People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIII

No. 52

December 27, 2009

THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT

 

 Subhas Ray

 

BOTH the houses of parliament faced disruptions on December 16 on the price rise issue, with the Left and other parties pressing the government to take immediate steps to control the soaring prices of all essential commodities. Their demand for immediate discussion on this issue was turned down, with the chairs ruling that the issue had already been discussed.  In Lok Sabha, the Left walked out in protest. 

This issue and the contentious Telangana issue led to uproarious scene in the house, leading to an adjournment for the day. In the melee, the house passed three bills. One of these was the National Capital Territory of Delhi Laws (Special Provisions) Second Bill. The National Rural Employment Guarantee (Amendment) Bill was to name the scheme after Mahatma Gandhi and make it mandatory for the states to pay Rs 100 minimum wage to a person under it. The Payment of Gratuity (Amendment) Bill sought to amend the 1972 legislation’s definition of an employee so as to cover the teachers in private institutions with effect from 1997.   

In Rajya Sabha, the opposition led by CPI(M) forced a brief adjournment on price rise. Before raising this issue in the houses, the opposition barring the NDA members sat on a dharna in the Parliament House portico with posters to demand control on prices and universalisation of the public distribution system.  

 

CANE

PRICES

Parliament has adopted the Essential Commodities (Amendment and Validation) Bill 2009 with its passage in Rajya Sabha. From the CPI(M), Saidul Haque participated in the debate in Lok Sabha and Matilal Sarkar in Rajya Sabha. They said the bill was nothing but a step towards eventually decontrolling the sugar sector. It sought to replace the statutory minimum price (SMP) of sugarcane with a new category called Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP). It stated that if the state advised price (SAP) exceeded the FRP, the difference would be borne by the state, not by millowners. This meant a change in sugar policy but the parliament, state governments and farmers’ organisations were not consulted. It is due to the government’s policy that cane farmers are switching over to other crops. Now the centre has proposed a “fair and remunerative price” of Rs 129.84 per quintal of cane. It is nothing but mockery. In the south, mills are already paying more than Rs 200 per quintal.

The CPI(M) members also recalled the recommendation made by the National Commission on Farmers, headed by Dr Swaminathan. It said the support price of any crop should be fixed at C2 plus 50 per cent, i.e. double the production cost plus 50 per cent of the cost as margin. If we take this recommendation into account, the support price of cane per quintal should not be less than Rs 250.

The members also raised other vital issues like non-payment of arrears by mills to the growers, closure of some mills, farmers withdrawing from cane cultivation in recent years, fall in sugar production in India, etc. Saying that the second largest producer of sugar in the world is now to import sugar at higher prices, the CPI(M) members demanded retention of the old system of SMP and SAP, Rs 250 per quintal for support price, and stringent application of the Essential Commodities Act to stop hoarding and black-marketing.

 

BACKBREAKING

PRICE ESCALATIONS

Rajya Sabha held a short duration discussion on continuing rise in the prices of essential commodities, with Prasanta Chatterjee and Shyamal Chakraborty participating from the CPI(M) side. Chatterjee rejected the prime minister’s argument that the current inflation was due to external factors. He said according to IMF, the global inflation, which peaked at 6.27 per cent in July 2008, had come down to around 1.3 per cent by August 2009, with the inflation rate in emerging economics falling from 9 to 4.3 per cent in this period. However, in India the consumer inflation rate has increased. So the global phenomenon argument put forth by the government is a bogus argument. The factors are domestic.

The speakers said neo-liberal policies have caused an agrarian crisis and are eroding self-sufficiency. The main reasons behind high inflation, especially the rising food prices, are a weakening of the PDS, increase in fuel prices and forward trading, while unabated hoarding and speculation have added fuel to the fire. Big corporates have been allowed to enter the food market. There has been an increasing reliance on imports, often at exorbitant prices, erosion of self-reliance in food production and failure to control rise in prices.

The rise in prices has become a regular phenomenon, like flood and drought, Shyamal Chakraborty said. The anti-hoarding laws have been diluted, preventing the state governments from arresting and punishing the hoarders and black-marketers. Support prices are being so fixed that they are unable to compensate the production costs, but hoarders are paying more than the support price for an agricultural product. Talking of the administered hikes in water and water rates, fertiliser prices etc, he said these are having a cascading effect on the overall price situation.

On the other hand, the people of our country are reeling under abject poverty and 77 per cent earn below Rs 20 per day. Hence the demand for universalisation of PDS. If the government covers all essential commodities under the PDS at subsidised rates, prices in the open market can be compelled to go down, he concluded.

 

1984 RIOT

VICTIMS

Rajya Sabha held a discussion on a calling attention motion on relief to the victims of 1984 riots and the measures taken to punish the guilty. On this occasion, Brinda Karat of the CPI(M) recalled the situation then prevailing in high security Teen Murti area. A leader of the CPI(M), late Comrade Harkishan Singh Surjeet, then received a message from a security officer to leave his Teen Murti Lane house immediately. So we can well imagine what could have happened to the Sikhs in the non-security areas. Still, after 25 years, there is a widows camp in Tilok Bihar. The children of these widows see the killers of their parents freely roaming. Is this the price they have got for the sacrifices their predecessors made during the freedom struggle to free our country from the British? After the killing of about 7000 Sikhs in 1984, more than 3000 in Delhi itself, we witnessed the massacre of Muslims in Mumbai, Gujarat and other places. All this has clearly exposed the failure of our governments.

As for the demand of justice, Brinda Karat said, it is a cry in the wilderness. How many of the culprits were punished in these 25 years? Of the 72 police officers identified for connivance in the killing spree, 42 were in for immediate dismissal. But none was dismissed; some were rather promoted. Some of these were exonerated due to lack of evidence. And now the powers that be are talking about closure of the 1984 cases without any punishment to the killers!

In this connection, the member referred to what the then chief minister of West Bengal, Jyoti Basu, firmly told a large Sikh gathering in a Gurdwara in Kolkata: “We are here, Left Front is here. If anybody dares to touch our Sikh brothers, we will shoot him. Nothing will happen here,” he assured. 

On the compensation issue, she said it is no alms; it is a right. The victims of 1984 were mostly poor workers, middle class and petty businessmen. But they got only Rs seven lakh each in Delhi, as against Rs 32.5 lakh each outside Delhi. Giving a list of the victim families, she said many of them are facing acute debt burdens. Who will wipe their tears, she asked.  Demanding a house to house survey on the condition of victim families, she insisted on proper compensation and punishment to the perpetrators of violence irrespective of their status. 

On another occasion, Brinda Karat raised the issue of revelations about the terrorist David Hedley’s antecedents and status of FBI’s cooperation with Indian intelligence agencies. She said some reports revealed that Headley, whose real name is Daood Saleem Gilani, was arrested in New York in 1997 for importing heroin into the US but was released later as he began to cooperate. Thus he became an agent for US Drug Enforcement Administration since 1999. Later he started working for the Lashkar and visited India in April 2009. Why were Indian intelligence agencies unaware of Headley’s visit? Why were Indian investigators being denied access to Headley? Did our prime minister raise the issue when he met the US president in Washington? The government must clarify these issues, she demanded.

 

OTHER

ISSUES

Lok Sabha has passed the Supplementary Demands for Grants (General) 2009-10. Rising to speak on the subject, Banshagopal Chowdhury, CPI(M), highlighted the point that actually the job loss due to recession is much more than what the government admits. The economy is badly suffering due to wage cuts and job losses in export oriented industries. The stimulus packages released from the exchequer have helped the entrepreneurs only, he added.

In course of his intervention, Chowdhury talked of the gradually weakening role of the state to facilitate the interest of big corporates, inflation and price rise, and a host of other issues. He said in India taxes and duties accounted for nearly 50 and 25 per cent of the rise in petrol and diesel prices respectively. Whether the finance minister is prepared to lighten the burden of these taxes and duties to benefit the general public, he asked. The so-called resources mobilisation from PSU disinvestment and privatisation is but a largesse to the capitalists. Resources, he said, need to be generated through more direct tax collection from the rich and collections from defaulters. 

During the Rajya Sabha discussion on the Appropriation (No 4) Bill 2009, Mohd Amin of the CPI(M) objected to the finance and taxation policies of the government. He said the government talks of the common man but serves the capitalists. While giving the latter billions of rupees in tax bonanzas, it says it has no money for the people. This hoax is inbuilt in capitalism. He recalled how the big leaders of the Congress once promised to distributes land among the peasantry, adding that now they do not even talk of land reforms. If only they had implemented radical land reforms, much of the present economic crisis would have been mitigated. Peasants could have money and their purchasing power could increase, giving boost to factories, increasing employment and thus leading the nation to prosperity. In the absence of land reforms, now the factories are being closed. 

During his intervention, Mohd Amin also raised issues like rising prices, mess in the PDS, growing misery, peasant suicides, and several other issues.  

In the same house, Tapan Kumar Sen, CPI(M), raised the issue of countrywide protest and demonstrations by central trade unions against price rise and the government’s inaction on this issue. Talking of the stimulus packages for the corporates and ongoing retrenchments of workers in the name of recession, he said it is deplorable that the government gave Rs 4,20,000 crore concession to the corporates in the name of tax relief, while it is refusing to spend only 70,000 crore per annum to contain the price rise. The rulers are also refusing to slam a ban on speculation in commodities, which is responsible for this backbreaking price rise. If the government does not act, people will be compelled to go in for further action, he warned. He urged the government to effect complete reversal of the policy direction in order to contain price rise, ban speculation in commodities, universalise the PDS and ensure total implementation of labour laws.

Rajya Sabha has passed the Competition (Amendment) Bill 2009. From the CPI(M) side, P Rajeeve and Moinul Hassan said the bill would transfer cases from the MRTP Commission to the Competition Appellate Tribunal that will actually have the appellate jurisdiction only. In the MRTP Act, there was no fee for filing an application, which enabled several organisations and individuals to approach the commission for remedy. But, with the lowest fee of Rs 50,000, the new act curtails such rights of consumers and petitioners. The Competition Act 2007 had removed the provision for setting up regional benches also. There are no provisions to appoint part time members for speedy disposal of cases. Now the government is opening up all sectors for private monopolies; small retailers are being thrown out. But the commission is silent. In Europe and other parts of the world, besides hefty fines, jail sentences were awarded to the companies which are found violating the competition norms. But in our country, fine is the maximum punishment in the latest bill. It is time we control the monopolies and ensure fair competition. The members also demanded measures for speedy disposal of the pending cases and a new act to protect the country’s interest.  

On the National Rural Employment Guarantee (Amendment) Bill 2009, Brinda Karat reminded the Rajya Sabha that the earlier UPA government had passed the law with support from the Left. It was for the people’s right to life. On the finance minister’s assurance that wages would be increased to Rs 100 and real wages given, she said there are 20 states where the wages are at present less than Rs 100. Now that the government has decided to raise the wages, it should not be reduced wherever it is already above Rs 100. On the schedule of rates, she said no independent measurement is being conducted of women’s work that must be paid at a separate time rate. We must also reduce their workload. There must be no compromise on the schedule of rates and the wages under NREGA, she emphasised, also demanding that the conditions like only one member from a family or of 100 days work must be abolished. Works of regular cultivation must not be brought under the NREGA. The scheme relating to re-plantation on the plots of small and marginal farmers must be included.

Lok Sabha adjourned sine die on December 18, three days before the schedule. This unusual winding up of the winter session was due to the pressure from a UPA partner. TMC members vociferously interrupted the discussion initiated by Basudeb Acharia on the Maoist attacks, and the house was abruptly declared closed. Before that, some bills --- viz the Commercial Division of High Courts Bill, Civil Defence (Amendment) Bill, Salaries and Allowances of Ministers (Amendment) Bill, Trade Marks (Amendment) Bill and Legal Metrology Bill --- were passed by voice vote in the melee.