People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIV

No. 11

March 14, 2010

 THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT

 

Subhas Ray

 

THE first two days in this week were devoted to a discussion on the motion of thanks on the president’s address. From the CPI(M), Sitaram Yechury and Moinul Hassan in Rajya Sabha and Basudeb Acharia, Khagen Das and Saidul Haque in Lok Sabha participated. CPI(M) members in both houses moved hundreds of amendments to the motion of thanks. 

In Rajya Sabha, at the beginning of this week on March 4, the CPI(M)’s Brinda Karat raised the issue of pathetic condition of street vendors in the country. She said a very large section of street vendors of our country, who are around 2.5 per cent of the urban population, are women.  There is no place earmarked for them and the corrupt police and administration victimise them.  A national policy was formulated for them regard but it is not being implemented. She urged the prime minister to implement this bill with utmost sincerely.

In the same house, Moinul Hassan drew attention to the citizenship conferred on Indian artist, Maqbool Fida Hussain, by Qatar. He said this great artist is out of the country since 2006. Some right wing outfits targeted him and forced him to leave the country. But it is a shame that our nation is not in a position to give him adequate security. Hassan strongly urged the government to intervene and bring back Hussain who is now 95 years old. 

 

ROLE

OF MEDIA

In Rajya Sabha, members strongly criticised the role of print and electronic media in promoting ‘paid news.’

Raising this issue through a call attention motion, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury expressed anguish, saying the health of our system rests on the inviolable principle of people’s sovereignty. But the people’s sovereignty crucially depends upon unbiased information and proper flow of news to the people. The role of the Fourth Estate has always been very crucial in helping the people properly judge the government’s policies and decide who are capable of effectively governing the country. This issue does not affect the future of media only, it affects the future of our parliamentary democracy too. Conveyance of unbiased, unfiltered and objective news or information is the role the media is supposed to play. But this comes under severe strain with the emergence of the “paid news” syndrome.

Yechury said it is an alarming phenomenon because media now has a reach of staggering proportions. The corporatisation of media has led to a situation where this paid news business is not confined to any one organisation; we see the same houses owning print as well as electronic media. They are offering packages for projection of certain people in all forms of media.

This, Yechury said, distorts our parliamentary democracy in multiple ways. (a) The media ceases to be objective and distorts public perception. (b) It distorts the people’s electoral choices by giving undue advantage to those who can afford such news. (c) It manipulates democracy, negating equal access to all sections of the people. (d) It demeans the profession of journalism itself. Some journalists are well meaning, good journalists who have played a stellar role in shaping public policy and guiding the political parties for a betterment of the country and its people. But such journalists have now almost completely disappeared from this sort of system. In order to protect journalism, it is necessary to rescue it from corporate domination. The Election Commission of India has put in various restrictions in the name of free and fair elections. So poor parties like the CPI(M) cannot do wall-writing or put posters. We cannot speak after 10 p m as the Election Commission disallows it. But 24-hour channels can telecast all through the night for our opponents, as they pay for it. The minister has himself reported that according to an estimate, this paid news business crossed the Rs 1000 crore mark in Andhra Pradesh in the last election alone. But this is gross under-estimation. In Maharashtra, the cradle of this paid news business, it runs into thousands of crores.

This is nothing but distortion of democracy. If the corporatisation of media houses is not checked immediately, it will completely negate parliamentary democracy in our country. It is not enough to deliver sanctimonious lectures; something has to be done. We require serious effort for probity. Hence Yechury insisted on accountability and deterrent action, suggesting that the government institute an enquiry whenever such complaints come. It must also stop issuing ads to the paper or channel found indulging in such practices.           

 

STATE OF

ECONOMY

Speaking on the motion of thanks, Sitaram Yechury said the fight against terror is non-negotiable and there can be no compromise on it. But terror can’t be bracketed with a particular religion or region. The government must make sure that there is no discrimination between various terrorist activities that take place; all must be fought as something anti-national. 

Yechury drew attention to a contradiction as well. The prime minister says Maoist violence is the gravest threat to India’s internal security but a member of his cabinet denied Maoist role in perpetrating the attack the president referred to in para 2. This contradiction has to be settled.  

In politics, we recognise the principle of one man, one vote, one value.  But our socio-economic system continues to deny the principle of one man, one value. Even after 60 years of our constitution, the president’s address made us think about which direction we are taking. We have the illusion of a shining India and we have the reality of a suffering India. In 2004-05 alone, four crore people slipped below the poverty line due to health expenditures alone. Because of privatisation of health services, they cannot afford the health expenses. A shift of resources is continuously taking place towards the rich. Our growth involves lopsided distribution policies, making the rich richer and the poor poorer. We see the government could have collected Rs 1,20,000 odd crore as legitimate tax but that was not collected. If only it had collected this amount, it could have generated a very high number of jobs. Instead, it has been giving concessions to the rich, to the corporates, and impoverishing the rest or the suffering India. In our country, when prices rise, it is not the producer but the middleman who gains. Our peasantry is getting impoverished; common people are suffering high prices. What needs to be done, among other things, is to ban the futures trading in all essential commodities.

The Economic Survey tells us we have today 474.45 lakh tonnes in our godowns as against 200 lakh tonnes that we require as buffer. Why is the regime sitting upon this stock? Why can’t it release rice and wheat to the PDS so that prices could be controlled? Instead, it has reduced the allocation for APL category by a huge amount, nearly 75 per cent. 

As for the president talking about disinvestment, the budget aims at disinvestment of Rs 40,000 crore plus. But selling our assets to meet the expenditure does not make economic sense. What sort of India, then, will our youth inherit? Quality of the people’s life is the most important thing: in the final analysis, as Mahatma Gandhi said, it is to wipe every tear from every eye. But the president’s address did not in any way give us the confidence that India is moving in that direction.

Dealing with foreign affairs, Yechury said there is a certain shift in India’s position during the Doha round of talks under the WTO. There is greater emphasis on India’s strategic relationship with the USA. We oppose it tooth and nail even though we want our country to have good relations with everybody, he emphasised.

In the course of his speech, the member referred to the ‘one rank one pension’ principle, the National Judicial Commission, and the problems facing Indians, Keralites in particular,in the Gulf countries, etc.

 

NO HOPE

FOR PEOPLE

In Lok Sabha, Basudeb Acharia said the president’s address did not bring any hope to the people. Price situation is getting accentuated; farmers are committing suicide. The rich-poor gap is widening. Today, millions of our people are facing problems but there is no solution to the same. In fact, the UPA government has declared a war against the aam admi of our country. Food inflation once reached 20 per cent, which has never been in the last 26 years. There is no proper plan to increase food and pulse production. Universalisation of PDS is the need of the hour. There was no mention in the address of the corruption that we see today.

The president correctly referred to the Maoist extremists and their recent attacks in West Bengal where a large number of innocent lives have been lost. Most of those killed by the Maoists are tribals, agricultural labourers and poor peasants. Maoists are extorting money from traders, school teachers and employees. The prime minister has time and again publicly said left wing extremists are the gravest threat to national security. Referring to a number of examples as to how a UPA partner is aiding and abetting the Maoists, Acharia charged that they are hand in glove with this anti-national organisation.   

Acharia also demanded 10 per cent reservation for the educationally, socially and economically backward Muslim sections, saying the Ranganath Mishra report was placed on the table of the house but without any action taken report (ATR). In fact, it was West Bengal which first provided 10 per cent reservation for them.

Referring to the incessantly rising prices, Khagen Das lambasted the Parikh committee recommendation to decontrol the petrol and diesel prices and link them with the international prices. He said this recommendation it anti-people, will have disastrous consequences, and must be scrapped. Das also accused the government of encouraging speculation in the essential commodities by means of future trading, thus benefiting the hoarders and black-marketers. He demanded a ban on future trading in essential commodities, and universalisation of the PDS to give 35 kg of grains per family per month at Rs 2 per kg and to gradually increase the amount to 50 kg. Das strongly demanded modification of the BPL criteria so as to include all the poor families in its ambit. He also talked of the agrarian crisis, suicide by farmers, declining grain production during the last few years, indebtedness of an alarming 48.6 per cent of the peasant households per the 59th round the NSS in 2003. He demanded that peasants must be provided with cheap institutional credit at four per cent interest. The declining yields have to be arrested by subsidised inputs. The decision to decontrol the prices of fertilisers and institution of a nutrient based subsidy scheme are anti-farmer moves and must be withdrawn. Das also demanded a balanced approach to national development, in order to overcome the neglect of the North-East region which is leading to frustration and a strong sense of deprivation among the people there.