THE Rajya Sabha took up short duration discussion on electoral reforms. Speaking on this, Sitaram Yechury said there is a need to fine-tune the electoral process. Because of money power and other such things, democracy is at stake. These infirmities need to be corrected. The government, in the Union Budget for 2017-18, has made two proposals -- the cash donations to political parties would now be restricted to Rs 2,000 each person and the introduction of electoral bonds. These are a mere eyewash. It is a mockery. The government should put a ceiling on the expenditure of political parties and candidates. The corporate funding to political parties should be banned. Let the corporate entities contribute to a state fund. Let it be managed and operated by the Election Commission or by any other agency. There has been a widespread suspicion that this entire demonetisation exercise was done to help the ruling party so that it can spend the money while the others cannot because of the restrictions. These two steps – bringing party expenditure under a ceiling and banning corporate funding of parties -- need to be taken to ensure a fair electoral process. The 'first past the post’ is a weakness which we need to be reconsidered. This distortion of democracy needs to be corrected and it can only be done through a partial proportional representative system. In this system, in every constituency, every voter has two votes, one for the individual and one for the political party. Thereby, the diversity of India can also be maintained and the democratic principle can also be maintained. In the proportional representation system, it can be made mandatory that every party will give one-third of seats to women. The time has come when paid news is identified as paid news. It should be stopped and some action should be taken. We need to ban cross-holding of media ownership. The government must establish a mechanism through which this entire issue of electoral reforms can be properly discussed, he said.
Speaking on the Demands for supplementary grants in the Lok Sabha, P Karunakaran said there is a need for allocation of additional funds to the ministries of home affairs, medium and small scale industries, and science and technology. The finance minister must come forward to inform as to how much black money has been unearthed after demonetisation. Unemployment has grown by 4.9 per cent. The main problem faced by the farmers is that they are not getting remunerative price for their produce and they are not getting loans at lower interest rates. Rs 10 lakh crore for agriculture credit has been allocated. But the interest rate is 12 per cent or 14 per cent, not four per cent as recommended by the Swaminathan Commission. He demanded that more funds be allocated to rural job scheme MNREGA. He said the allocation for the welfare of SC/ST people is very low compared to their population. It is also true in the case of the minority. So, it needs to be enhanced.
Speaking on the Union Budget 2017-18, Jharna Das Baidya said food, kerosene and LPG subsidies have a direct impact on women. The share of these in the budget has come down from 9.5 per cent in 2015-16 to 7.9 per cent in 2017-18. There is no women-specific allocation in either dairy or fisheries. The budget estimates for ICDS for 2017-18 is only Rs 15,245.19 crore. It is even less than the budget allocation for ICDS in 2015-16, which was Rs 15,433.09 crore and Rs 18,108 crore in 2014-15. The amount earmarked for the maternity benefit programme is a mere Rs 2,700 crore which will cover only 17 percent of the 2.6 crore live child births per year in India. The government has completely failed to respond to the issue of rising violence against women and the need to ensure budgetary support for survivors of violent crimes. Other than one scheme for skill development, there has been no other new scheme introduced for the development of the North-Eastern Region. This budget not only ignores, but also imposes further burden on the people. This budget clearly upholds the interests of the market and it is an exercise to appease the rich, she said.
The Rajya Sabha passed the Employee's Compensation (Amendment) Bill, 2016 and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014. Tapan Kumar Sen said that from the manner the Employee's Compensation Act, 1923 is being sought to be amended, it appears that the government is completely unaware of the ground reality. He said the government should have made provisions to ensure that benefits envisaged in the legislation reach the workforce, a sizeable portion of which is contractual workers. All workers – regular and contractual -- must be brought under the purview of this Bill. He also demanded that the compensation amount be enhanced from Rs 10,000 to Rs 1,00,000 and the enforcement mechanism strengthened. K Somaprasad supported the Bill which seeks to prevent and control the spread of HIV and AIDS and prohibits discrimination against the people affected by these diseases. This is the first disease-centric legislation in the country. The government should provide sex education and spread awareness. It must be a part of the formal education syllabus. He also sought a provision to prevent employers from getting rid of people with these diseases. All such protected persons must be given free treatment by the government.
The Lok Sabha passed the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Orders (Amendment) Bill. Jitendra Choudhury said there has been no increase in the total percentage of reservation for Scheduled Castes. So, inclusion of any more caste in the list would be a burden on the existing castes. In the Union Budget for 2017-18, it has been stated that the SC and ST communities will be given reservation and other benefits, but only a meagre fund has been allocated for this purpose. How can their welfare be ensured with such meagre funding? he asked.
The Lok Sabha also passed the Finance Bill, 2017. Speaking on this, Md. Badaruddoza Khan said that the fall in crude oil price in the international market, the government has been imposing more and more Excise Duty on petroleum products putting the burden on the people. He demanded reduction in the price of petroleum products in compliance with the international market to give benefits to the common people. He also sought action on rising non-performing assets of banks.
The Lok Sabha also took up discussion on the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2015, a Private Member's Bill. Jitendra Chaudhury said the Bill was very important. He sought amendment to the Sixth Schedule to meet the aspirations of the people of the Northeast. He said the provision should be extended to Tripura to protect the land and preserve the culture and the language of the Adivasis and tribal population.
On the 86th anniversary of martyrdom of Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev, a dharna was staged outside the Parliament House. Subsequently, M B Rajesh in the Lok Sabha and Ritabrata Banerjee in the Rajya Sabha sought an assurance from the government that the international airport in Chandigarh would be named after Shaheed Bhagat Singh.
P Karunakaran raised the matter regarding the continuous use of Endosulfan in some parts of Kerala and Karnataka. He said it has had negative impact on human lives as well as the environment. About 500 people have died due to the impact of Endosulfan and thousands are undergoing treatment at various hospitals. The Kerala government has requested for a special financial assistance of Rs 475 crore which should acceded to by the Centre.
Jharna Das Baidya raised the barbaric treatment and torture meted out to four female activists of the Students Federation of India and Democratic Youth Federation of India in Kolkata when they were participating in a protest march against the scam in appointments in primary schools. Many students including girls were beaten up by the police and a few had to be hospitalised.
K K Ragesh demanded the withdrawal of the decision of the State Bank of India to increase monthly average balance from Rs 500 to Rs 5,000 and to impose penalty for non-maintenance of monthly average balance. He said all other commercial banks are going to follow the SBI’s decision and it is going to affect the whole economic system in a big way. C P Narayanan raised the need for setting up of fast-track courts to hear cases sexual assaults on minor girls. He said such incidents are rising at an alarming rate and there is need for proactive measures to stop such crimes.
Earlier, participating in the discussion on the Union Budget for 2017-18 in the Rajya Sabha, Tapan Kumar Sen said the size of the budget has declined in terms of the GDP and sought to know from the government what was the logic behind putting the expenditure in the single basket and showing that there has been increase in absolute terms. Why have many of cesses like that for labour welfare, beedi workers, mine workers and construction workers been stopped which were established by an Act of Parliament, he asked.
K Somaprasad said this budget cannot be called a progressive one as the planning process and special plans have been abolished. The sub-plans for SCs and STs have played a vital role in the development of these communities. The Finance Minister has claimed in his budget speech that there has been an enhancement of 35 percent in the allocation for SCs and STs, which is not true. New policies like disinvestment and downsizing of public sector undertakings will affect creation of job opportunities for educated dalit youths. Job reservation in the private sector is a must and it is high time it is implemented in the country. The central and several state governments are not willing to earmark sufficient amount for SC/ST development in their respective budgets. Hence, a law should be enacted without any further delay in this regard. This budget has not done justice to Kerala. One of the main requests of Kerala is to set up an AIIMS there, but this time also it has been denied.
In the Lok Sabha, the discussion for Demand for Grants under various ministries were held.
M B Rajesh said the railways is facing a serious investment crisis which is affecting expansion of railway network as well as safety. He also opposed the focus of this budget on privatisation of Indian Railways.
Md. Badaruddoza Khan said the request for a Rajdhani Express train from New Delhi to Agartala for better connectivity with the Northeast has been ignored. There is a need to improve passenger facilities and the request to withdraw the flexi fare system in some premier trains has not been accepted.
Jitendra Chaudhury said that the agrarian situation in states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra is grave. Huge deficit in rainfall and crop losses are being reported. In the last three months, over 200 farmers have died either of shock or they have committed suicide in Tamil Nadu alone. Unfortunately, the budget reflects an insensitive and inhuman attitude of the government towards the suffering of the peasants and agricultural workers. The government has gone back on its promise of ensuring the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for crops. Similarly, the decision to import wheat at zero import duty is leading to dumping of wheat. This will lead to a further crash in prices as the incompetent government has no effective procurement plans. The government is claiming that it has allocated a sum of Rs 48,000 crore for MGNREGA. The budgeted rise in allocation for MGNREGA is just 1.1 percent. There are huge arrears of wages pending. As per reports, the amount stands at Rs 14,000 crore. While the government is claiming that it has given a lot of benefits to the farmers, but budgetary provisions are meagre as compared to the previous year. The price of fertilisers, pesticides and insecticides are beyond control. This budget is a betrayal of the peasantry of our country.
Joice George said that to ensure financial security, farmers should get all the benefits, which are available to other industries. We must find out new sustainable agricultural practices by research and development, but going by the budget allocation this year, the allocation for research and other agricultural development has been reduced substantially. P K Sreemathi Teacher also spoke on the agrarian situation.
A Sampath said India has the fourth largest army in the world which is deployed in the most difficult terrains. The government is planning to divest 26 percent share of BEML. The decision should be reconsidered. Indigenous production of arms, should be promoted. There is a move to privatise the arms production, which will attract commission agents and promote illegal money. There is a need to fill up the vacancies in the Indian Army. Representation of women should be increased in the armed forces. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act should be relaxed wherever it is possible, in Jammu and Kashmir or the north-eastern states.
Joice George talked about the welfare aspects of the ex-servicemen. The ECHS facility is not adequate enough to meet their health care requirements.
The Lok Sabha passed the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, incorporating the amendments made by the Rajya Sabha. Md. Salim said that such a Bill should have been referred to the Standing Committee. It has happened for the first time in independent India that the ordinance on an issue has been brought five times. Being a Leftist, there is no objection to the acquisition of land property of the landlords by enacting a law. The government should have ordered an inquiry into the misuse and corruption in relation to the enemy properties after the enactment of the Enemy Property Act, 1968. Instead, the government brought in two amendments in this Act in the Rajya Sabha. There was no need for this law.
In the Rajya Sabha, Sitaram Yechury raised the issue of continued discrimination against Dalit students in universities and suicide by a Dalit student of JNU and said that the crime rate against the Dalits has gone up from 19.6 to 23.4 percent. He also demanded an immediate stop to the zero duty imports of wheat while discussing the plight of farmers due to inefficient system of procurement of wheat and pulses. This government assumed office by promising to pay one-an-half times the cost of production as the Minimum Support Price. Instead of doing that, they are importing from outside at higher price giving our farmers less than the MSP, which is leading to farmers' suicide.
Jharna Das Baidya raised concern over the steep hike in price of LPG cylinder. Women's ability to manage the household budget has come under severe strain as the fuel cost has gone up dramatically over the last six months. Therefore, the government should roll back this unprecedented hike, she said.
Ritabrata Benerjee in the Rajya Sabha raised the matter regarding the need to stop the strategic sale of some Alloy Steel Plants.