July 27, 2014

The Week in Parliament

CPI(M) Parliamentary Office

DURING the second week of Budget Session both the houses witnessed disruptions over the issue of Indian journalist meeting the terror mastermind Hafiz-Saeed. On this, the external affairs minister made a statement condemning the meeting and said the government had sought a report on the engagements of the journalist in Pakistan during his three week stay there. GAZA ATTACK On the unprecedented spurt in violence in Gaza and West Bank area of Palestine, there was uproar in the upper house. The submission by Sitaram Yechury, leader in the Rajya Sabha is carried elsewhere in this issue. P Karunakaran, leader in the Lok Sabha made a submission. The opposition including CPI(M) mounted pressure on the government for a discussion on the violence in Gaza. It insisted for immediate discussion and demanded the suspension of the Question Hour for facilitating the discussion. But, the government agreed to take up this matter for discussion on July 21 during the business advisory meeting. On this issue the Left MPs staged dharna in front of the Parliament main gate on July 21 condemning the Gaza Attack. RAIL & GENERAL BUDGET Speaking on Railway Budget in Lok Sabha, M B Rajesh pointed out that this budget seeks to dismantle the public sector character of the largest public sector enterprise in the world. The whole thrust of this budget is on FDI and PPP. He said that Kerala has been badly neglected in this railway budget. He asked the railway minister who had said that the Kerala government has not acquired enough land for the development of railway projects, about what has happened to the coach factory project in Palakkad for which land was made available to the ministry of railways two years back. We have been continuously demanding for a new railway zone with Kerala as its headquarters. No land is required for that. But the government has not announced anything to this effect, he said and appealed the minister to stop all moves to bifurcate the Palakkad and Trivandrum divisions. During the discussion on general budget, Md Salim, deputy leader of the CPI(M) in Lok Sabha said that the new government is following the financial policy of the previous Government. It had an opportunity to reverse the tax to GDP ratio but it did not. To what extent the tax exemptions are given to corporates is not known. Much has been talked about black money but no attention has been paid to the source of black money. There runs a parallel economy. Innovative ways should have been followed to tackle inflation, unemployment and economic slowdown facing the country but none has been followed. The policy of snatching from the poor and feeding the rich can be seen regarding issues like MNREGA, the issue of agriculture development or the issue of development of the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes or the Minorities. There were guidelines of the Planning Commission to allocate funds proportionately for SC/STs but there is a decline in their share in this budget. Likewise, the government has allocated Rs 100 crore for Madarsa modernisation and skill development but there is only 0.7 per cent allocation of plan budget for entire minorities development. It shows the intension of the government. The government should take steps to ensure that the Muslims become modern citizens of modern India, he said. In Lok Sabha, P K Sreemathi Teacher said the finance minister began his budget speech by declaring that ‘the people of India have decisively voted for a change’. Really, the people were expecting a budget, which can control price rise; contain unemployment; and boost development, but it has been a total disappointment for the common people. As it did in the railway budget, Kerala has been totally neglected in the general budget too. The tax share of Kerala has been reduced from Rs 9,101 crore in the interim budget to Rs 8,972.51 crore in the present budget. Kerala has not been given even a single AIIMS or IIM. Even though the upcoming Kochi Metro project sought a fund of Rs 878 crore, the amount announced in the budget was only Rs 462.17 crore, which will definitely delay its completion. The Fertilizers and Chemicals Travancore Limited, which is facing an acute financial crunch and is on the verge of closure, has been given a paltry amount of Rs 42.66 crore in the budget. This has been done in spite of the promise of the union minister of chemicals and fertilizers that the process for sanctioning a package of Rs 900 crore is in the final stages. The budget has not allocated any money for the proposed Vizhinjam Port in Kerala. Needless to mention that completion of the Vizhinjam Port situated at the southern tip of India and just near the international ship route, can attract immense trade for the country. A lot of people in the Malabar region of Kerala, especially in Kasargod district, are suffering from diseases caused by Endosulfan, including cancer. There is a need to develop the Malabar Cancer Centre in Kannur district as a National Cancer Research Institute at the earliest. Secondly, the contribution in the field of sports by Kerala, especially by women, is well-known. A National Sports University and a Sports Academy, in addition to creation of indoor and outdoor stadium of international standards in Kerala should be set up to encourage budding sports talent. The land for the project is easily available in Kannur. Third, tourism is one of the job creators on a larger scale, globally. The tourism potential of Kerala should be exploited to attract domestic as well as foreign tourists and thereby create more jobs for the people of the country. There is enough potential for medical tourism in the field of Ayurveda in the state and hence it should be encouraged. Sabarimala, the second largest pilgrimage centre in South India, should be developed as a religious tourist centre under the National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual Augmentation Drive Programme. Thiruvananthapuram, Guruvayoor and Kottiyoor in Kannur, where Sree Padmanabha Swami Temple, Guruvayoor Sreekrishna Temple and Kottiyoor Temple are respectively located should be brought under the National Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana for conserving and preserving the heritage character of these cities, she said. OTHER ISSUES Initiating discussion on the private members’ resolution regarding recent complaints on levying of inflated bills by public private projects and licensed service providers in different service sectors, and the need for streamlining their functioning K N Balagopal in Rajya Sabha emphasised the necessity of having some regulation. Electricity charges has become a very big issue. While allotting natural resources, we are involving the private sector. Whether it is 2G spectrum, coal, gas, or petroleum prices, these are the areas which require government's intervention. There should be a level playing field for selecting public private projects. Contracts should be transparent. A specific regulatory mechanism is needed for the institutions which are getting thousands of crores of rupees. They have not been brought under the purview of the Lokpal and should be brought, he said. He pointed out that many PPPs are not running in a proper way. The original project cost estimated for the Mumbai International Airports Limited was Rs 5,826 crores and it went up to nearly Rs 12,000 crores. They introduced a new Development Fund and they collected nearly Rs 3,400 crores from the passengers. Delhi Airport collected Rs 1481 without any proper law. They are siphoning the State exchequer for their own profit. CAG audit can be done for airports, National Highways and other PPP projects, too, he said. P Rajeeve while supporting the resolution stated that the government is ready to submit to the conditionalities espoused by these private players. As per the CAG Report there is more than hundred percent escalation in these PPP projects. Is there any mechanism with the Government to evaluate whether these are real estimates, or, whether there is any manipulation? We have no regulations; we have no regulators to oversee all these things. Other point in the CAG Report is encroachment. It is a very serious issue. Coming to the Chennai Airport, after the modernisation process is over, now they are going in for PPP projects. I come to the NHAI. There is no mechanism to evaluate either the actual expenditure or the amount which they have been collecting as toll. There should be a regulator for the NHAI projects. There should be a government control to monitor all these aspects, he said. Rajya Sabha passed the bill on Polavaram which facilitates the transfer of 205 villages spread across seven mandals in the newly formed states of Telangana to the residual state of Andhra Pradesh for the multipurpose Polavaram irrigation project. Speaking on this P Rajeeve said this is against the basic principle of democracy. We are in a complex situation. The constituency which consists of these disputed villages is represented by the MLA of our Party. You are displacing more than three lakh citizens, from that constituency. After the passing of this Bill, the MLA who is representing that constituency in the Telangana Assembly will now be representing that constituency in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly. Consent should be there by the gram sabha if it is in the specific tribal area under the Fifth Schedule. As per my understanding, there was no consent by the gram sabhas. Then, it is against the provisions of the PESA Act and also the Land Acquisition Act. If the project is built with appropriate changes in the design, there will be no loss to the interests of Andhra Pradesh, as suggested by engineers and experts. This project should be re-designed for the benefit of the country. After reviewing the Polavaram project, the Empowered Committee, constituted by the Supreme Court, suggested that the subject of construction of Polavaram project had to be revisited. Rajeeve urged the government to withdraw the Bill on Polavaram, re-design the project to avoid any threats, the threatened areas should be retained in Telangana only and the rights and culture of the tribals in the Fifth Scheduled Areas have to be protected. Rajya Sabha passed the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Amendment) Bill, 2014, Disapproval of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014. Speaking on this P Rajeeve pointed that the Article 123 of the constitution should be used only when ‘circumstances exist which render it necessary to take immediate action, which is not the case here. There is a particular clause in the TRAI Act, which prohibits the chairman and full-time members of TRAI from taking up any other government job. All the other Acts should be amended on a par with the TRAI Act so as to protect the credibility and transparency of the regulatory mechanism. Absolute majority of the government does not give it the power to bypass the parliament. It is evident that the government has promulgated this ordinance to remove the statutory prohibition of a person. That means that this Bill is against the oath taken by the minister. The minister has no constitutional right to move this Bill. I vehemently oppose this TRAI (Amendment) Bill, he said. In Lok Sabha P K Sreemathi Teacher raised the serious issue of continuous sexual assault against women throughout the country, especially, in the National Capital Territory Delhi. P Karunakaran raised the matter regarding need to increase the import duty on rubber to protect the rubber growers in our country particularly in Kerala. These farmers are marginal farmers and the decline in the prices of rubber has directly affected the livelihood of the farmers and also their existence, he said.