People's Democracy

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


No. 13

March 25, 2012




'Make People, not Billionaires the

Centre of Your Economic Policies'


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 March 19, 2012 while participating in the debate on the Motion of Thanks on President’s Address.


I RISE to speak on this Motion of Thanks on President’s Address with a deep sense of regret and disappointment. The hope of a resurgent India, that all of us have, and the President also referred to it a number of times in her speech, is somehow belied with the contents of this entire speech. It is also necessary to note the glaring omissions that the President has made in her Address. People of our country today are suffering from immense economic burdens being imposed by the continuous and relentless rise in the prices for more than four years now. There is no mention of how this will be controlled. It cannot be an excuse that this is a global phenomenon, therefore, we cannot have any way in which we can help our people and give them relief. It is very unfortunate that this Address is made without a reference to this issue. The second important issue is the fact that there are continuing distress suicides by our farmers. We had a debate in this very House. The agriculture minister suggested there should be a team of parliamentarians that should visit these areas to identify the actual causes. But that has not happened so far. But there is no reference to this very, very grave, unfortunate and inhuman practice of distress suicides continuing in our country in the President's Address. This is most unfortunate. There is a third very important omission. The prime minister's New Year's Address to the country contains five objectives or challenges, which he talks of, the country needs to meet. The President of India repeats those five exactly verbatim. This Speech is supposed to be a balance sheet of what the government has done last year and what the government intends to do in the coming year. What the President says is the exact repetition of all these five concerns, and this cannot be taken so lightly as to say that this constitutes the balance sheet. What are these challenges mentioned? They are livelihood security, economic security, energy security, environmental security and national security. These five have been left out, and in my opinion that is the third important omission that I was talking about.




I would quote from the Fundamental Rights of the Constitution of India. The security, that is connected and enshrined in Article 21, is the protection of life and personal liberty, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” If there cannot be any protection of personal liberty and life for the Indian people, what is the point in talking of all these other securities, about which, I will also talk later, but it is this particular Fundamental Right that is being violated in front of our own eyes every day and every minute. It is horrendous to see the incidents of rape that take place in the country’s capital. It is horrendous to see the decline and degeneration of law and order in all parts of the country, which are taking place under various pretexts. The very fundamental right to life and the fundamental right to liberty are being continuously threatened today all over this country and this is something that the President’s Address does not find even a reference. This is, I think, a very, very important issue that needs to be addressed, which, unfortunately, is missing. We have all been talking for years about what is called the criminalisation of politics. But what it is turning out to be is the politicisation of criminals. It is this tendency which has an important bearing on the future of Indian democracy, on the future of this very Constitution, on the basis of which, we are all here.


The security, that is fundamental to the existence of people in our country, is left out of these challenges, of these five securities, both by the President of India, who, as I said, repeated verbatim of what the prime minister said. Why do I say this? In the last one year, at least, we have lost more than fifty of our workers due to political violence, 23 have been raped, 513 women have been molested, 757 have been physically attacked, 4598 of our cadre have been removed from their houses, more than 40,000 have remained homeless and nearly 10,000 acres of land, that was distributed in land reforms in West Bengal, have been re-occupied by the former landlords. This is all against the established procedure of law which Article 21 guarantees. Now, that is the state I represent and we see this happening in front of our own eyes and there is no protection today. Article 21, which gives the right to life and personal liberty, is under siege by these sorts of politics, which have to be checked and that is important. Unless that security is provided to Indian people and Indian nation, all talks of prosperity etc. have no meaning.


The crux of the Constitution is that the ultimate sovereignty in this country remains in the hands of the people, and, we exercise that sovereignty as their elected representatives through the parliament. It is the duty of the parliament to raise these issues and protect the Constitution. Therefore, I am urging upon the government, and, through the government, upon the President to make amends on this particular issue, and, to make sure that references are made so that “her government”, as it is referred to, takes all appropriate measures in order to ensure the implementation of Article 21 in the right spirit and in the right content, and, such gross violations of human life and liberty are not permitted.




This brings me to the other matter, which is the crux of the constitutional provisions again, and, that is the essence of federalism. Article 1 of our Constitution says, “India, that is, Bharat, is a union of states.” Without the states, there is no India, and, that is the essence of Indian Constitution. That is how we begin the Constitution and that is the federal content of our Constitution. Now, the President has made a reference to the National Counter Terrorism Centre, the NCTC. When the National Investigation Agency (NIA) was discussed, and, all of us adopted the Bill in the wake of Mumbai terror attacks, the home minister, while replying in this House, specifically said that they would revisit this issue after six months on the specific issue of violation of states’ rights or encroachment of the rights of the states. This NCTC today takes away the right of policing from the states, and, this is something, which is violative of the federal principles of our Constitution. The President of India has made a reference to this, and, I have moved an amendment that this reference be deleted in the interest of Indian Constitution, Indian federation and the Indian union. It is not the only instance. You have moved some provisions, for Bills which are pending before us, for increasing the ambit of the Border Security Force, giving it the right of policing not only in the border areas but also in the entire border states. The fundamental right of the states in terms of law and order is being seriously encroached upon one by one, step by step, and, this is a very serious matter of Centre-State relations, which we cannot allow to be undermined, otherwise, our Constitution itself gets completely undermined. So, I think, this is something which needs an urgent correction and the  President will have to address to this point.


Let me now come to the substantive point as to why I said that I get up with a sense of despair and disdain. Come to these five challenges. Of course, on the challenge of national security, whether it is internal or external, there can be no dispute. And on that, this House as a whole, the country as a whole should rise as one man for protection of India’s national security, and, any terrorist attacks, any type of terrorism of any hue and cry is something which we cannot subscribe to, and, that has to be dealt with. It applies for all varieties. There is no dispute on that.




Coming to the issue of economic security, it has been virtually and unfortunately reduced to a question of the fiscal deficit in our country. Yes, the budget has been presented since the President spoke, and in the budget, it has been stated that the fiscal deficit has gone up to 5.9 per cent. But, what does it in quantum mean? It is five lakh twenty two thousand crore rupees. Yes, five lakh twenty two thousand crore rupees is the quantum of your fiscal deficit according to the budget papers. The same budget papers, for the same year, show us in a small booklet called ‘Statement of Tax Foregone’ that in the same year that we have incurred five lakh twenty two thousand crore rupees of fiscal deficit, we have given tax concessions worth five lakh twenty eight thousand crores of rupees. Now, tax concessions are what? Tax concessions are government’s decision voluntarily not to collect these taxes. It has not collected taxes worth five lakh twenty eight thousand crore rupees which were announced in the last budget, approved by the parliament. If those taxes had been collected, there would have been no fiscal deficit in our country. In fact, there would be nearly eight thousand crore rupees of profit. Now, in the name of reducing that fiscal deficit, in the name of giving economic security for our country, subsidies are being targeted. You have reduced subsidy on fuel by twenty five thousand crore rupees; you have reduced subsidy on fertilizers by six thousand crore rupees; and you have said that you will raise thirty thousand crore rupees through selling your public sector. Now you are doing all this in order to meet the gap of your fiscal deficit, but that deficit would not have occurred if you had not given those tax concessions. What is this economic security concept, where concessions to the rich in terms of taxes foregone are supposed to be incentives for growth and concessions given to the poor in terms of subsidies are supposed to be burdens on the economy? The poor are a burden and the rich are an incentive. Is that how you are going to build the economic security of this country? Is that the economic security that you are providing for this country?

And, in the process, what is happening? If you assume, what is universally-recognised as a healthy fiscal deficit – a three per cent fiscal deficit – with the same amount of money of your GDP last year, according to your budget, more than two lakh fifty thousand crores of rupees could have been in the hands of the government to be spent through public investments in building our much-needed infrastructure. We need that infrastructure and to build that infrastructure, you had that money of two lakh fifty thousand plus crores of rupees. If you had used that money for building the infrastructure, you would have created lakhs of jobs, and that job creation would have given salaries to the people who would have spent them, and spending those salaries would have created the demand in the economy for a healthy economic growth which is also inclusive.


Instead of that, you are opting for a path where you want to give more and more incentives to the corporates and the rich. I want the corporates to thrive. I have nothing against their thriving, but at what cost and in which way? You are doing it with the hope that the more incentives you give to the corporates, the more will be the investment, and, therefore, the higher growth. But, there is something very vital missing in this logic. You can have greater investment, but unless there are people who can buy the products of that investment, how can you grow? And, it is that purchasing power in the hands of the people that you are constantly reducing. In these three years of global economic recession, the number of US dollar billionaires of India has trebled. May their tribe increase, as the old poem says. I have nothing against them. May their tribe increase like Abou Adhem. But what are the assets that these individuals hold? They were 69 earlier but because the rupee depreciated, their number has come down to 55 now because we count our billionaires not in Indian rupees but in US dollars. But what is their net worth? One-third of my country’s GDP is in the hands of these 55 people. Two-thirds and more of my countrymen, our late colleague, Arjun Kumar Sengupta estimated – it was disputed, he has contested and reproved his estimate – that 80 crores or more of our population survives on less than twenty rupees a day.




You were telling us, in a different capacity, when you were intervening in this debate, about growth and purchasing power in the hands of the people. Very true. You alluded to Kerala and I had interjected to tell you that we wish the rest of the country was like Kerala. If Kerala can do this, why not other states? Look at the real India where these inequalities are growing. These are growing to such an extent that today whatever amount of incentive you may give to the rich, whatever amount of cheaper capital you may make available to the corporates, and however much they will increase their investments, that will not result in growth unless people of my country have money in their hands to buy. If that purchasing power is not strengthened, there can be no growth, leave alone inclusive growth. But there can be no reversal of this declining growth pattern in our country. So, the economic security that the President promises is an economic security for a few. It is not the economic security for the country; it is not the economic security for the people as a whole. And, therefore, this is a very, very serious lapse. Unless this trajectory is changed, unless this trajectory is radically altered and unless people become the centre of your economic policies, we will not be in a position to provide this economic security. I think that is where the serious correction in the direction of the policies of the government will have to be undertaken.




A day after the President gave us the Address, the Census of India’s Report on the households in our country was published. Yes, we all heard very proudly the references being made to the great teledensity in our country. We heard very proudly to your own labourer in Kerala who has got not one but two cell phones. And we say that this is the index of prosperity in our country. Very good. But what are the other realities? 37.1 per cent of our people and nearly 40 per cent in rural areas live in some sort of thatched households. They don’t have proper dwelling places. This is the Census of India. It tells you about sanitary facilities in terms of latrines in houses. Nearly 50 per cent of the population of our country have no drainage. How will you protect them from the most common diseases which are completely preventable and because of which so many people die? Even today, despite all this talk of LPG and cooking gas subsidy that the government makes, nearly 50 per cent of the people in our country still use firewood for their cooking. Today, the worst case is that of all the households surveyed, nearly 18 per cent of these households don’t have any of these assets, including a house. In our case, 18 per cent is more than 20 crore Indians. More than 20 crore Indians today are living without a roof over their heads. Is this the economic security we are talking of? And it is not that we cannot change this situation. We can. We have the resources in our country. We have the talent in our country. We have this population, which you have also referred to, and many have said that that has to be curtailed or, at least, controlled. But treat this youth of our country as an asset, not as a liability. You have the resources. Give them education. Give them health. They will build a better India. You and I have to do nothing else. We would only have to make the policies which will give them better health, better education, so that they can work for India’s improvement. But despite having all these resources, we are not embarking on that path. And that is where not only economic security, but livelihood security and right to life that I was referring to all get undermined. All this gets completely undermined with this path that is being chosen by this government. And I want this particular issue to be revisited very seriously by the President in order to ensure that there is a radical departure from this path.




Now, I come to the energy security. We talk of 100 per cent electrification. The Census of India tells you that nearly one-third of India does not have electricity connections in their homes and we are talking of energy security. Unless you produce this energy, you cannot give the security. Now, this energy security is connected also with your ecological security which the President has talked about.


Ecological security and energy security have been linked up saying that we must de-regulate our petroleum prices because of the global oil situation. The former minister for petroleum is sitting here. He knows the situation very well. He knows more than anybody else. But, today, you talk of these great under-recoveries by our oil firms because of which we say that we have to raise the prices of petroleum products. I am sure, it will happen in the next week or so. It will be another additional burden on the people. But, what are these under recoveries? Are they losses? What does the last audited accounts of the Indian Oil Corporation show? The last audited accounts of the Indian Oil Corporation show you a net profit, after paying taxes and dividends, of Rs.10,998 crores. The balance sheet of the Indian Oil Corporation also shows a cash reserve of Rs.49,470 crores. And you say, they are making losses. How are they making losses? When I came into politics, when we were all teenagers, Indira Gandhi nationalised the oil companies. When we were children, my father used to fill up in that old Fiat of his, with which the poor man died, petrol from Esso or Caltex. Today, there is no Esso or Caltex. We have nationalised all of them. It is very good that we nationalised them. We also agreed to that. But, what did we do? We said that the pricing of our petroleum products will no longer be based on international prices. They were based on international prices because these were international companies. They said, “Now, we have Indian companies. We will price them according to our prices.” We import crude. We don’t import petrol; we don’t import diesel. We import crude oil which we process in our country to produce petrol, diesel and kerosene. The cost of producing petrol, diesel and kerosene in our country is, at least, 1/4th or 1/5th time lower than the international cost. So, why should we equate our prices with international prices and then say, oil companies are making these losses? Calculate on the basis of your cost of production. A big fraud is being committed on this country and in the name of that fraud, the people are burdened with more and more higher petroleum prices. What energy security can we talk of when one-third of the country does not have electricity in their houses? Fifty per cent are still using firewood for their cooking. We can’t give them electricity or gas for cooking only because this is the policy you followed. You please rationalise this policy otherwise energy security is impossible.




And that is why, it is connected with ecological security. Unfortunately, former minister, Jairam Ramesh, is not here now. He was sitting here a little while ago. In Copenhagen, in the climate conference and subsequently in Durban, India has made unilateral commitments to reduce carbon emissions without getting a reciprocal arrangement from the western countries. Why should I reduce my carbon emission when my per capita carbon emission is 1/20th of the per capita carbon emission in the United States of America? If they reduce by 20, then, I should reduce by one. Instead, you are talking now of a uniform reduction of carbon emissions. If you do that, where will we have that energy to eradicate poverty in our country? The prime minister himself is on record saying that unless we have energy, and high levels of energy, we cannot eradicate poverty in our country and lead India towards prosperity. So, these policies have to be re-looked otherwise there is neither energy security nor ecological security in our country. This is the status of your economic security, your livelihood security, your energy security and your ecological security. Is this the India of the 21st century?


Some months ago, when we went to the Silicon Valley, I was pleasantly surprised and very happy to see many scientists sign posts in my mother-tongue, Telugu. I said, "What is this?" They said, "The second language in the Silicon Valley is Telugu, the Indian language." The Indian youth today is leading the world in the Information Technology. The Indian youth today is actually on the frontiers of knowledge in the world’s development, the world of higher levels of civilisation. The whole of Europe is worried today that our universities are producing more skilled manpower than all their universities put together annually. When my good friend, minister of education will say out of every 100, 12 per cent, I will say 7 per cent, but let us accept the median 9 per cent of our youth can afford to go to college. With this 9 per cent, you are able to make this impact on the world. What can you do if you increase this to 25 per cent or 30 per cent for which we have resources? If only we utilise our resources properly, if we increase it to 25 per cent or 30 per cent, nobody can stop India from becoming the leader of knowledge society in the world today and that is the potential we have.


But we are unfortunately wasting that potential by this policy trajectory that we are following today. This policy trajectory is neither giving us economic  nor livelihood, nor energy, nor ecological security that we are talking of. Forget the security that has been missed out by the President of India which is the fundamental security to life and personal liberty that is being violated all over. Therefore, I think, in all these matters, all policies that the President has outlined, I would only like to repeat what I had stated while participating in the debate after her first speech in 2008, as the President to the Joint Session. I remember it was on 3rd March, 2008, when I was intervening in the debate. I am very disappointed that I have to repeat that even today. Even after five years this is what I have to say. I will quote "If you have a shining India on the one side, there is a suffering India on the other. This gap between the shining India and suffering India is widening. Is this the architecture of inclusive growth?" Unfortunately, five years down the line, I still have to say the same thing today that this gap has only widened during these five years and will continue to widen and deny us our own potential in spite of the fact that we have resources, we have the talent, we have the youth, we have the demographic advantage. Despite all this, we are wasting opportunities for creating a better India.




The last point I want to touch upon is about India's foreign policy. Yes, the world has changed. Bi-polarity has changed. All that is fine. We have to work in our national interest. Agreed. This is a point you were making from the ruling benches in your intervention. There is a point that we should work out a foreign policy in our national interest. Absolutely correct. What has been the recent positions that we have taken. Are they in our national interest? We are talking about the energy security. We are talking about the rising global oil prices. You have had Iran gas pipeline that we have not followed up. My good friend, poor Mani Shankar Aiyar has lost his job because of that. We have not followed it up because of the US pressure. There are sanctions against Iran. We have made a very good statement and I had congratulated the government and it is on record in the media. The finance minister said, "India will not stop buying oil from Iran." I said, “Very good. We entirely support”. This is in our enlightened national interest. We should not stop buying oil from Iran. I applauded. Then, I am amazed to see what the reality is. The reality is that, according to the available figures, the oil imports from Iran have come down from 21.8 million tonnes in 2008-09 to 18.5 million tonnes in 2010-11. Then, in the current fiscal year, it has gone down further to 13.1 million tonnes. From 21.8 million tonnes, in two years, we have come down to 13.1 million tonnes. Why? Is this not the US pressure? Are we getting oil any cheaper elsewhere? Show me one place where you are getting oil at a cheaper rate than from Iran. Then, I will accept your logic. You are reducing the import of oil from the cheapest source because somebody is telling you that. That is not, what our prime minister always calls, “in our enlightened national interest”. We have abandoned virtually a cheap gas pipeline. We are actually reducing the oil imports. All this is happening under pressure. That is the tilt in the foreign policy. Take, for example, the vote on Syria. In October, 2011 we abstained from voting in the United Nations Security Council. Good. But, then, subsequently we went ahead and voted in favour because all the Arab League countries voted that way. India has an independent position. What was the answer that the external affairs minister gave on the Sri Lankan issue? “As a sovereign country, in Sri Lanka we can’t have an external interference. That is being told to them and we will use all our good offices to ensure that justice and right is being done to the Tamilians there, etc.” Correct, we will not allow foreign interference in any other country. But when it comes to Syria, you have abandoned it. After abstaining from voting, within three months, what was the change that had happened? The US pressure. That is precisely the point. Your “enlightened national interest” is being defined not by India but by the United States of America. That is my serious complaint. That is why, at the end, I would like to say that these are matters of serious import for the country’s future. That is why, I think, these are matters which can’t be taken lightly and because of this we are unable to utilise the potential that we have, as a country, to really emerge as the leaders of the world’s knowledge society and as inheritors of the world’s civilisational ethos in the 21st century. Therefore, I urge upon the government to have a relook at the policy trajectory and direction and also to change many of the policies in the interest of our people and give them a better quality of life.