People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIII

No. 24 

June 14, 2009

 


YECHURY’S SPEECH IN RAJYA SABHA ON PRESIDENT’S ADDRESS

 

‘Provide Real Relief To People

In These Times Of Crisis’

 

Below we publish excerpts from the speech delivered by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and leader in Rajya Sabha, Sitaram Yechury during the discussion in the House on June 5, 2009 on the motion of thanks for the address of the president of India.

 

The second part of this speech would be published in the next issue along with the speech delivered by CPI(M) leader in Lok Sabha, Basudev Acharia.

 

I RISE today to speak on the motion of thanks for the address of the president of India, which in this calendar year has happened for the second time. But we fully understand that this has come after the 15th general elections, therefore, I will speak keeping in mind the mandate given by the people of India. Respecting that mandate as well as working for what role the people have given us to play – the role of a constructive opposition to the government – in that spirit, I would like to take up various issues that the president has raised in her address.

 

We have seen in the past that once elections are over, many of the promises that are made are not followed through or implemented. So, in the interest of the people of India, particularly, in the interest of the toiling people of India, to defend their rights and to improve their livelihood, this is the approach that we will adopt towards this government. And it is in that spirit that I would like to respond to some of these issues.  At the outset, I would like to join the president of India as well as the rest of the country in hailing the election of the first woman Speaker in the other House and that is a gesture which has been widely welcomed. I hope that in the same spirit, the government does not delay any further the implementation of the reservation for women in parliament and in the legislatures. It must immediately bring this Bill for adoption in both the Houses and we will fully support that measure.

 

Secondly, the president of India referred in para 4 to the devastating cyclone, Aila, that has inflicted tremendous degree of damage to both life and property in West Bengal. The president of India, I quote, has said, “My government will extend all possible succour to the cyclone-affected people of West Bengal.” I wish to point out here that as on June 4, the total number of affected persons has reached 67.5 lakh and the total death toll has risen to 137; the number of fully and partially damaged houses crossed nine lakh; the affected crop area exceeded 2.8 lakh hectares and the length of embankment destroyed is more than 500 kilometres. This is truly a national-level disaster and as of now, 4.38 lakh people are staying in 782 relief camps and 409 gruel kitchens are in operation. Considering the scale of damage and the suddenness with which this happened, I would only urge upon the government to declare this as a national calamity. While the state government has sought the assistance of the central government for relief and rehabilitation work, I would also request the central government to waive the charges for using the defence planes, ships, boats to provide relief in this instance because this is in the interest of providing relief to the people who need it the most. This, I hope, the government will accede to.  Finally, on this point, I would like to say that unfortunately there has been a tendency to try and politicise the relief work that is being provided in the state. We have had instances where an elected MLA, a veteran freedom fighter was assaulted by members of other political parties. Since, unfortunately, it is happening from the side of the members of the ruling coalition, I would only request through you, prime minister, that this is not the time for politicising these issues. We are interested in providing relief to the people and to actually give them succour as the president of India has said. I hope that this request will be acceded, and on the basis of humanitarianism, let us not try and politicise this issue. 

 

TERRORISM AND

COMMUNAL VIOLENCE

 

I fully endorse the president’s remarks on the unity and the resolve that the country has displayed and will continue to display in our fight against terrorism and various measures that have been listed out by the president of India. All of them will, of course, be supported by all Indian patriots, but, at the same time, I would like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that most of these measures are measures that will come into operation once the terrorist attack takes place. What are required are steps that we should take in order to prevent these terrorist attacks. The multi-agency coordination, which has been spoken of, is neither active nor effective so far.

 

With regard to para 11 of the president’s speech where the Communal Violence Act has been spoken of – about which we have been actually discussing during the last five years on a number of occasions with the government – there is a very serious problem involved containing centre-state relations. And this is a problem on which, I think, all the parties will have to put their heads together in order to resolve it. In centre-state relations, the rights of states are something that cannot be encroached upon. But we are all for a Bill of this nature to prevent communal violence and give relief and rehabilitation to the victims. At the same time, this aspect of centre-state relations has to be taken into account. Here, I would like to point out that there has been a very glaring omission in the president’s address about the question of the centre-state relations per se. One of the fundamental features of our Constitution is its federal structure. In this federal structure, there have always been strains and pushes and pulls on how a balance in relations between the centre and the states has to be maintained and in this, increasingly, we find states’ rights being encroached upon. This is something that is not permissible under our Constitution. Why I am saying this is because there is a reference to administrative reforms, but there is no reference to the need to improve the centre-state relations. I join the other parties and the President of India on the issue of one-rank-one-pension for our Armed Forces. They have been dutifully protecting the sovereignty of our country. We hail their efforts; we are proud of them. So, I think, this sort of a distortion needs to be corrected.

 

I fully agree with the president when she says that elections are a festival of democracy in India and we are all justifiably proud of that. Probably, this is the biggest democratic exercise anywhere in the world and this is something which we are all proud of. But there is a lot of fine-tuning that needs to be done. Among the ten priorities which the president of India has listed for this government, one of them is governance reform; though it is not spelt out, but there are certain areas, which I think, all of us will have to seriously consider. The first of this is the very fact that we talk of people’s mandate, we talk of the popular verdict, we talk of people having elected a government, but the fact remains that not a single government in India since Independence has had the support of more than 50 per cent of the people who voted. We are talking of the rule of the majority. It has never happened that you have had actually more than 50 per cent of the people voting for any government. Yes, that is the first-past-the-post system. The closest that we came to was when Rajiv Gandhi became the prime minister –– about 48 per cent. Now, if we are talking of democracy and the rule of majority, this is a problem we have to seriously address. And if you want to address this problem seriously, I think we need to consider something, which my friends in the BJP once supported –­ I don’t know if they continue to support us on that issue now – that we have to bring in a partial proportional representation system in our country. And, if you want governance reforms to be seen in the wider canvas, to also include electoral reforms, we should seriously consider this issue of a partial proportional representation whereby the government, single party or a coalition, will have at least the majority of those who have voted – not necessarily majority of the people, or the electorate – at least, the majority of those who have voted.

 

The second area where I think serious consideration has to be given is on the entire working of the constitutional scheme of things that we have. The legislature, according to our Constitution, is supposed to be a check on the executive. Apart from making laws, which is its primary duty, it also serves as a check on the executive. Now, this check on the executive is possible only when the legislature works. You had a year, the last year, when, I think, we sat for only 46 days in the whole year. On an average, the British parliament sits for 160 days. We are sitting for 46 days in a year! And what check can the legislature have on the executive when the legislature does not have time to even work on this aspect? So, I think there is a serious need for us to consider, if necessary, a constitutional amendment because there have been various committees in the past which have recommended that the parliament should sit, at least, for 100 days in a year but they have not been able to implement them. So, if necessary, there should be a constitutional mandate that parliament would sit for, at least, 100 days in a calendar year. And that is necessary if you want to establish our own constitutional scheme of things and implement them properly.

 

JUDICIAL

REFORMS

 

The third area which the president spoke of is regarding judicial reforms. This entire area of judicial activism has engaged our attention also on a large number of occasions and it is clear the whole constitutional mandate for the judiciary to have its obligation for a judicial review cannot be replaced by judicial activism. Judicial reform today is urgently required also for delivery of justice. Today, according to the information I have, by 2007 – that is the last year for which data is available – 30 lakh cases were pending in India’s 21 high courts and there is a staggering 263 lakh cases that are pending in the subordinate courts. It is estimated that there are over three lakh undertrials languishing in jails across the country because their cases are not being decided. Surely, we cannot have a democracy where even the normal system of delivering justice – leave alone the most horrific cases where there have been communal riots or cases of attacks on certain communities like we have witnessed in the past – is being impeded. So, what is urgently required, which is something we have discussed earlier, is the appointment of a National Judicial Commission. This commission must be empowered, drawing in representatives from all the three wings of our democracy as well as the Bar of the courts. The judicial commission may also go into cases of omission and commission, appointments of judges, as well as speed up the process of delivery of justice.

 

Therefore, I think the question of a limited proportional representation system, the question of correcting our constitutional scheme of things in terms of constitutional mandate for at least 100 days sitting of the legislature and the question of National Judicial Commission merit our serious attention, and I hope that the government will take up these issues in the coming days in the interest of our country and our system.

 

INTENT AND

PRACTICE

 

Having said this, the bulk of president’s address is naturally connected with what the previous government has achieved and what the current government plans to in the future. It is a road-map that has been given to us. In para 14, all the achievements have been listed and then it continues with the assurance that all the schemes will not only be continued, but will be strengthened. It is a very laudable declaration of intent. But often we find that the intent does not translate into practice. Take the programme of National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. On an average, there are 10 crore job card holders in the country. So far, less than only 50 per cent have been able to be provided jobs and that too the national average works out to 48 days instead of 100 days of work. If this is the implementation of the flagship programme, then you can understand that translation of the declaration of intent into reality is something that is not happening at the lower level and that it needs to be corrected. Emphasis was given to building investments in agriculture or developing the infrastructure in agriculture. What has been our experience? If you see the targets, on the last occasion only 56 per cent of the target of irrigation has been achieved under the last government. If you look at rural electrification, it is more miserable — only 27 per cent of the target has been achieved by the last government. It is a different matter that even with this minimum which is reaching the people, people have voted for this government. But the fact remains that the gap is very wide and it will have to be ensured that these gaps do not recur in the future and that is why, when I defined my role as the opposition, I said, we shall be here to ensure that we put pressure on the government so that they continue to implement good schemes in the interest of the people.

 

Similarly, in para 20, the president talked of education in terms of ‘expansion’, ‘inclusion’ and ‘excellence’. I would prefer to use the terms ‘quantity’, ‘equity’ and ‘quality’ for the same. That apart, it is this eternal balance in education that needs to be achieved and if this is to be done then increase the allocations for education, notwithstanding all the claims that have been made of increased allocation. Yes, they have been increased undoubtedly but our complaint, so to speak, is that it has not reached the level that was promised to be reached, that is, 6 per cent of our GDP. And that promise has not been repeated here and which is why we are disappointed. Make it at least 6 per cent of GDP for education and 3 per cent of GDP for public health. These were the targets that were accepted by all of us five years ago and, therefore, this must be brought into the programme of the government and they ought to be implemented.

 

The president defines our existence today as a knowledge society. If we are going to be a knowledge society, it is abysmal to note that India has one of the lowest expenditures on higher education per student, which is, in international terms, $406. In comparison, China has $2728; Brazil has $3986; Indonesia spends $666; Malaysia spends $625.  So, there is a mismatch, and this mismatch has to be corrected, and I hope that the government will find its resources in the future to do this.

 

There are other issues of serious concern that we have. First, I would refer to para 24 of the president’s address where there is a mention of a new law that will be enacted, that is, the National Food Security Act. As per this the government intends to provide 25 kilograms of rice or wheat at Rs 3 per kilogram. Now, today, many state governments are already providing 35 kilograms of foodgrains for the people Below the Poverty Line, and that too at Rs 2 per kilogram. Many states are subsidising further from what the centre has been subsidising. But, if a new Act is being brought into force, then this new Act will have to take into account the already existing schemes. Even in Antyodaya scheme, I think, the allocation is more than 25 kilograms; it is 35 kilograms. So, you cannot have a new Act in the name of food security where the quantity is reduced. Whom are we fooling? You have reduced the 35 kilogram quantity to 25 kilogram and saying you are providing food security! That is something which is not acceptable. So, this needs to be corrected, and this is a very serious matter which has to be taken into account because what is happening in our country as a result of the price rise of foodgrains is very appalling. I am quoting from a United Nations Development Programme Report.  With all the authority that it has, it states, “The price rise has been so unbearable for the Indian people...”. “The retail price of rice was 60 per cent higher in January 2009 as compared to the level two years earlier.  Given that expenditure on food constituted over 62 per cent of the total consumption expenditure of the bottom 20 per cent in 2006-2008, the soaring cost of cereals led to 24.7 per cent increase in food cost for the poor. This is nearly 25 per cent increase in food cost for the poor.  This, in turn, meant that their purchasing power declined by 14.3 per cent due to higher food prices alone.” Now, this is the impact that the uncontained price rise of essential commodities is having on the poor, and this is something simply not acceptable.

 

SUFFERING INDIA

& SHINING INDIA

 

Here, again, the definitions that we give for our BPL keep varying, and this has been a perennial problem to which we have been drawing the attention of the government all along. I would quote from the same report. This is with regard to four states which, in our terminology, we normally refer to them as BIMARU states, that is, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, not necessarily our combination. The report states, “These four states collectively account for nearly 28 per cent of poor households in the country. The majority of the households termed officially poor were without a BPL or Antyodaya card. The degree of such exclusion from the PDS was 77 per cent in Bihar, 67 per cent in Jharkhand, 54 per cent in Madhya Pradesh and 54 per cent in Chattisgarh as well.” This is the degree of exclusion of the poor from the PDS. Now, this is a very appalling state of affairs. If you really are talking of the aam admi, if you really are talking of improving the plight of the ‘suffering India’ as opposed to the ‘shining India’ – this is a contrast to which I had drawn the attention of the House earlier, but I wish to draw your attention again – this state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue.

 

Today, as the Forbes’ List mentions, you have a number of billionaires in the country whose assets equal 25 per cent of the country’s GDP. Twenty-five per cent of the country’s GDP is accounted by 36 individuals! And, on the other hand, our colleague, Arjun Sen Gupta’s report tells that 77 per cent of Indians live on less than Rs 20 a day. These are the two sides of India that exist –– a shining India and a suffering India. What is the state of the suffering India? Everyday, and it pains all of us, a thousand children die in my country because of completely preventable waterborne diseases. Fifty-six per  cent of our children do not get any vaccination or protection. Forty per cent of our children are under-weight and seventy per cent are anaemic due to malnutrition. These are the figures from the Third National Family Health Survey, which is the latest one. Seventy per cent of our people do not have access to sanitised toilets. Two-thirds of our people do not have access to potable drinking water near their habitation. Nearly two-thirds of the pregnant mothers are anaemic. These are the mothers that are producing the future of India. This is the state of mothers and children. Is this the India that we want? But this is the India that we have and this is what we have to change. And in order to change this, I think, only the declaration of many of the programmes that have been made in the president’s address is not sufficient. A greater effort will have to be made in not merely implementing it at the ground level but also to enlarge it to face the real situation in our country and provide real relief to our people. 

 

ON SEZs, PPP &

DISINVESTMENT

 

Now, in this context, also in para 29, a reference has been made to the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill to protect the farmers and others dependent on farming from unfair displacement. This is an issue which has been hotly debated by us but it was debated in the context of the Special Economic Zones. There is no reference to the Special Economic Zones in this entire address. I have said it even earlier, and, I am repeating it now that certain serious changes will have to be brought in the Special Economic Zones Rules that have been notified. These could be on the question of the quantum of land that would be used for actual production and the rest being given to the real estate developers, on the question of tax concessions that have been given to them, on the question of implementation of labour laws within these Special Economic Zones, apart from the question of having a new law for Land Acquisition, instead of the antiquated law of 1894, which is still in operation. These are the issues that have not been mentioned in the president’s address at all but these are the issues that are agitating lakhs of people across the country.

 

Even when the election process was on, there were reports that various SEZs were merged together to create a larger SEZ in certain parts of the country. If it has happened, it is unacceptable. But these are the issues that cannot escape our attention and will have to be taken up very seriously.

 

In para 34 and para 33, that precedes it, emphasis is on the question of developing the country’s infrastructure. The route that has been chosen for developing country’s infrastructure is the famous or infamous, PPP, the Public-Private-Partnership. I will come to that subsequently but in order to finance this infrastructural development, there is a suggestion given in para 34 that there will be a new form of disinvestment of the public sector that will take place where the government will not allow its equity to go below 51 per cent, but, it will, nevertheless, allow or disinvest the rest of the capital that is contained in these companies. Now, this is in the name of raising resources for infrastructural development. But, there are better ways of raising resources for infrastructural development rather than disinvesting your public sector. I heard the mover of the motion saying that they have got the mandate for disinvestment in this election and, therefore, they would go ahead with the exercise of that mandate. But, please remember, the public sector is the property of the Indian people. The governments that come and that go are only the managers of this public sector and no manager can sell the property without the permission of the owner. And if the property is sold without the permission of the owner, the owner will change the manager. So, let us today address the issue of resource mobilisation for infrastructural development without selling our family silver. And, here I would like to draw the attention that there is a vast area of revenue mobilisation that is now untapped. For instance, let me give you some figures from the centre that monitors Indian economy, CMIE. In 2003-04, ten top corporate houses in India have had an asset value of Rs 2,041.97 crore.  In 2007-08, four years later, this jumped to Rs 23,441.94 crore, that is, ten times. The assets’ values have gone up more than ten times in four years. Their profits after tax have gone up from Rs 35.48 crore in 2003-04 to Rs 2,574.59 crore in 2007-08 –– a whopping increase. Now, if this is their level of profit generation, ought not they to contribute to the entire process of infrastructural development which will only help them generate more profits because the infrastructure will be used by them.  But, what is the effective tax rates of these top ten corporates in the country? I do not want to take names, but, not one of them pays even the 33 per cent mandatory tax from their profits that they have earned.  There is one that comes close to it. That apart, of the rest of the ten, there are only two that cross 30 per cent. Of the remaining eight, there is only one that crosses 20 per cent. The rest pay less than that. Now, this is the way in which we have our loopholes in our tax structure and a lot of this revenue mobilisation that is due to the government, is not being collected. Please do that, plug those loopholes and collect money from these sections rather than selling your family silver and disinvesting your public sector. Disinvestment is a one-time saving. But, this is something that will happen every year. Every year, you can raise such resources. Therefore, keeping this in mind, I think, the government should seriously re-consider the question of proceeding with disinvestment and it will only do them good because on the last occasion when they seriously considered the points that we had raised, they got the benefit of people voting for them. It will only do them good, whether it is the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme or something else. I am not here scoring any points, but, I am saying it in the interest of the country. I think they should seriously consider the aspect of an alternative way of resource mobilisation.

 

In para 33 of the address, it is stated that public private partnership is the key element of the strategy of building our infrastructure. Now, if PPP is the key element, what has been our experience? Today, you have user development fee that is charged from every passenger by the private airport authorities in our country because they say their passenger traffic has reduced and, therefore, they are not able to maintain their costs. So, it is the passenger who pays for the crisis. Why should we pay? If the capitalist has miscalculated and has expanded his capacity beyond his limit, hoping for an increase in passenger traffic, and now since he has expanded the capacity and passenger traffic has fallen, the losses that he is generating have to be recovered from passengers! This is the consequence of your own PPP. This is privatisation of your profits and socialisation of your losses, where people have to pay. So, seriously reconsider the models of PPP that have been followed so far. I have only given you one example. There are various examples, whether on the question of roads that are being constructed, or with other infrastructural areas that we have gone into. Now, these are issues that require a very serious consideration of the government, and we hope that these issues will be taken up by the government.

 

(To be continued)