(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 20, 2011
THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT
DURING the discussion on the motion of thanks on the presidentís address, Sitaram Yechury was the main speaker from the CPI(M) side in Rajya Sabha (full text of his speech has already been published in these columns) while Basudeb Acharia, Khagen Das and Saidul Haque participated in the discussion in Lok Sabha. CPI(M) members in both the houses moved hundreds of amendments to the motion of thanks.
During the discussion in Lok Sabha, Basudeb Acharia said the address was just a repetition of what was said last year on many subjects. It had very little to connect with the issues agitating the vast majority of our people. The steps of deregulation and privatisation have greatly enhanced the power of the corporate houses to decide the policy. The process of liberalisation has abnormally expanded the scope of venality and corruption in high places. Why did the entire opposition demand the formation of a joint parliamentary committee (JPC)? It was because of the wide ramification of the scam that had taken place. While incentives are being given to the corporate sector, there is a cut in the subsidy being provided to the poor people in respect of food. Crony capitalism and corruption are alarmingly increasing; corporate houses are dictating to the government on policy matters. Acharia also spoke on the high rate of inflation while the government has no political will to tackle the issues. He also referred to the Trinamul Congress being hand in glove with the Maoists in West Bengal.
Khagen Das said there was no mention of widespread malnutrition in the country where nearly half of the children under three years of age are malnourished, as per the National Family Health Survey. About half of the pregnant mothers are anaemic. Increases in food prices are becoming unbearable for the people. At the sane time, the largest democratic country is gradually becoming the most corrupt country. Das also said the motion made no mention of regional disparities. He demanded that the centre meet the genuine demands of the North East states.
Saidul Haque also talked of corruption and black money, suggesting how we can improve the situation with collective efforts. He also referred to the crisis in agriculture and the bungling taking place in the rural employment guarantee scheme.
The budget session saw the appointment of a JPC on the 2G spectrum scam. It consists of 30 members --- 20 from Lok Sabha and 10 from Rajya Sabha. The CPI(M) has nominated Sitaram Yechury as its representative on the committee. The winter session of parliament could have been saved if this was done earlier.
Speaking on the statement made by the prime minister on the appointment of the central vigilance commissioner (CVC), Sitaram Yechury put forward four queries. First, the present CVC was the secretary of telecommunication when the 2G scam took place. If we have instituted a JPC to inquire into that, why was this not taken on board? Second, the fact is that an investigation is already going on in the case connected with palmolein import. Why had the decision about JPC overlooked that fact? Third, why were the objections raised by one of the three members of the high-power committee on CVCís appointment overlooked? Fourth, is there any pressure? If indeed there is any pressure, the parliament must be told of it in the interest of the country so that we may fight against it together to ensure that our system is not compromised. He concluded by requesting the prime minister to take cognisance of these questions so that we may strengthen our parliamentary democracy.
Speaking on the supplementary demand for grants (railways) in Rajya Sabha, Shyamal Chakraborty made the point that though freight charges had not been increased in the budget, in fact the freight charges on some important items like sugar, salt, iron ore, steel, coal, coke and cement had been increased just before the budget session. For the last few months, suppliers have not been paid. The fund has been adjusted with the operating ratio. The dividend has been reduced. The finance minister allocated a large fund to the railways last year; it got a big amount from IRFC also. But who will pay this loan? The convention is that the railways pay a good amount of money to the general budget and it was an asset to the national economy. But now it has become a burden on the national economy.
With regard to employment, we have been listening for the last two years that exams would be conducted for filling up all the vacant posts. But recruitments are now going on unscrupulously, bypassing the railway recruitment exams.
Anarchy is prevailing in the finances of the railways. There is no finance commission for the last eight months and there is no managing director of the dedicated freight corridor. It is a dream project of the prime minister who laid the foundation stone for it in 2006, but no progress has been made in the project.
The member also spoke on the performance of the railways, pending projects of gauge conversion and of upgrading some stations to world class, multi-functional complexes. A number of announcements were made but nothing was done. On the one hand, it was announced that the railways are maintaining austerity and, on the other hand, a large amount of expenditure was incurred on laying the foundation stones.
In the same house, P Rajeeve questioned the authenticity of the rail budget figures and asked the prime minister to constitute a committee to look into these figures. While the railway minister had sanctioned 12 trains to Kerala, the rail budget did not mention the declarations made in the last three rail budgets. He urged the minister to provide more trains from Delhi to Kerala and increase the frequencies of Rajdhani, Sampark Kranti and Garib Rath trains. He also said there was no move to commence the work in the proposed site for the Palakkad coach factory.
In Lok Sabha, M B Rajesh too demanded that work on the Palakkad coach factory must start.
Opposing the railway budget, Dr Ramchandra Dome said the financial position of the ministry has touched the bottom line; the operating ratio claimed by the minister is nothing but a jugglery with figures. About 200 new projects were declared for Bengal alone in the last two rail budgets but a majority of these did not have the approval of the Planning Commission and few had had any budgetary support. As for employment, the minister said 1.75 lakh posts are vacant, particularly in Group C and D, but there was no recruitment drive in the last three years. Members from civil societies have been deployed just to benefit them but youth are not getting railway jobs.
During the Rajya Sabha discussion on the budget, Brinda Karat said the budget and the Economic Survey presented a blueprint to further deregulate the Indian economy and open up even crucial sectors such as agriculture or retail trade for the FDI and the corporates. The budget favoured the rich and behaved as if poverty is no longer a problem for our people. The member demanded that the government must reverse its deeply flawed neo-liberal policies which have created huge social inequalities and concentration of wealth. (See excerpts of her speech elsewhere in this issue.)
Bangshagopal Chowdhury pointed out that not even one concrete step was taken to combat inflation which the whole country is facing as a serious problem. The Supreme Court directed the government to distribute food grains among the common people but the government is silent about strengthening the public distribution system. The government is collecting Rs two lakh crore from the petroleum sector but the people of the country are being burdened with hikes in petrol and diesel prices. He accused the government of promoting crony capitalism.
A Sampath said many demands had been made regarding Kerala and the finance minister gave several promises, but nothing had been done for setting up an IIT or for Metro service for Cochin. The government is earning big revenue from the non-resident Keralites but not much is done for their rehabilitation when they return home.
Though the government claims to be serious about gender equality, the amount earmarked for women in budget is only 6.2 per cent.
In Lok Sabha, P Karunakaran raised the issue of the plane accident in Mangalore in which 164 passengers died due to the pilotís negligence. (Of these 164, 56 were from Kasargod district alone.) The government has formed a committee to probe it but no report has yet been submitted. The minister, Praful Patel, said Montreal Convention allowed a compensation of at least 75 to 80 lakh rupees for each dead passenger. But Air India and Indian Airlines have entrusted task of settling the insurance claims to the Reliance and till this date no insurance claim has been settled. Instead of giving full compensation, the company is bargaining with the families and saying that it would give only Rs 30 or 40 lakh per passenger.
P Rajeeve raised the issue of suffering of Indians in the Middle East, particularly Libya. Most of the passengers stranded in Libya were ladies. There was no proper mechanism to monitor the evacuation process.
On the International Womenís Day, Basudeb Acharia pointed to the governmentís failure to bring the women reservation bill to Lok Sabha even after a year of its passage in Rajya Sabha.
In Rajya Sabha, Brinda Karat said it is very shameful that today the women of India are not feeling safe anywhere. She made an appeal to the members of the house to take this struggle against violence on women to every corner of the country.
On March 11, several thousand peasants and agricultural workers from all over the country thronged the national capital against the faulty policies of the government, continuing price rise, cuts in subsidy on fertilisers and fuel, and the decline in allocation for agricultural and allied sectors. Mohd Amin raised their issues in Rajya Sabha, asking the government to take the call before it is too late.
Opposing the State Bank of India (Subsidiary Banks) Amendment Bill 2010, Susmita Bauri said the bill aimed to facilitate the merger of State Bank of Indore with the State Bank of India. But the real intention of the government is to downsize the public sector banks. Privatisation of the banking industry in India is the hidden agenda behind such consolidation. The necessity is not of consolidation of public sector banks but their expansion in order to serve the people, including peasants, by providing them cheap loans.