People's Democracy

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


No. 20

May 16, 2010


The Week In Parliament

­Subhas Ray


THE last week of April was dedicated to financial business in both houses. In Lok Sabha increases in the prices of essential commodities, petroleum products and fertilisers were the issue on which the Left and other opposition parties walked out for three consecutive days. There was a division on cut motions moved by the Left and other parties when a large number of demands for grants were guillotined. In the voting on finance bill on April 29, the Left parties’ amendments were defeated by voice vote. The Left and other parties registered their protest over the price increases and walked out during the voting. 




Monday, April 26, saw a ruckus in both houses parliament when the opposition brought the issue of tapping of political leaders’ telephones. They called it “unethical, unconstitutional and shameful,” subverting the democratic system and breeding an atmosphere of illegality in the higher echelons of governance.

During the discussion on phone tapping, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said it affects probity in public life and undermines the foundations of our parliamentary democracy and constitution. In a judgement in 1997, the Supreme Court had clearly stated that if not done in accordance with the law and laid-out procedure, it is violative of articles 19 and 21. Yechury asked: are we today exercising restraint about not misusing the provisions of Indian Telegraph Act of 1882 which is an anachronism in today’s modern world? The Supreme Court has specified five circumstances in which tapping is permissible. But phone tapping for political reasons is not in the interest of the country or of parliamentary democracy. The information is that the tapping related to the 2G spectrum scam. It is confirmed that licenses were given to certain firms, who later sold them to foreign telecom players for huge amounts and thereby got windfall profits. Yechury emphatically said the information from authorised tapping is not used to clean the system but information from unauthorised tapping is used to score political points. This cannot be allowed to continue. It is high time the anachronistic 1882 Act is suitably amended and brought in tune with the modern times. 

Yechury also accused two Israeli companies, working in India, of being involved in phone tapping, saying this is a serious problem for internal security.




During the Lok Sabha discussion on finance bill, CPI(M)’s Bangsa Gopal Chowdhury said the budget has increased the burden of indirect taxation on the poor and middle classes. The rate of food inflection in the country is around 18 per cent. Mobilising substantial revenues from customs and excise duties on petroleum products is hitting the public while the government has failed to collect taxes from the corporate sector. The member stressed the need to undertake a comprehensive review of the desirability of tax duty exemptions to SEZs.

P Karunakaran, CPI(M), said the last budget gave a special stimulus package and tax exemption of Rs 8,000 crore to the corporate sector. It is continuing even today. Excise duty has been reverted from 8 to 10 per cent on non-petroleum products and from 5 to 7.5 per cent on petroleum products. The finance bill itself reflects that it is not for the people. The government follows a retrograde tax system of decreasing the direct taxes and increasing the indirect ones, while failing to address the issue of price rise. The member also demanded a ban on the online lotteries or else they must be under the control of state governments.

During the Rajya Sabha debate on Appropriation (No 2 & 3) bills, Moinul Hassan, CPI(M), said he failed to understand the government’s priorities as to whether the unprecedented price-rise must be checked or tax exemption given to the corporate sector. Though it said there is 20 per cent decline in food inflation, nobody has felt it. While the Appropriation (No2) Bill provides for payment of debt, there is no provision to create any assets for the common man.

The member also pointed out how there is ample scope to enhance the direct taxes. This is the time the government must wind up the stimulus packages, and waive the loans owed by farmers.  As per a Reserve Bank report, more than 50 per cent of the farmers are in the debt trap. So there is structural imbalance in the budgetary system, Hassan emphasised.

In the course of his intervention, Hassan also referred to the FRBM Act, the sale of oil bonds and fertiliser bonds, the scam involved in IPL, employment generation, food security, fiscal deficit and some other issues, stressing that the government must manage the financial system adequately and for the common people’s benefit.

Rajya Sabha had a discussion on the working of the ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution, when the CPI(M)’s Brinda Karat lambasted the government for its wrong policies weakening the public distribution system, the very lifeline for the poor. The main culprit is the targeting system in which the poor are divided into APL and BPL categories on the basis of inappropriate criteria. This has reduced the food allocation for the poor by up to 70 per cent, tremendously increasing malnutrition among them. She insisted that the Food Security Act must be preceded by adoption of a suitable methodology to estimate the number of BPL families. She also opposed the direct cash transfer programme, saying it cannot guarantee food security, asking the minister to reconsider it.

Self-help groups and panchayats should be involved in PDS revamping, she insisted. In view of rapid price fluctuations in the market, she suggested that the concept of minimum support price must be given due consideration and increased for all commodities. In spite of having adequate buffer stock, subsidised allocations have been reduced for APL sections. State governments are repeatedly demanding their restoration. The government provides subsidised loans to farmers from the Sugar Development Fund but through the sugar mills. These loans must be given directly to farmers. The member also demanded payment of dues to the FCI and its strengthening, and ban on futures trading in essential commodities.




Rajya Sabha has passed the Plantations Labour (Amendment) Bill 2008. Joining the debate, Tapan Kumar Sen said the bill’s provisions are not consistent with its Statement of Objects and Reasons. The bill is supposed to address the issue of safety in the plantation sector, but the surveys made by trade unions show that exposure to chemicals and pesticides in the sector is creating problem for the workers. It is creating even mental retardation among the workers, leading to widespread drunkenness by which they are losing hard-earned money and their families get pauperised, run after moneylenders and ultimately fall in a debt trap. The penalty provision is inadequate to compel the employers to abide by safety requirements. Plantations are normally located in remote areas where state government hospitals are not accessible. So garden hospitals must increase in number to take due care of the workers.

Sen said plantations are in no crisis at all; they are projecting a crisis only to rob the workers of their legitimate due. The commerce ministry and labour ministry must move in unison to see that workers get a better share of the wealth they create. Unless there is an effective monitoring mechanism in the sector where workers are extremely weak, they will continue to be the victims of exploitation. There was a wage board for plantations in 1966; thereafter there is none. The government must address this anomalous situation and immediately constitute a wage board to address the wage issue, while checking the labour law violations.




On May 3, the involvement of a union minister of state, belonging to Trinamul Congress, in illegal arms deal from Bangladesh rocked the parliament; these arms were meant for use against the CPI(M) in West Bengal. However, in Lok Sabha, in order to divert attention, Trinamul MP, Sudip Bandopadhyay, abused and menacingly advanced towards the CPI(M)’s Basudeb Acharia. Demanding an apology from the MP, CPI(M) members rushed into the well of the house and shouted slogans against this hooliganism. This led to adjournment of the house.

On May 4, the CPI(M)’s deputy leader P Karunakaran sent a notice of suspension of question hour, demanding that the house reprimand the Trinamul MP. In order to maintain the sanctity of the house, the speaker reprimanded the MP for his “unbecoming” behaviour. Acharia too did not insist on an apology from Bandopadhyay. But an obstinate Bandopathyay challenged the chair to show the record of the day’s proceedings. As unparliamentary words and threats are not recorded, he only made himself a laughing stock. However, he succeeded in diverting attention from his party’s involvement in arms deal.

Raising in Rajya Sabha the issue of illegal arms purchase by a minister, Moinul Hassan, CPI(M), said one central minister had himself told a press conference that he had paid Rs 1.20 lakh through a partyman to a Bangladeshi arms dealer to buy arms. This minister and his colleagues are trying to destabilise the law and order situation in West Bengal. These arms were used in bank dacoities in Howrah district and also by the Maoists. Hassan insisted on an inquiry into the taped conversation between the minister and the arms dealer as it concerns national security. Demanding stern punishments for those purchasing arms from across the border, he asked the government to come out with a statement on this issue.

The railway minister’s absence from the house also created hullabaloo in Lok Sabha. The entire opposition demanded the minister’s presence in the house on the issue of motormen’s strike and condemned the use of ESMA against them.

Amid pandemonium, the government passed The Employees’ State Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2009; the Payment of Gratuity Bill 2010 and the Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Bill 2010 within minutes, without discussion.

On May 5, Lok Sabha witnessed eyeball to eyeball confrontation between Ananth Kumar (BJP) and Lalu Prasad (RJD). During the discussion on the parameters of conducting the census 2011, Ananth Kumar accused the RJD leader of being “a traitor to the country,” alleging that Lalu was sympathetic to illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. With this, all hell broke loose as RJD and SP members rushed down the aisle, protesting furiously and demanding an apology from Kumar. In a sharp rejoinder to Kumar’s remarks, SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav accused the BJP of having a “poor track record” of patriotism. BJP leader Susma Swaraj apologised on Kumar’s behalf.




The CPI(M)’s Moinul Hassan and T N Seema participated in the Rajya Sabha discussion on the ministry of home affairs’ working. Hassan said naxalism is today a serious threat to the nation’s internal security and we all must face it unitedly. Allocation of fund for modernisation of the police forces and also for curbing infiltration and drug racketing in the border areas is not sufficient to tackle the present situation. Border management is inadequate and fencing work still incomplete. Plan allocation for it is very small. Hassan stressed that common people are being harassed in the name of border management. Border development is under two ministries while it should be under one ministry for proper management. He appealed to the home minister to tackle the Maoist killing spree in West Bengal. A comprehensive legislation must be brought for the refugees. There must also be plan allocation for the Narcotic Control Bureau to check drug trafficking and abuse.

Seema made her maiden speech on the day. Referring to the annual report of home ministry, she said the rate of crimes in the country has increased, particularly of those against women, children, SCs and STs. Sex ratio is declining. Communalism continues to be a matter of great concern. We have many laws but the enforcement is very ineffective. Victims do not get justice. The police, with colonial mindset, do not register complaints. The system is corrupt and incorrigible, demanding urgent police reforms. We have to go in for some innovative schemes to ensure people’s participation in the police functioning at local level. Seema described the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act as inadequate for handling different kinds of human trafficking in and outside India, urging the minister to strengthen the law and make coordinated efforts to put an end to the poor victims’ sufferings. The government must consider honour killing as a major crime and include it separately in the annual report of the ministry. She also demanded a minimum Indian identity for lakhs of Indians who are working abroad through their inclusion in the census.




Brinda Karat, CPI(M), strongly raised the issue of revelations by agencies on bomb blasts in Ajmer dargah and Mecca Masjid, Hyderabad. She said according to investigations, groups acting in the name of Hindutva committed these blasts in these places of worship. Similar groups were involved in the Malegaon and Modasa blasts in 2008. But the government immediately linked the blasts to members of the Muslim community. Blaming Muslims has become an automatic reaction. It is gravest injustice to the community and it helps terror groups as the credibility of our investigation gets compromised. The arrest, torture and incarceration of 75 Muslim youth in Hyderabad in 2007 and later in Malegaon in 2008 were shameful. Demanding fresh probe into the Mecca Masjid blasts in the light of new evidence, she insisted on compensation for these youth and an inquiry into the network of groups committing acts of terror in the name of Hindutva in different parts of the country. 

Earlier, opposing the introduction of the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill 2010, Basudeb Acharia said allowing foreign direct investment in higher education and foreign teaching staff into the country will distort our already elitist educational structure. It will make education more commercial, without any regulation and control over such institutions. He said the government is seeking to centralise all powers in the sphere to the detriment of the states. One notes that this bill was sought to be introduced in Rajya Sabha in 2007, but the government could not do so because of stiff opposition from the Left.

On May 6, Lok Sabha discussed the need for specific parameters of conducting the census. Participating in the debate, the CPI(M)’s Ram Chandra Dome said our country is a democratic secular republic and we cannot support any division on the basis of caste, creed and religion. Our plans, policies and programmes are made on the basis of exact composition of the people. But reservation has the constitution’s sanction. We are for a casteless and classless society but are carrying the legacy of the past. It is unfortunate that the caste system is still continuing, needing enumeration on caste. So the government must formulate a mechanism to include OBCs in the enumeration process to make it meaningful.

On May 7, last day of the budget session, Lok Sabha witnessed a walkout by Left and BJP members opposing the introduction of Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010. Opposing the bill lock, stock and barrel, Basudeb Acharia and Ram Chandra Dome termed it as unconstitutional, saying it violates article 21 of the constitution. The bill violates the Supreme Court judgement which said the polluter pays the damage. The right to life is a fundamental right of a citizen but the bill compromises one’s right to claim adequate compensation.