(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 08, 2009
THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT
THE 14th Lok Sabha was adjourned sine die on February 26, 2009. During this period, people had had enough chance to compare the role of Left parties with that of the NDA whose opposition to most of the anti-people, pro-monopoly and pro-US steps was muted. Naturally, because the NDA followed the same policies when it was in power. On the other hand, Left parties put up spirited fight against all such steps, discharging their duty to save the country from an economic disaster and prevent a surrender of our sovereignty to the US. The average attendance of CPI(M) in Lok Sabha was the highest, 79 percent, followed by Congress, 73 percent, and BJP, 67 percent. According to PRS Legislative Research, a New Delhi based NGO, no CPI(M) MP stayed away from debates in the 14th Lok Sabha and each of them participated in some debate or other in the last five years. Compared to it, 13 percent of BJP MPs did not participate in any debate. CPI(M) MPs fought anti-people bills in standing committees too.
Parliament has passed the Interim Budget (General) 2009-10. The CPI(M)’s Rupchand Pal, C S Sujatha and Sujan Chakraborty participated in the discussion in Lok Sabha and K Chandran Pillai in Rajya Sabha.
Pal said the finance minister tried to pose as if he could not do much because it was only a Vote on Account; yet he could have done something worthwhile within the limitation. With their alternative measures, Latin American countries have been able to save themselves from the impact of the ongoing meltdown. Nothing like that has been seen here. In India, about a half of the population is below the poverty line. Half of our children are dying of malnutrition. Maternity related problems are killing 70 percent of rural mothers. Not only farmers; workers in unorganised and organised sectors are also committing suicide. PDS is almost dismantled; there is 73 percent cut in APL quota. Pal asked what had happened to the BPL parameters; its definition is so strange that it cannot cover most of the poor. In industry, employers are not passing to the workers the benefits they are getting from the government. But the government is insensitive about it.
As for concrete steps for job creation, the NREGA is an important scheme but the government did not heed the demand to extend it to the urban poor. Instead of taking concrete steps to alleviate the people’s sufferings, it reduced the allocation for agriculture and rural development. Today the need is that the government must spend on infrastructure creation and social sector. It would greatly help the whole country if the government spends on education, healthcare, ICDS etc. Pal also dwelt on the fiscal deficit target, need of amending the FRBM Act which is preventing the states from doing something for their people, the government’s obsession with the so-called reforms, sharp fall in the prices of produce like cotton, rubber and coffee and the lack of concrete measures to protect the farmers, fall in the plan expenditure, a shortfall of Rs 60,000 crore in revenue, backdoor entry of FDI in some sectors, growth in external commercial borrowings, etc.
K Chandran Pillai said the interim budget proposals clearly showed the government’s insensitivity to a vast majority of our people. While it is focussing on export growth and similar things for the last two decades, raising the demand and enhancing the people’s purchasing power should have been the real concern. The government must have concentrated on employment generation and on curbing the price rise, which could create more demand in the economy and give a boost to the economy. In a situation where fiscal deficit is increasing, thrust should have been on development infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, but the government is spending less than one percent of GDP on infrastructure. While crores of people are reeling under abject poverty and hunger, the corporates are amassing wealth through various means. The member also drew attention to the Keralites and other Indians losing jobs in foreign countries and coming back to India. He asked whether the government had any package for their rehabilitation and re-employment. States are suffering because of economic meltdown and there is need to address their problems immediately. As for women’s empowerment, we have really disempowered our womenfolk by denying them proper representation in parliament and assemblies.
Sujatha said the interim budget had an eye on the coming elections. Among other things, she dwelt on how the traditional industries in Kerala are facing a crisis due to recession. The government of Kerala has declared a package of Rs 10,000 crore to boost up these units and asked the centre to enhance the credit limit. But the centre has not considered the request favourably. She criticised the inordinate delay in passing the reservation bill for women as a betrayal of their faith.
Sujan Chakraborty said in the last five years there was no threadbare discussion on a budget and the opposition did not get much chance to scan it. This has harmed the country’s interests. Among other things, he raised issues like growing class gap in society, shoring prices of food articles in particular and plummeting prices of agricultural produce, jobless growth, difficulties in extending bank loans to priority sectors, etc. He said the government is yet to honour its promise of spending 6 percent of GDP on education.
Lok Sabha held a short duration discussion on mismanagement in the Satyam Computer Services Limited. Initiating the discussion, Rupchand Pal said this was a multi-crore, multi-dimensional scam, with a whole galaxy of government institutions, regulators, politicians and key functionaries of the government of Andhra Pradesh in the dock.
On January 7, Satyam CEO wrote a confessional letter that he had been falsifying the accounts for seven years. After this exposure, the prime minister said the whole fraud would be investigated and offenders punished within three months. But, sadly, there is little progress. As a conspiracy, Satyam chief surrendered on his own and was given judicial custody, with SFIO having no access to him. The Andhra CID did not even cooperate with SEBI. It was only after the Supreme Court’s intervention that the SEBI was given an opportunity to interrogate the Satyam chief. Just before the January 7 confession, 92 lakhs shares, valued at Rs 2.45 crore, changed hands in one day. Even the present CEO sold his shares. There lies the tragedy. The independent directors are supposed to protect the small investors but remained silent. The Andhra government gave the Satyam group over 17,000 acres of land in certain areas as well as prestigious contracts worth Rs 38,000 crore in power and irrigation sectors and also in the prestigious Hyderabad Metro: all this in violation of norms. Now the government is engaging in a cover-up operation, Pal accused.
Pal also lambasted the RBI. The Pricewater House Coopers, the auditors, got a bad name because of their involvement in the Global Trust Bank scam, and were banned. But after three years the RBI withdrew the ban. Unfortunately, the Institute of Chartered Accountants did not do anything. The Income Tax Department knew from 2002 that tax evasion was taking place, but took no steps. This is not an isolated case. The Noble Research Group (UK) said over 500 Indian companies are involved in falsification of accounts. Pai, who was given the assignment to investigate into the Harshad Mehta case, has commented that the Indian corporate sector shows only 25 percent of the profits. The government does not seem to be serious about it. It is concerned with issuing relief packages, while it should have been more concerned with the credibility of institutions.
Pal asked: will the government rethink about certain key areas of the system? One, selection of directors cannot be left to the whims of promoters. Second, the Institute of Chartered Accountants must have well defined norms about selection of auditors. Third, the Satyam chief cannot be allowed a seven-star luxurious life. Fourth, other people on the board should not be spared. Fifth, we have to recover whatever the Satyam chief has swallowed. Adequate compensation should be given to all the shareholders at the earliest.
On February 25, Lok Sabha passed the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill 2007 and the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill 2007.
During the discussion, the CPI(M)’s Hannan Mollah informed the house about the fight in the standing committee on rural development to propose amendments to the bill. These amendments emanated from consultations with a large number of common people in various parts of the country for about four months.
Mollah said it was a very important bill, seeking to update the obsolete Land Reforms Law passed by the British. There was no amendment to it during the last 60 years. Though the bill has been introduced to address the current challenges, no important suggestions were incorporated despite the claim that 60-65 suggestions had been accepted. The suggestions regarding personal interest and public purpose, acquisition of tribal land and rehabilitation were not accepted in correct form. Even the suggestion to bring in the net of social impact study all the below-50 people to be displaced was not accepted. The committee strongly opposed the 70:30 concept of land acquisition as this scheme will benefit some people and deprive others of it. The definition of “public purpose” given in the old legislation has been shortened. The government must have proper resources for the acquisition of land, otherwise middlemen would not give any benefit to the poor if the job is left to the private sector. Mollah lambasted the government for not accepting the unanimous suggestions made by the committee.
Tarit Baran Topdar, CPI(M), said the bill was introduced just a day before the last day of the session, without having consultations. The issue of land is very sensitive and related with the country’s economy. But the bill would introduce the middlemen’s raj in land acquisition, he warned. There will be a specific rate for those in the 30 percent category while those in the 70 percent category would be deprived of the rate. The member criticised that the bill was going to create social imbalances, suggesting that it would have been made better if the Nandigram package were is accepted.
In a special mention in Rajya Sabha, Prasanta Chatterjee of the CPI(M) drew attention to the purchase of Air Defence Missile System. He said the defence ministry has given the contract for supply of some 12 such systems worth Rs 10,000 crore to Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI). This is shocking as the IAI is already under CBI investigation on charges of bribery and corruption in the purchase of ship-mounted Barak system. Second, our own Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) has already developed the repeatedly field-proved Advanced Air Defence (AAD) missile capacity. This missile is capable of destroying the incoming enemy missiles as well as aircraft whereas an IAI missile can deal only with the enemy aircraft. The AAD missile is capable of intercepting even ballistic missiles at up to 18 km altitude. Thus, the missiles to be developed by IAI appear to be inferior to the DRDO missiles on the counts of technical, cost and operational readiness. So Chatterjee forcefully demanded immediate cancellation of the contract with the IAI.
In the same house, Saman Pathak, CPI(M), said Darjeeling and North Bengal are similar to Uttrakhand, Himachal Pradesh and the North East as far as the topography, economic conditions and major problems were concerned. The number of educated and literate youth in this region is mounting, but they are not getting enough job opportunities. There is no other industry except tea, tourism and a few public sector units. Pathak urged the government to accord this area special priority and declare it as a tax free zone so that the region’s economy is regenerated. This will integrate them in the mainstream, thus strengthening national unity.
Brinda Karat, CPI(M), drew attention of the Rajya Sabha to the serious situation prevailing in Manipur as a result of the outlawed NSCN’s activities; the brutal killing of three government personnel by NSCN highlights it. On February 13, six government personnel were abducted from the deputy commissioner’s compound in Ukhrul district and on February 17 were found the brutally mutilated bodies of Dr Kishan, the subdivisional officer, Y Token and Rajen. Though the government of India is in peace talks with such groups, it has utterly failed to ensure that there is no violence by these groups against the people. Today, NSCN men are moving around everywhere in Manipur with arms, terrorising the citizens and officials who refuse to agree to their demands. There is a unified command in Manipur, consisting of army, paramilitary forces and the state police force. But the utter failure of its working is shown by the fact that for four days they failed to trace those abducted and initially even denied the NSCN involvement. The member demanded immediate central action to apprehend and punish the guilty and to see that such acts are not repeated.