THIS week Parliament mainly had discussions on various important Bills. On the first day, the Rajya Sabha discussed the Finance Bill. The government has come under heavy criticism from the opposition for some of the alterations made to the Finance Bill. Being a Money Bill, the Lok Sabha, where the BJP has a majority, can choose to accept or reject the changes proposed by the Upper House to the Finance Bill. The opposition leaders claimed that it was an attempt to push through far-reaching, non-financial changes bypassing the Rajya Sabha. Sitaram Yechury and other leaders demanded that the Rajya Sabha reject the Bill in its present form and sent it back to the Lok Sabha. Several amendments were suggested by the Rajya Sabha, which were later rejected by the Lok Sabha.
Speaking on the Finance Bill, Tapan Kumar Sen said the constitutional integrity has been seriously compromised with this Bill. The government is changing the tribunal system altogether. It has violated the basic spirit of the Constitution, that is, the separation of power between the executive and the judiciary. The non-finance related issues need to be completely withdrawn from this Finance Bill and if required, a separate Bill should be brought in.
In the Lok Sabha, Md. Badruddoza Khan said the CPI(M) is of the opinion that the corporate funding to political parties should be stopped. Democratic system is based on the principle of ‘by the people, for the people and of the people’. After the Bill is passed, the government will be by the corporates, for the corporates and of the corporates. The amendments to the Bill suggested by the Rajya Sabha are in right spirit and there is no reason to reject them in this House.
In the Lok Sabha, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley introduced four Bills -- the Central Goods and Service Tax Bill, 2017; the Integrated Goods and Services Tax Bill, 2017; the Union Territory Goods and Services Tax Bill, 2017; and the Goods and Services Tax Bill (Compensation to States), 2017 -- to operationalise the Goods and Services Tax (GST) amid opposition protests over the fact that these were not listed on the day's agenda. Md. Salim said that on one hand it is being propagated that our economic philosophy underpinned by the free capitalism should be uniform across the world while maintaining an integrated market and on the other hand, efforts are being made to bring parochialism into the philosophy based on universal values. The growth during the last 70 years has been city centric, capital centric and factory centric, instead of being agricultural centric, farmer centric and rural centric. There should be development in backward areas. I would like to know whether we are going to include these areas into the newly emerging India and if the reply is affirmative then how the government propose to do so. What kind of efforts it is going to make to address the problem of regional imbalance. GST is essentially an indirect tax. On one hand the government is making announcement to reduce direct tax and on the other it is increasing the indirect tax like GST whose burden is to be shared by all. The divide between the rich and the poor will go on increasing and it won't reduce. The government has included beedi in the list of luxury goods. There is a need to remove it from that list.
Joice George raised concern over the two clauses of the Central GST Bill and one clause of the Integrated GST Bill. By these provisions of law, the powers vested with the state legislatures and the state governments are being taken away. The GST Council has been empowered with the powers to decide the tax rates. There is no specific mention about cash crops as to under what category these are being treated. How can we include all these items under one slab? For ensuring the benefit of the people, the government should have a re-look and there will be some amendments on this issue.
The Mental Healthcare Bill was unanimously passed in the Lok Sabha, which decriminalises suicide and guarantees the right to better healthcare for people with mental illness and bans the use of electric shock therapy for treating children with mental illness. The Bill mandates that a person who is attempting suicide shall be presumed to be suffering from “severe stress” and, therefore, shall not be tried or punished by law. P K Sreemathi Teacher said the care and protection of the mentally disturbed is the responsibility of the government, and therefore adequate financial provisions should also be made in the Bill. She suggested that the states should have separate mental health authorities, which should identify the cured patients from time-to-time and help them get rehabilitated and if possible find employment. A pension amount to support them is also essential. All states should have NIMHANS-like institutions. We must ensure that all states have qualified psychiatrists and psychologists. For this, we need to increase the number of psychiatry seats in PG courses in all medical colleges. Md Salim sought establishment of a Central Mental Health Authority.
The Lok Sabha passed the National Institutes of Technology, Science Education and Research (Second Amendment) Bill, 2016, amending a 2007 Act. Speaking on this, P K Biju said education is a tool to create a new society. We have given this status to so many institutions. What is the state of such institutions? As we go through the Budget, we see that 95 per cent of the education fund goes to these institutions. But the number of students studying in these elite institutions is very meagre. The rate of suicides among students is increasing even in higher educational institutions. This is a serious concern. We should take strong action against the people concerned. Mushrooming growth of private institutions is very alarming.
The Rajya Sabha passed The Appropriation (Railway) Bill, 2017 and The Appropriation (Railways) No. 2 Bill 2017. T K Rangarajan said the merger of Railway Budget and General Budget will lead to the railways losing its autonomy and there will not be transparency in its functioning. There will not be any financial relief for the Indian Railways. The Budget says that the tariff will be fixed based on the cost, social obligation and competition. It is a clear indication that there would be a fare hike in near future. Subsidiaries of Indian Railways making huge profits, are listed for disinvestment. Why does the government disinvest a profit-making organisation? The Railway Board has announced that Kalka-Shimla, Siliguri-Darjeeling and Nilgiri Mountain trains will be handed over to private parties. This budget is an anti-worker one. There is a phenomenal increase in derailment cases. The main cause is pending track renewal. As on date, 12,700 kilometres track is overdue for renewal. For the next five years, another 22,500 kilometres will become due for renewal. There is a need of sufficient funds for track renewal, road safety works and improvement in signal system. K K Ragesh said many reports reveal the fact that the government is slowly privatising Indian Railways by various means. In the last budget, the government had declared many special purpose vehicle projects. How many of those SPV projects are being materialised. All those proposals, which were declared in the last budget, remain on paper. Nothing has materialised. What is the meaning of this declaration? And the government is also continuing with its step-motherly treatment towards Kerala.
In the Rajya Sabha, Sitaram Yechury and T K Rangarajan raised concern over the plight of farmers, many of whom are being forced to commit suicides, and sought measures to alleviate their sufferings. In the Lok Sabha, A Sampath, P K Biju and P K Sreemathi Teacher raised the same issue.
Md Salim in the Lok Sabha requested the government to initiate measure to popularise football across the country, particularly in rural areas, ahead of the Under-17 Football World Cup which India is going to host later this year. He the sports minister to allot a part of the MPLAD fund for conducting football matches in all constituencies.
Tapan Kumar Sen raised the inaction of the government to appoint a Lokpal. He said the appointment of a Lokpal should be a priority of the government. Ritabrata Banerjee in the Rajya Sabha raised the issue of safety and security of Whistle Blowers and their families, particularly women and children. Joice George urged the government to unveil Sree Narayana Gurudevan's portrait in the Central Hall or his sculpture in the Parliament House premises. (END)