THE delayed Winter Session of Parliament began on a stormy note on December 15 with opposition members in the Rajya Sabha persistently demanding an explanation from the government on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s allegation about Pakistan's interference in the Gujarat assembly election. The opposition also raised the matter about the disqualification of rebel JD(U) MPs Sharad Yadav and Ali Anwar Ansari by Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu. The Lok Sabha was adjourned on the first day after MPs paid tribute to three sitting and seven former members who died during the inter-session period.
In the Lok Sabha, a discussion was held on the natural calamities in various parts of the country with special reference to Cyclone Ockhi in South India. Speaking on this, CPI(M) leader P Karunakaran said all efforts have to be made to compensate the damage. Cyclone Ockhi had disastrous effects in the coastal areas of Kerala. It has seriously affected the fishermen. We know that in the coastal areas there is no other livelihood as far as the fishermen are concerned. As far as the agriculture sector is concerned, the coast is fully damaged. The Kerala government has already declared Rs 25 lakh compensation to the families of those who have lost their lives and Rs 5 lakh for those severely injured. All medical facilities are being extended to affected people. Kerala has not experienced such a terrible situation for the last 100 years. There is a Natural Calamity Fund. But a small portion is now allotted by the government and that is not at all sufficient to meet the demands. Considering all these facts, the Government of Kerala has taken up a comprehensive scheme. So, we have demanded Rs 7,345 crore because there is loss in the agriculture sector; there is loss of houses; there is loss of lives and there is loss of infrastructural facilities. So, it is a long-term process of action that we have to take. We request the central government to declare it as a national calamity and take all efforts to share the tears of these fishermen and restore the faith and trust of the people. In the Rajya Sabha, K K Ragesh raised this matter and said that Cyclone Ockhi has affected the life and livelihood of fishermen of these areas. More than 70 fishermen died and hundreds of them are still missing.
In the Lok Sabha, Md. Salim, while speaking on the Supplementary Demand for Grants, stated that the Supplementary Demand for Grants raises a question mark on the budgeting process of the government. Out of Rs 33,000 crore, Rs 32,000 crore are internal savings or meant to be transferred from one account to another. Funds have been allocated for high-level research in the field of agriculture. The farmers committing suicide today will not get any benefit from it. Maximum corruption has occurred in the name of demonetisation. The government should inform as to which shell companies are being inquired into. When the economy is growing, everything is all right, why the revenue receipt is declining forcing the government to reduce the expenditure. Whatever the government may think, the people of the country are in difficulty.
The Lok Sabha passed the Requisitioning and Acquisition of Immovable Property (Amendment) Bill, 2017. Speaking on this, Md. Salim said provisions made under this bill will be implemented with retrospective effect from March 14, 1952. There is no contention in this House if the government is willing to take any step for ensuring national security. But in fact, this House and the whole country is being misguided on the pretext of national security and safety. So, it is highly objectionable. This Lok Sabha has been constituted for the year 2014 to 2019. I would like to ask the government that whether we have the right to enact a legislation for the year 1952 and why it is being done. I would also like to ask why we are bringing in this blanket law by bypassing the bill pending before the committee in this regard. Another point is related to the land requisitioned. There were three such cases and if the land is unused then either it should be returned back or compensation should be provided, otherwise land should be provided anywhere in lieu of that land. There is a case related to Waqf property also. This case is pending with the urban development ministry and stay order were taken on the same day on which court has given directions to return it. Similarly, right to property is assumed as a fundamental right of any farmer or any citizen. With regard to compensation, it is my opinion that we can increase the amount of compensation if it is related to security only. It would not be appropriate to acquire land on the rates prevailing in 1950. I would also like to submit that land requisition should be made for public purposes also. But if this land is handed over to any private entity on the pretext of PPP model then it would be a grave injustice to them. So, 'transparency' word should be incorporated in this requisition and acquisition law and it should be implemented in letter and spirit also.
The Lok Sabha passed the Central Road Fund (Amendment) Bill, 2017. Speaking on this, P K Biju said that India has the second largest road network in the world. But our main problem is that out of these roads, 61 per cent of the roads got damaged or not being used properly. How much amount we have collected so far through tolls and other means and how much we have distributed for the development of state roads, national and express highways. In the list of 111 waterways declared under the National Waterways Act, 2016, some national waterways of Kerala have been included. We have started working on it and these waterways will be completed by 2020. The country is suffering from air pollution not only in Delhi but in all the metros because we are using fossil-based fuels such as petrol and diesel for transportation. European countries have decided that by 2040 they will reduce 50 per cent vehicles running on fossil- based fuels. We are going on the same path. We are going to heavily depend for our transportation and logistics on the rivers. So, the issue of water pollution is of very much importance.
The Indian Forest (Amendment) Bill, 2017 was passed in the Lok Sabha. Speaking on this, Jitendra Choudhury said this bill is a welcome one. But simply changing the treatment of bamboo as grass instead of tree will not suffice. Out of the huge resources we have in India, about 60 per cent grow naturally in the northeastern region. Bamboo industry is worth billions of dollars. Bamboo farming has a great potential to boost the economy in the hilly areas. Bamboo-based industries should be set up in the regions where bamboos are grown. A separate wing can be established in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. The subject of bamboo in our country is dealt with by several departments and several ministries. A lot of money has been spent but nothing has happened on the ground as to how best these resources could be utilised for the economy and for employment generation. As bamboo is treated as a minor forest produce in the Forest Right Act, the tribal communities that live in the hilly/forest areas where bamboo grows naturally are exempted from some taxes, etc. In our country, the most important ingredient of the incense stick comes from the Northeast and mostly from my state Tripura. But now, day by day the supply of incense sticks from the Northeast is getting reduced. Now, it is coming from Vietnam and some other Asian countries. That is because the import duty on incense sticks was 30 per cent earlier and it has been reduced to almost zero. As a consequence, the very poor people in the northeastern region are losing their jobs.
Joice George said that our forest cover has to be increased from 24 per cent to 33 per cent. For that, we will have to expand our green cover in the non-forest areas in the agrarian farmlands. The purpose of this amendment is to exclude or, rather omit, the word 'bamboo' from the definition of trees under the Indian Forest Act. If we want to increase the green cover, we will have to promote tree growth in the non-forest areas, in farmlands. For that, we will have to incentivise the farmers to grow trees on their land.
The Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2017 was passed in the Rajya Sabha. Speaking on this, Tapan Kumar Sen stated that there is no mention in the Statement of Objects and Reasons about support for small and medium industries. There should be separate set for SMEs. If relaxations are given to big companies, the whole purpose will be defeated. They don't pay income tax. On the other hand, small scale industries are facing a decline. A large number of SMEs are merely proxy companies of big corporate houses. Major private companies take money from banks. In the absence of prohibition on insider trading, the government is making a way for the draining out of the resources. You are paving the way for speculation. This amendment must be dropped. Restriction on insider trading must be continued. The second point is about exempting a class of foreign companies from the registration and compliance regime under the Act. The foreign companies will be operating here and they can bring the money. Stock market and share market are not covered under compliance regime. This clause too should be dropped altogether. Instead of rules, things should be brought under the Bill, that becomes much more enforceable and justifiable. There is no enforceability of the provision that private companies are to spend two per cent of their net profit on corporate social responsibility. Fake companies take money from the market and then vanish. How is the government going to exercise and establish a proper accountability regime? This amendment initiative does not find a mention of these.
The Rajya Sabha passed the Indian Institutes of Management Bill, 2017. K Somaprasad, while supporting the bill, said that it provides protection of law and grants more autonomy to each institute. There are a lot of institutes which conduct these courses in the country. These institutes are cheating the students. There should be some government agencies to scrutinise the working of these institutes. In this Bill, the role of students is not properly considered. In the proposed 19-member board of governors, everybody has got its representation except students. Steps must be taken to include a student representative in the board of governors. Even today, certain IIMs are reluctant to appoint SC/ST and OBC persons, even though they have all the prescribed educational qualifications.