People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIV

No. 12

March 21, 2010

THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT

 

Subhas Ray

 

RAJYA SABHA passed on March 9 the Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill 2008, popularly called “Women’s Reservation Bill.” The earlier attempt to get the bill passed on March 8, the International Women’s Day, had failed as some fanatic members opposing the bill held the house to ransom. In the pandemonium, one of these members even attempted to cut his hand with a broken glass. These unruly members were ousted from the house by the marshals. The house imposed a ban these members’ entry for the entire budget session.  Ultimately, the bill was adopted after its consideration clause by clause. CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said they were very honoured to have enacted this legislation. Despite the fact that the ruling alliance does not have a two-thirds majority in this house, many others supported the enactment of this legislation. 

A prominent speaker during the discussion on the Women’s Reservation Bill was Brinda Karat of the CPI(M). Elsewhere in this issue we are reproducing her speech.

What is significant to note is that as usual the media, print as well as electronic, have ignored the contribution of Left parties in this bill’s enactment in Rajya Sabha. It is known that it is the Left parties that initiated the struggle for the Women’s Reservation Bill, as they did for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. But the media completely blacked out the news, just as they did in case of the Left rally in Delhi against the backbreaking price rise --- the biggest rally in recent times. One recalls the CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury’s calling attention motion in Rajya Sabha last week, thoroughly exposing how the “paid news” syndrome is undermining our parliamentary democracy.

Lok Sabha has passed the general budget 2010-11.  During the discussion, P Karunakaran of the CPI(M) expressing shock that the finance minister could take a regressive step like hiking the petro prices. It will have a cascade effect on the prices. Direct taxes are coming down and indirect taxes going up. The growth rate has declined from 7.22 to 6.7 per cent. Inflation has increased from 9.12 to 11.1 per cent. Export growth is negative, import growth has declined and the current account balance has deteriorated. Agricultural production has declined from 1.62 to 0.2 per cent. Prices of almost all the agricultural products and cash crops have gone down except rubber. There is increase in the prices of inputs like seeds and fertilisers, in the cost of healthcare, medical transport, etc. Bank credit has increased three times but who has benefited?  After talking of the government’s failure in procurement, faulty implementation of the Essential Commodities Act and the need of universalisation of PDS to control the prices and mitigate hunger, the member referred to the Kerala situation, where 25 lakh BPL families are getting rice at Rs 2 a kilo; the recent budget has increased the coverage to 35 lakh families. But there is 82 per cent reduction in the supply of rice for APL families. The central government has to change the attitude with regard to the PDS. He said six per cent of GDP should have been earmarked for education but it is only 3.23 per cent. For health, allocation should be at least three per cent of GDP, but it only 1.06 per cent. There is also the need to increase the allocation for ICDS.  The member reiterated the demand for an IIT in Kerala that has a hundred per cent literacy.  Kochi has become an industrial centre and needs a Metro rail network. He also demanded a special package of loan waiver for handloom workers, funds for renovation and working capital of handloom societies, 50:50 tax-sharing between the centre and the states, and a package for the NRIs. As regards disinvestment in 41 PSUs, no disinvestment should take place whether a unit is profit-making or not. The member concluded his intervention demanding withdrawal of hike in petrol and diesel prices.

In Rajya Sabha, Saman Pathak, CPI(M) drew attention To the hardships of tea garden workers and their families are facing. He said they are deprived of basic amenities needed for human being. The Plantation Labour Act was enacted in 1951 but it has failed to protect their interests.  These workers are being treated as bonded labourers. In tea gardens under private companies in North Bengal, particularly Darjeeling, their condition has not been improved despite the West Bengal government’s efforts. Pathak urged the government to include tea workers in BPL category, introduce PDS be in tea gardens and provide subsidised LPG connection to tea garden workers.

Through a special mention in the same house, P R Rajan, CPI(M), demanded restoration of rice quota for the APL people in Kerala. He said the allocation of rice for APL card holders there has been reduced from 1,13,420 to 17,056 metric tonnes against the requirement of 1,33,804 metric tonnes. The main reason attributed by the union government is the reduced off-take in earlier years. But now the off-take is almost 100 per cent. As Kerala agriculture is dominated by cash crops which contribute much foreign exchange to national exchequer and the food grains production is only 15 per cent of requirement, the centre is duty-bound to meet the food requirement of the people here. Rajan urged the government to at least restore the original APL rice quota for Kerala. 

Matilal Sarkar, CPI(M), forcefully demanded a separate High Court for Tripura, saying it is long overdue. Tripura is the second biggest north-eastern state region in terms of population. Moreover, about 85 per cent of the population comprise the weaker sections of the people. But Guwahati, the headquarters of High Court, is very far from Tripura. The state has a bench of the High Court at Agartala but it is unable to cope with the growing number of litigations. Sarkar urged the government to expedite the process. 

Moinul Hassan, CPI(M), raised serious allegations of corruption in the government agency for the Haj pilgrimage arrangements, describing the Haj committee as a mismanaged and failed institution. Right from 2002 till 2010, there has been no full-fledged Haj committee in India.  Last year, news of sale of 3,000 seats appeared in many newspapers. These seats fell vacant due to the last minute cancellations by pilgrims. The convention in such a case is that seats are filled with the waitlisted candidates. In practice, each vacant seat was sold for Rs 25,000 to 40,000.  Previously, private tour operators were involved but now a government agency is responsible for this type of corruption. Hassan urged the government to do something to stop it.