export Development Authority (Amendment) Bill 2008 in Rajya Sabha, Matilal Sarkar of the CPI(M) strongly criticised the government for its procrastinating attitude, failing to protect our own products in the international market. The bill covers the Basmati varieties of some states but the varieties of some other states are still out of its jurisdiction. Thus it is creating differentiation between one state and another. This discrimination against some states has to be removed. Secondly, many Indian agricultural products --- neem, haldi, pigeon pea, and some others --- are today being sold in the international market under foreign brand names, not as our brands. Sarkar asked: what steps has the government taken to get these products patented? India is a big producer of fruits and vegetables in the world but our share of processed food exports is only 1.6 percent, and that too is declining. About 30 percent of our fruits and vegetables go waste for want of processing. This has to be taken care of. We produce as much as 60 per cent of the mangoes in the world. But only a few varieties are taken for sale in the international market. The difficulty is that we lack pre-harvest and post-harvest techniques. Sarkar said harping on categorisation of agricultural products into two schedules will only dilute the importance of some of the varieties. What is after all the necessity of creating a second schedule, he asked. He also said clause 3 of the bill gave the central government the power to include any commodity in or omit it from the first or second schedule. But we cannot give the centre a blank cheque in this regard. Parliament must be informed of the changes made from time to time.
In Rajya Sabha, Tapan Kumar Sen, CPI(M), expressed concern over the renewed move to start disinvestment in the profitable public sector units, while only the other day the finance minister had commended the role of public sector in stabilising and protecting our economy in the background of the severe global financial crisis. This renewed initiative to sell out the shares of profitable public sector units means handing their control over to private hands at throw-away prices, as the prices are sinking today. Moreover, in the changed financial circumstances, common people are having more faith in the bonds and debentures issued by the public sector. Hence Sen urged the government to refrain from this move as it would mean a total fraud of a different type of our economy and our people.