People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIV

No. 13

March 28, 2010

THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT

 

Subhas Ray

 

ON March 16 ended the first half of the budget session that had begun on February 22. Now the houses are to meet again on April 12. 

On March 15, the government wanted to introduce in Lok Sabha the anti-people “Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010.” In protest, a number of CPI(M) members, with support from others, submitted notices to oppose the bill at the introductory stage itself. This forced the government to rethink the bill. 

In the second phase of this budget session, Lok Sabha will discuss the demands for grants for various ministries like the railways, external affairs, defence, rural development, road transport, tribal affairs and water resources. Then it will taken up the finance bill for consideration. Rajya Sabha is to discuss the working of the ministries such as home affairs, tribal affairs, defence, power, chemicals and fertilisers, petroleum and natural gas, youth affairs and sports, women and child development, consumer affairs, food and public distribution, and housing and urban poverty alleviation.

 

BUDGET

DISCUSSION

On March 15, Rajya Sabha held a discussion on general budget, with Tapan Sen and Matilal Sarkar participating from the CPI(M) side. Sen said it was shocking to see the government’s inability to contain the price rise. In this house a number of times, cutting across the party lines, members have expressed concern on the common people’s suffering, demanding universalised PDS and ban on the futures trade. But the government has rejected both the demands; this reflects its insensitivity. There is a consensus on the need of corrective measures, but no such measures have come. The question is: How much will the PDS universalisation cost to the exchequer? As per an estimate, ensuring 35 kilogram food grains to 24 crore families in this country, will cost somewhere around Rs 1,44,141 crore a year, which is Rs 88,563 crore above the present subsidy. It is less than one fifth of the total revenue forgone amounting to Rs 5.2 lakh crore. It is less than half of the revenue forgone on corporate income tax and personal income tax together with the recoverable unpaid income tax by the corporates whom this concession has been given. The second point is about the banning the futures trade. It is not being banned because, according to the government, it is not contributing to inflation. Refuting this argument, Sen said if this speculation continues, price rise would also continue, whatever be the increase in production. We have buffer stock but the government is not releasing grains to ease the price situation. As for the long-term prospect of rise in agricultural productivity, the allocations for rural development, agriculture and allied activities, irrigation and flood control have consistently declined as a proportion of the GDP and also of the budget expenditure. Urea price has been increased, with the declaration that it will be totally decontrolled.

In respect of price policy, declaration has been made to totally decontrol the prices and link them to import prices in the name of parity. Can we expect an increase in agricultural productivity in that case? About 52 per cent of population, engaged in the agrarian sector, is facing a deep crisis, while the lakhs of urban workers and toiling people are no better.

Added to this is the petro price hikes, with no justification. Recalling the government’s May 22, 2006 statement on the crude prices and the subsequent steps taken, Sen said the government is seeking an imposition of the same burden back while saying that it is only restoring the earlier situation. He also recalled the parliamentary standing committee’s opinion that overdependence on petroleum sector for revenue generation is a disturbing trend, unanimously observing that “this disturbing trend needs to the reversed.” The revenue generation from petroleum sector was over Rs 77,000 crore in 2004-05 and Rs 90,000 crore in 2008-09, while the government is out to extract Rs 30,000 crore more. This must stop, as there are several other avenues for it if there is political will. Sen suggested a tax on the volume of trade in stock market as well as commodity exchange, which will give the government thousands of crore of rupees while discouraging speculation at the cost of the real economy.  

The basic question today is: Where are the increases in GDP going? Who are creating the GDP and who are appropriating its gains? The gains are being appropriated by a few, Sen charged. Price rise, we know, is one of the mechanisms to transfer wealth from millions to a handful of a few. In this regard, Sen pointed out the glaring disparity by referring to the figures given by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy that studied our corporate sector, covering around 80 per cent of it. In 2007-08, its profit increased many time over the wage bill. What does it signify? That those who are creating wealth are being expropriated in a more inhuman manner. This is creating an unacceptable disparity in the economy, thereby creating a threat to the sustenance of the growth pattern itself.

Apart from taking up a host of other issues including disinvestment, Sen warned that an opening of the retail sector to the corporates would create monopolies and marginalise lakhs of petty traders. Is it going to help the national economy in any manner, Sen asked.

Opposing the budget, Matilal Sarkar said the long years of Congress rule has caused immense damages to the nation. Citizens are unable to meet even their primary necessities. The sufferings of various religious and linguistic minorities have aggravated. Crores of people are deprived of the benefits of growth. As a result, forces of disintegration are raising their heads and misguiding our youth. The ruling party cannot escape the responsibility for it.

In comparison with China or Sri Lanka, Sarkar said, India is far behind in respect of life expectancy, children’s health, infant and maternal mortality rates, etc. Women in our country are deprived, overexploited, sick and anaemic. Yet there is only a paltry increase in allocation for women and child development, and only 20 per cent of it goes for child development. Sarkar, among other things, demanded the mid-day meal scheme in all states, allowances for widows and deserted women, three per cent of GDP for the health sector, more job creation programmes, and steps to increase the area under food crops cultivation.

 

OTHER

ISSUES

In Rajya Sabha, Brinda Karat of the CPI(M) drew attention to the pathetic condition of handloom and small powerloom weavers in the country. She said they are, after the farmers, most prone to committing suicide. They have demonstrated outside the parliament to protest against the government’s apathy, demanding loan facilities and inputs at subsidised rates to save their profession from getting ruined. Dalit Muslims don’t have the SC status; this amounts to religious discrimination. The member demanded reservations for Muslims on the basis of Mishra recommendations, and immediate steps to meet up the demands of the weavers. 

Protesting against the handover the passport related matters to private hands, Moinul Hassan of the CPI(M) said in no case must private vendors be given the sole right to accept passport applications. The government must keep its existing passport offices functioning for the public and the control of software must be in the hands of the government department which has the necessary technical expertise. The proposal to allow private vendors control over the software is unacceptable. Hassan also raised the long-standing demand of placing passport employees in Indian missions for handling the passport related work, the issue of pay parity for passport superintendent, other service matters, transfer policy etc, urging the government to look into these matters seriously. 

P. Rajeeve, CPI(M), drew attention to the denial of central financial assistance under the IDSS to mentally retarded children in Kerala. He said it is unfortunate and abominable that the central government has denied this assistance to the mentally retarded children who are studying in high schools. Financial assistance has been provided to the students who are under the “other disabililties” category but not to the mentally retarded students. In Kerala, around 5652 differentially abled students are enrolled for the SSLC examination this year; 1700 out of these are mentally retarded. Rejeeve then urged the government to discharge its mandatory obligation under the Disabilities Act 1995 and sanction financial assistance to the mentally retarded children who are studying in high schools.

T K Rangarajan forcefully demanded interest free education loans for students, saying there is no uniformity of rules in the sanctioning of education loans by nationalised banks. Many banks don’t follow the guidelines issued by the RBI and IBA, and demand a security or guarantee even for loans less than Rs 4 lakh, insist on payment of monthly interest, charge high rates of interest etc. Many poor but brilliant students either go to the NGOs for support or borrow money at high rates of interest, or else fail to pursue higher education. The member demanded that education loans must be interest free and the government must advise the nationalised banks to liberalise the education loan schemes. It must also consider the introduction of credit guarantee for such loans and subsidise a part of the loans disbursed by the banks to students.