People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIV

No. 10

March 07, 2010

THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT

 

Subhas Ray

 

HAVING begun with the president’s address to a joint session of parliament on February 22, the first day of this budget session saw both the houses paying rich tributes to the late Comrade Jyoti Basu who departed on January 17, after the winter session of parliament was over. That the parliament paid homage to a non-member was a rare event in the history of Indian parliament. In Lok Sabha, the speaker said with Comrade Basu’s demise the country had lost a worthy son, a committed votary of the humanitarian values and a legislator par excellence.  His administrative acumen and political sagacity have left an indelible imprint upon the political canvas of this country. His absence will always be felt in many walks of life. The Rajya Sabha chairman said the country has lost an outstanding statesman, able administrator and a crusader of the cause of the toiling masses.   

On February 23, both the houses adjourned early, without transacting any business, as the opposition and the ruling party members were at the loggerheads over the rule under which a debate on price rise must take place. The opposition succeeded in getting the question hour suspended and, to censure the government, it put pressure on the government to have a discussion under an adjournment motion. In Lok Sabha, the CPI(M)’s Basudeb Acharia pointed out that allowing a discussion under Rule 193 (short duration discussion) without voting was of no use. Several times the issue was raised in Lok Sabha under the same Rule 193, but the prices were rising relentlessly. Therefore, the opposition wanted to warn and censure the government. The CPI(M) members in both houses walked out in protest.

To the question why the government is so insensitive to the issue of price rise, the CPI(M) members pointed out that about 40 per of the members are multi-millionaires and they are least bothered about the poor people. The CPI(M) members in both the houses exposed the government’s callous attitude towards the problem of price rise.

 

ABRACADABRA

RAIL BUDGET

On February 24, the rail minister presented her hocus-pocus rail budget to boost her own image at the cost of the railways, as there has been no accountability in the ministry for non-implementation of the various projects announced. About 90 per cent of the projects announced last year remain incomplete or have not started yet. There is no increase in revenue resources. Yet the minister did not hesitate to announce new projects though people wonder how many of them would ever see the light of the day. It is another thing that the railways have to bear the cost for her series of announcements, stone laying activities and propaganda.

As for this year, many of the projects she announced, like hospitals, power plants, a sports academy, schools, training centres, a cultural academy etc, are unrelated to the railways. Moreover, the rail budget has earmarked only two per cent of the total allocation for development purposes. That is why the Left parties termed the rail budget as abracadabra.

Nor is the minister a bit bothered about the safety and security of passengers, amenities for the passengers, laying of new lines, track renewal, rolling stock, new coaches and wagon procurement to meet the demands of industries and businessmen. As many as three serious rail accidents took place in the first month alone of this calendar year, while her tenures as the rail minister have been notorious for record numbers of accidents.

 

GOVERNMENT’S

CALLOUSNESS

During the discussion on price rise under Rule 193, expressing his concern, Basudeb Acharia said there had been relentless increases in the prices of food grains, edible oils, vegetables and pulses and spices. The food inflation at one point crossed the 20 per cent mark. But the central government tried to shirk its responsibility and sought to blame the state governments as if they decide the taxes, import-export policy, prices of petroleum products, etc. All these have a cascading effect and are the factors contributing to the price rise. Moreover, in the past, the centre retrogressively amended the Essential Commodities Act in order to benefit the traders and hoarders. It is systematically dismantling the public distribution system. Though the government tried to save its skin by also saying that the price rise is a global phenomenon, the fact is that India’s rate of inflation is the highest amongst the G-20 countries.

The government has also failed to build up a buffer stock of sugar though there has been bumper cane production in the country. We allowed exports at the rate of Rs 12 per kg and subsidy was given on the export of sugar, whereas the government later imported sugar at Rs 35 per kg. The profit was cornered by 33 mill owners only. Just because exports were allowed at a much cheaper price, their profit amounted to Rs 900 crore in one single year. The same thing happened with wheat whose import was allowed at unreasonable rates. But the government has no explanation as to why certain companies were allowed to export wheat. 

As for the plight of the peasantry, more than two lakh farmers have already committed suicide in our country. For the development of agriculture, Rs 25,000 crore was the financial target for five years of the Eleventh Plan, but the allocation for three years of the plan period has been only Rs 8,565 crore or just one third of the above figure. Only 40 per cent of the agricultural land is irrigated.

Referring to observations of various committees, Acharia said the poverty stricken population in the country is no less than 77 per cent of the total. That means 80 per cent of our population need subsidised foodgrains, pulses, edible oil, sugar and other items. There is thus an immediate need for universalisation and strengthening of the public distribution system. The government must release cereal stocks through the PDS by increasing the rice and wheat quotas for the states. Allowing futures trading has created havoc. That should be banned. In coordination with the state governments, the central government must launch a countrywide crackdown against hoarding and black marketing, forcing all private traders of food articles to disclose their stocks, Acharia demanded. He also demanded withdrawal of the hikes in diesel and petrol prices as well as in urea prices, while the move to decontrol the fertiliser imports and prices must be rescinded forthwith. Also, the government must inform the house as to what concrete steps it has taken to mitigate the people’s sufferings. 

In Rajya Sabha, Brinda Karat of the CPI(M) said the price rise is directly impacting crores of the poor and middle class people. No less than 90 per cent of the working people of our country are in the unorganised sector, and for them there is no provision of any dearness allowance or any compensation. In our country, malnutrition impacts in particular the women folk who are deprived of nutritious food. As a result, most of our women and children are anaemic and underweight. This is the future of our country, she lambasted. If you want a long term solution of the problem of price rise, change the policy, she emphasised. Thrust should be upon agriculture, rural development and infrastructural development. The main question before our country at present is self-reliance in food production. But even before this parliament session could begin, the government increased the price of urea and decontrolled the fertiliser imports and prices. The member demanded withdrawal of the Fertiliser Price Act and reopening of the closed fertiliser units so as to become self-reliant in fertilisers. As for sugar production, the member demanded that cane farmers should be helped and made the centre of our sugar price policy. She flayed the present sugar regime in which farmers and consumers are suffering whereas the profit of the sugar companies has increased. While there was a shortage of sugar in the country, the government did not make any buffer stock; rather it allowed subsidised exports. Demanding a White Paper on sugar policy, Brinda Karat said a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) must be constituted to clear the muck of deep-rooted corruption in the entire sugar policy and government orders. She also demanded an end to the policy of futures trading. Taxes and duties have a cascading impact on the prices, for which the government’s policies and tax structure are responsible. During the course of her intervention, the member also took up the issue of states imposing value added tax (VAT), as the central government is demanding so because it does not want to compensate for the VAT to the states.

On February 25, the government presented the Economic Survey 2009-10 in parliament. While talking of steep rises in prices in the coming months, the document recommended PDS dismantling, introduction of a “coupon system” for food and fertilisers, private investments in agriculture, foreign investments in health insurance and rural banking sector. 

In Lok Sabha on February 26, the finance minister placed a pro-rich and anti-people budget for the year 2010-11. Dubbing it as one of the worst budgets presented so far, entire opposition walked out in angry protest. In Rajya Sabha, the budget was merely laid on the table and the opposition did not get a chance to vent its anger.

After the presentation of general budget, both the houses were adjourned till March 2, and the week following it will have discussions on the motion of thanks on the president address, rail budget etc.