(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
February 27, 2011
YECHURY'S SPEECH ON PRESIDENT’S ADDRESS
Crony Capitalism Breeds Corruption; Ruins future
Below we publish extracts of the speech delivered by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and leader of parliamentary party, Sitaram Yechury, in Rajya Sabha on February 23, 2011 while participating in the debate on the Motion of Thanks on President’s Address.
I RISE today to participate in the debate on Motion of Thanks on President’s Address with a deep sense of disquiet. The sense of disquiet emerges out of the fact that while we are today debating hon’ble President’s Address to the Joint Session of both the Houses of Parliament, lakhs of workers are outside on the streets of Delhi beseeching the Parliament of India to take remedial measures and to put the pressure on the Executive, i.e, Government to redress some of their grievances.
Lakhs of people are on the streets. They have not come here out of any desire to see Delhi; they have not come here on any sight-seeing; they left their families and travelled thousands of miles to be here in order to tell us that living conditions of our people are abysmally deteriorating.
This Government has achieved an impossible task. It has actually united all the trade unions across the spectrum. This is a task for which I would like to thank the government; all of them have come together today to Delhi to raise their specific issues which are absolutely essential for the living conditions of our people.
The President of India talks of a healthy and prosperous India, which is what her entire focus is about. A healthy and prosperous India is impossible without the workers and the exploited sections of our people’s wellbeing being taken care of. Therefore, the sense of disquiet begins with this, that while you have lofty declaration of intent in the President’s Speech, at the ground level, the living conditions of our people are getting increasingly deteriorating and more burdens are being put on them. That is why, again with a sense of very deep disquiet, I would like to say that this Speech of the President of India, all of us know, is a customary address, a balance-sheet, that she gives an indication of what would be done by this government in future. But, as Karl Marx had once said that history repeats itself; the first time it is a tragedy and then it is a farce.
DRIFT OF GOVT
This repetition is not only in terms of the priority that the President of India has outlined. I would read out to you the first sentence of what she said on 22 February, 2010. It says, “My greetings to you as you assemble here today for the first Session of both Houses of Parliament in the new decade.” This year, the first sentence of what she said is, “I welcome you to the first Session of the new decade.” The same sentence is repeated! This government is in a sense of stupor. The government is unable to make up its mind when the decade begins! It is an amazing thing. The President’s Speech actually reflects a directionless drift that this government has been gripped in.
The President has outlined five priorities of her government. The five priorities are once again a repetition. The first one is, ‘to combat inflation and particularly to protect the common man from the impact of rising food prices.”
When this government took office in 2009, in an Address to the Joint Session the President says, “My Government is firmly committed to maintaining high growth with low inflation, particularly in relation to prices of essential agricultural and industrial commodities.” The same repetition. Two years ago you said the same thing and you say the same thing today. All of us know that the Speech of the President of India is vetted by the Union Cabinet and it is a text that goes from the government. So, it is the Cabinet that is repeating itself over and over again over these years.
What is that you are going to do in order to combat this inflation? There is not one concrete step that is being given here in order to combat inflation. We would like to know whether they are going to ban speculation in the essential commodities. It has reached to the tune of 15 lakh crores of rupees a year! The value traded in the forward trading and commodity exchange is today 1.5 times the value of your annual Budget! Why would anybody put value in speculative trading unless he makes profit out of this speculative trading? On that, there is not even a word in the President’s Address. Unless prices rise they cannot make their profits and unless you ban the speculative trading, it is impossible to control this runaway inflation.
Neither is there any mention of the fact of strengthening the public distribution system or the fact that you have today nearly 2.5 times excess foodgrains stock in your godowns. The Supreme Court has indicted this government by saying that if you cannot store your food, distribute it to the hungry. None of these have been referred to in the Address. The people are going hungry and the prices are rising. Even the fact that you have deregulated the petroleum prices has not found a place. Petroleum prices have been hiked 7 times in the last 8 months. And, at the time of deregulating of petroleum prices, the assurance given to the parliament and to the country was that there would be a relook at the tax structure.
The ad valorem tax on petroleum products continues. Today, we are told, we will know when the Budget comes, more than rupees two lakh twenty thousand crores is being collected as revenue from the petroleum sector. Now, if this is how you are actually sucking your revenues out of the petroleum sector, and then deregulate the prices and because of that the prices increase and burdens are put on the people, is there not a need for the government, if it is serious, about improving the living conditions of the people to have a relook at this? There is not a mention of that in the President’s Address.
Therefore, what I would like here to suggest is that if at all the President of India talks that if her government is sincere about the first of the five priorities that she has listed, where she talks of combating inflation, then, at least, on these three measures, we would like the government to answer. Will you ban speculative trading in essential commodities? The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has said that 70 per cent of the rise in global prices of food is because of speculation. At least, from that, we must learn. Will you ban the speculative trading? Will you release the excess food that is there in your stocks to the states to be distributed under the Public Distribution System? And number three, will you restructure the tax structures in the petroleum sector so that this rise in prices of petroleum products can be stopped? Unless this is done, there is no meat to what the President of India assures saying that this will be the first priority of this Government. So, this is the situation, as far as the first priority is concerned.
ROOT OF CORRUPTION
The second priority is about what President has said, “to address frontally the concern regarding the lack of probity and integrity in public life”. We have had big discussions on this. The leader of the opposition yesterday, in a detailed manner, told us of the deficits that this government is suffering from. When I came into the House, the only deficit we were talking about was the fiscal deficit. Today, we are talking of ethical deficit, we are talking of moral deficit, we are talking of governance deficit. I mean, there is no deficit in any one area, but, there is nothing to complain about deficits because you have deficit of everything, as far as this government is concerned. The ministers in the government are talking in cross purposes. When one minister resigned because of a scam in the 2G spectrum, the present minister is saying that there is absolutely no scam at all; there is actually zero loss for the government. When we talk of corruption in high places, it is not a question of individuals integrity. What we are questioning is the infallibility of the entire system, and you are creating a system of crony capitalism in our country where, one-by-one, these scams are coming up. You have the 2G Spectrum Scam, you have the Commonwealth Games Scam, you have the Adarsh Housing Society Scam, you have the IPL Scam, and now you have the Antrix-Devas Scam, which is mega scam of the mega scams, of which the details have appeared in the media. Now, if these scams are emerging with such rapidity, of course, there is moral degeneration; of course, there is ethical degeneration. But, the point is, how are we allowing our system to degenerate to such an extent, and that, I believe is because what we are promoting is not capitalism, but crony capitalism. The prime minister, on record, stated that India can ill-afford crony capitalism. And, it is this crony capitalism, that is being nurtured and protected today, which is leading to all these scams. You have talked of the black money. There is a lot of discussion going on. The President of India has given us some figures of showing increase in revenue through unearthing this black money. But, the point is, how were avenues created for this money to leave the country. What are you doing about those avenues? Are you going to plug them? You have this Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements with various countries. We had raised it right then at that point of time. We can understand the logic of not taxing by two countries on same corporate or individual the same tax, but you have Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements with countries which do not have the same tax. There is no Capital Gains Tax in Mauritius today. But, because the money comes in from Mauritius, you do not pay Capital Gains Tax in India as well. And, this sort of a thing is creating these routes for money-laundering, creating these routes for siphoning off money from our country. That has been created by the system.
That is why corruption cannot be fought today without fighting the entire trajectory of your neo-liberal economic reforms and that is where the government will have to take a serious look at it because corruption is not a moral issue only and I would like the treasury benches to keep this in mind. Corruption today is the siphoning off of money that we can use to improve the livelihood of our people. Imagine, Rs 1,76,000 crore is equivalent for two years of providing food to the poor. According to Sonia Gandhi headed National Advisory Council’s estimate, you would require Rs 88,000 crore to provide 35 kgs of foodgrains to every family in our country, including all the APL families. We can achieve food security in our country with that amount of money for two years continuously. We have passed a law giving the Right to Education in our country. There is a big dispute going on between the central government and the state government on who will finance this and what is the estimate to achieve, to convert this right into a reality? Both your Planning Commission and NIEPA, National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, have estimated that you require Rs 35,000 crore annually for the next five years to build new schools, to recruit new teachers, to provide for mid-day meals etc. What does Rs 35,000 crores for five years mean? It is Rs 1,75,000 crore. This estimate of Rs 1,76,000 crore will leave the country with Rs 1000 crore of surplus after providing education for all. So, corruption is not only a matter of moral degeneration. You are talking whether it is notional loss or actual loss. Notional loss is notional loss because like the prime minister said, ‘I have chosen not to collect this revenue.’ But the decision to choose not to collect that revenue means this: neither food security nor education for all. It is not an actual loss but the Government has chosen not to collect.
If the government has chosen not to collect, what is it doing? It is saying that we are giving incentives for greater tele-density; we are giving incentives for cheaper telecom services. But, where does the scam lie? Not in the voluntary admission by the government saying, “I am not collecting so much money.” The scam lies in the fact that the licenses to whom they were sold were sold within months for at least six times what they paid to the government. That is where the scam is. Today, if the tele-density is high, it is high in spite of the fact that those who are providing the tele-density had paid six times more to the original licensees. Today if the call rates are cheap; it is cheap because these companies who have paid six times more are giving it. Therefore, this argument that we have given it cheaper and we have not collected this money in order to give better services to the people is a false argument. The scam is involved in the way in which the market determined the rate of licenses six months after they were actually given to these people. But, there is another point. What do you mean by saying that I have chosen not to collect this money because I want to give incentives to the corporate. So, the money you have chosen not to collect is incentive for growth. You do not collect money and say that it is incentive for growth! Whatever little you spent on the poor, you say that is subsidies for the poor and it is bad for growth. Incentives for rich are good for growth. That means, what you do not collect from rich is also subsidy to rich. You are subsidizing the rich by not collecting from them. And, what you give to poor as subsidy, you say that it is detrimental to growth. What you do not collect from rich, you say that it is good for growth! Whom are we fooling? Today they are only in lakhs; tomorrow they will be crores outside this parliament.
(To be continued)