People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIV

No. 36

September 05, 2010

THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT

Subhas Ray

 

LOK SABHA passed the contentious Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill on August 25. The Left parties fought it tooth and nail in the house, forcing division on a number of amendments to the obnoxious bill. CPI(M) leader Basudeb Acharia described it as pro-US, saying it was drafted primarily to serve the US demands at the cost of potential Indian victims even after having full knowledge of the Bhopal catastrophe. Referring to the commitment made by external affairs minister about two years ago in a letter to the US under secretary of state, William Burns, Acharia said the billís focus is not on the potential victims but on the interests of US nuclear operators and equipment suppliers. Today we have the capacity to generate 4000 MW of nuclear power and the government does not have to surrender to equipment suppliers or operators. Then, he asked, why do we need this legislation? 

 

COUNTRY

KEPT IN DARK

The speaker said our target for nuclear power generation by 2035 is 40,000 MW, for which we have developed three-phase technology from uranium to plutonium to thorium. But importing 40 atomic reactors would block our indigenous development of nuclear plants based on thorium which is abundant in India. This will make us permanently dependent on imports. As for supply of reactors, we do not know whether there was international bidding for it. Parliament was kept in dark about their price and the cost of generation. The entire country was kept in dark. Acharia also warned that a nuclear accident is not like other industrial accidents, adding that the third generation of Bhopal gas victims is suffering from various ailments today, even after 26 years. 

Taking the bill clause by clause, Acharia said clause 6 imposed a cap on compensation. But there is no cap in South Korea, Sweden, Japan, Russia, Germany, etc. We have seen how President Obama extracted heavy compensation from British Petroleum for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. About his amendment for raising the cap, the speaker asked why the operatorsí liability for accident compensation should be Rs 1500 crore and not Rs 10,000 crore if a reactor is of more than 10 MW capacity. Acharia insisted on acceptance of this amendment.

Under the present Atomic Energy Act, only a government or public sector company can operate a nuclear power plant. But clause 7 of the bill sought to facilitate the private sectorís entry in this field. However, the government has kept the operatorsí liability low and is thus out to subsidise them. 

About clause 17, Acharia said it was amended further and when there was a suggestion in the standing committee for strengthening the clause, the government surreptitiously added the word Ďand,í which changed the entire meaning of the clause. Then, after an uproar, the government removed the word Ďandí and put another word Ďintentí which further weakened the clause. But who will be able to prove a supplierís intent? The governmentís intent, of course, is to indemnify the supplier because of outside pressure. The speaker then wanted to know why the government is making one change after another to absolve the suppliers. Moreover, the government intends to join the convention on supplementary compensation which protects the suppliers. Acharia warned against this move.

 

KASHMIR

SITUATION

On August 26, Lok Sabha had a discussion on the Jammu and Kashmir situation. Condoling the victims of police firing in the state, P Karunakaran, CPI(M), strongly condemned the killing of innocent people including children there. The force was used for mere stone pelting, and nobody can justify the use of bullets for mere stone pelting. The member said there was fierce political unrest, with thousands of protesters forcing the police and CRPF to retreat. The situation has worsened in the last three months. The J&K youth are badly alienated from the mainstream, with little faith in the state administration or Indian government. Why has such a situation occurred, Karunakaran asked. This needs serious pondering. In the last two years, we witnessed massive participation of people in the assembly and Lok Sabha elections. An elected government came in power in Srinagar. Then, why has the government failed to utilise this popular support to strengthen the national unity? This needs consideration.

Earlier, at a round-table conference on Jammu and Kashmir, the prime minister promised zero tolerance on human rights violations. All political parties participated in that conference; many issues came up for discussion. But no action has been taken so far on the numerous instances of human rights violation. Now it is not just a law and order issue in Jammu and Kashmir; the state is reeling under political uncertainty. Though the Omar Abdullah government made a good beginning, the situation suddenly turned against the administration due to the unfortunate steps taken by security forces. Violence is now taking place on a large scale. The government miserably failed to deal with the situation with patience. When the situation became uncontrollable, it deployed the army and imposed curfew. Yet protests are taking place in the valley. The need of the hour is to start a dialogue with all the sections in Jammu and Kashmir. Karunakaran said there can be no progress towards a political solution without restoration of maximum autonomy of the state and regional autonomy for the three regions within the state. Maintenance of law and order in the valley is important, as the state adjoins Pakistan. But without regaining the peopleís confidence it is not possible to control the situation through security forces only. Karunakaran also demanded that an all-party parliamentary delegation must visit the state to create confidence in the people.

 

DISABLED

CITIZENS

In Rajya Sabha, Brinda Karat, CPI(M), moved a Calling Attention Motion on the discrimination faced by disabled citizens and need for an administrative-legal framework to meet their requirements. She said the disabled in India suffer from multiple discriminations. But there are anomalies in our approach and in the administrative-legal framework. The first discrimination is that the numbers of the disabled are gross underestimations. This is because in our censuses and statistical calculations we did not have a sensitive approach to recognise disability or a mechanism to count them. According to the census, there are 2.9 crore persons with disabilities but other estimates say they are not below seven crore. If the counting is wrong, then definitely the allocation we require and the policies we pursuing also go wrong. Referring to her own private memberís bill, she said the word Ďdisabilityí should also be added in the constitution where it prohibits discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Otherwise, there will be missing the legal aspect of holding accountable those who discriminate against the disabled. 

The member said we look at the disabled as objects of charity. We have got so many laws but, she asked, is anybody held accountable under a single law for discrimination against the disabled? They face inbuilt barriers. Shops, hospitals etc are not disabled friendly. Hence the constitution has to ensure constitutional guarantee against discrimination against disability. 

The laws in our country still look at disability as a medical problem. It is a problem of definition. There are different types of disabilities and, within the framework of rights of the disabled citizens, we have to look at the specific needs of individuals suffering from specific types of disability. It is good that the government has accepted the demand for a separate law instead of going in for amendments to the present laws. The eleventh plan talked of fixing three per cent of all funds for the disabled, but it is not implemented. Anomalies in the constitutional, legal and administrative structures, which act as worst types of barriers for the disabled, must be removed. Identification of the disabled must be made simpler. A universal identity card must be provided so that disabled citizens can access their rights anywhere in the country.

 

MEDICAL

COUNCIL

Rajya Sabha had passed the Indian Medical Council (Amendment) Bill 2010. From the CPI(M) side, P Rajeeve and Brinda Karat participated in the discussion. According to Rajeeve, the prevalence of corruption in the Medical Council of India showed the ministryís failure in governance. The central government was fully empowered to remove the president or any member of the council, but it did not take any steps to remove the corrupt Dr Ketan Desai from the MCI and allowed him to continue as president even from the jail. If the government had acted upon the Delhi High Court judgement of 2001, dissolution of the council could have been avoided. The government was not ready to implement section 30 either. Health is a state subject and the government should have discussed it with the state governments before dissolving the MCI. The unilateral action of the central government is a threat to the federal character of our country. Institutions like MCI are products of progressive initiatives but the government has always tried to curb their autonomy and accountability. 

The member said the bill intended to curtail the democratic character of the council. Official members of the council have no accountability; six of them have been vested with the authority of the government. They have been given the powers to give final orders. Some members represent the private sector. Private institutions are now main players in health sector. The Medical Council may become their handmaid. Opposing the bill, Rajeeve also pointed out that the existing structure did not reflect the federal structure of our country. 

Brinda Karat said the bill set bad precedence by abolishing a councilís autonomy and it would be damaging to the federal character of our institutions. In the name of fighting corruption, they dissolved the council itself. The bill removed each and every single representative from the Medical Registers of states. It also removed all avenues of an appeal. Doctors in the Indian Medical Association are advertising products of multinational companies, which they know is unethical. If you talk of reforms, the member said this is an area where action is needed. 

 

OTHER

ISSUES

Rajya Sabha has passed the Indian Medicine Central Council (Amendment) Bill 2010.  Supporting the bill, CPI(M)ís Saman Pathak said the amendment to regularise the Unani and Sowa-Rigpa systems of medicine is very important. The Sowa-Rigpa is a traditional system, popular in the Himalayan areas where other medical facilities are not available. There should be scientific research and analysis with respect to these medicines. There should the representation of the states where the systems exist. In this regard, state institutes should get more facilities. 

Rajya Sabha has also passed the Jharkhand Panchayati Raj (Amendment) Bill 2010.  Participating in the debate, Jharna Das Baidya of CPI(M) supported the bill and said panchayats are an important political institution. Separated from Bihar in 2000, the state of Jharkhand is under the presidentís rule today. Jharkhand is rich in mineral resources but the people here are deprived of democracy. In this situation, how is it possible to work on the schemes such as Antyodaya Anna Yojna, Annapurna Yojna, NERGA? The problem of Maoism is also there. The state cannot function without panchayats and therefore panchayat elections, as also assembly elections, in Jharkhand must be held at the earliest.