December 21, 2014

The Week in Parliament

CPI(M) Parliamentary Office

THE week-long impasse over Union minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti's controversial remarks ended in the Upper House after the government agreed to let Chairman Hamid Ansari make a general statement on behalf of House appealing ministers, MPs and leaders to "maintain civility in public discourse" and uphold constitutional values. After the statement, the House went ahead with the scheduled work. In Lok Sabha, the boycott by Congress, Left parties and Trinamool Congress ended with the assurance of Speaker Sumitra Mahajan that the MPs' "right to be heard" in the House would be protected.

Sitaram Yechury, Leader of the Party in Rajya Sabha, while seeking clarification on the statement regarding India's stand in WTO, pointed out that India follows a subsidy programme that is price related. We give subsidies to our farmers through minimum support prices and then we subsidise through our ration shops for the consumers at a reasonable rate. Since these are price related, the argument internationally, particularly from the USA, was that this distorts the pricing mechanism and therefore distorts world trade. Western countries continue to subsidise outside of the price mechanism sometimes to the phenomenal extent of 80 percent to their farmers. And these highly subsidised agricultural and dairy products are wishing to come and penetrate into the Indian market and thereby destroying our farmers who are already victims of an agrarian crisis. 

The subsidies given by the government to farmers are not adequate to even allow farmers to live, Yechury said. It got to be de-linked from the pricing mechanism, and will be used as an excuse to move towards cash mechanism, that will cause havoc in the existing system of subsidies to our agriculture. Without these subsidies, neither can millions of our people survive nor can agriculture continue to grow which is still the backbone of our country’s economy. The General Council agreed to de-link the negotiations for permanent solution on public stock-holding, while our ambassador’s and our stated position is that until this issue on public stock-holding is resolved favourably as far as we are concerned, we will not be part of the protocol. There is a blatant contradiction in this and this contradiction itself exposes the chinks in the arm. In today’s condition, we are moving towards lower procurement of agricultural products by the government and moving greater towards market mechanism which are fluctuating and unstable, and on that basis, one bad monsoon or one inadequate monsoon, the fate of millions of our farmers will be in jeopardy. Therefore, there is no question of signing any general agreement on agriculture till this issue is finally settled in our favour.

CPI(M) moved the Statutory Motion in Rajya Sabha against the government’s decision to amend the Central Excise Act to increase excise duty on petrol and diesel. The motion was moved by Yechury along with K N Balagopal. The notice was admitted, now this will have to recommend to Lok Sabha. If this notice in Rajya Sabha be approved by majority of its members, then it would be an embarrassment for the government.

Speaking on Demands for Supplementary Grants – General, Leader of the Party in Lok Sabha P Karunakaran pointed out that the Supplementary Demands for Grants placed before this House by our Finance Minister includes 54 Ministries and Departments. The gap between the export and import is 21 per cent. Production is not good in the mining service sector and other sectors also. The indirect tax collection has gone down and the deficit comes to about 89.06 per cent. The prices are going up without any control. There is a negative growth in the industrial sector also. The government has decided to dismantle the Planning Commission which has a role with regard to resource mobilisation, allocation to the weaker sections of the states. The 14th Lok Sabha passed a significant Act as far as MGNREGA is concerned which is aimed at creating assets and employment. Now, there are only 2,500 blocks which are confined to MGNREGA. It is not a Scheme, it is an Act. The changes which have been done by the government in this Act, have to be reviewed. In Kerala, we have cent percent education. We have better planning, housing and health systems. But we are not getting funds as per the prescribed norms. Therefore, there should not be uniformity but flexibility. The proposal for the development of social sector in the year 2013-14 was 10.8 per cent but it has been reduced to 4.42 per cent. The cooperative movement in Kerala is not merely for commercial or financial purpose. It undertakes a large number of social activities. But the Finance Bill which was passed in this House in 2005 had created a number of difficulties in their day-to-day functioning.  

Under the Short Duration Discussion in Lok Sabha on the situation arising due to the reported incident of religious conversions, Md. Salim referred to the incident in Agra, the place which is famous for Taj Mahal - a symbol of love, but now what is happening is a very serious matter. Our Constitution does not permit forced or lured conversion. On the one hand, we talk of smart cities and we talk of burning slums on the other. This is double standard, this should not happen.

Speaking on the Short Duration discussion on prevailing agrarian crisis in Rajya Sabha, K N Balagopal pointed out that the agrarian crisis has not spared any state. The unprecedented crisis has put farmers in acute distress and it is manifested in unfortunate escalation of farmer suicides. There is serious crises in rubber, tea, jute and other plantation crops. Subsidies must be given to them. The government is not supporting farmers. Neo-liberal policies have affected agriculture badly.

In the Upper House, the Home Minister made the statement regarding the incident of sexual assault on a woman by a cab driver in Delhi. Speaking on the statement, T N Seema point out that war on women is going on in a country, which we proudly say ‘India’. Women are not safe anywhere. Even in capital, they are not safe. Then what about the rural India. There were many promises made in the House and outside regarding fast-track courts, speedy trial, sensitisation of judiciary, short-stay homes, etc. But what are the concrete steps taken by the Ministry to ensure safety of women in the last seven months. The Criminal Law amendment Act makes official accountable of the government, what about the accountability of the Ministries when they fail to fulfil the promises made.


Government Bills

Despite opposition by Congress and CPI(M) members, the Lok Sabha passed The Repealing and Amending (Second) Bill, 2014 which is aimed at doing away with enactments that have ceased to be in force or have become obsolete, and at correcting formal defects in laws. Speaking on this, A Sampath said while a Standing Committee has been entrusted with the job of going through the issues, the government is insisting that this House should consider and pass the Bill. 

In Lok Sabha, the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill, 2014 was introduced and passed, though Left MPs protested saying it will open the scope of exploitation by private sector in the coal sector. Speaking on this, Jitendra Chaudhury said actually through this PPP route and Foreign Direct Investment, scope is being given to the private players and indiscriminate looters. In 1999, there was an amendment for captive plants unit. It is because we were suffering from energy deficit. That is why some captive plants were given power. Simultaneously, about 246 coal blocks were allotted. But in most of the cases, the Supreme Court had to intervene as the coal scam happened. It has been seen that in most of the blocks which were allotted, no production has started yet and they are lying idle. That is why, instead of strengthening the CIL, a public sector undertaking, they are thinking of denationalisation of these mines, which are our assets. We cannot be in agreement with that. 

Speaking on the School of Planning and Architecture Bill, 2014, Ritabrata Banerjee pointed out that architecture in our country is rooted in our history and culture. It is an assimilation of our diversities. I urge upon the government to see to it that as we move forward with advancement of ideas with more increased spending on education along with more social spending, there is a situation where the tolerance is championed. While supporting the Central Universities (Amendment) Bill, C P Narayanan in Rajya Sabha said the Central Universities should be teaching universities. Many of the teachers are not given UGC salaries. All the teaching posts should be filled. Some authorities are highly arbitrary. Delhi University and Pondicherry Central University are some instances. You have to put an end to it. I think universities and other institutions should be made a model in handling the issue of sexual harassment. Observation of democratic norms should be one of the norms to select Vice-Chancellors and other authorities.

The Textile Undertaking (Nationalization) Laws (Amendment) and Validation) Bill, 2014 was passed in Rajya Sabha. Speaking on this T N Seema said since the content and intent of this Bill has nothing objectionable so CPI(M) supports this Bill. 

Rajya Sabha passed The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Orders (Amendment) Bill, 2014. While supporting the Bill, Jharna Das Baidya drawn the attention of the House to Dhoba, Shabdakar and Baidyakar communities who are enlisted in the SC list but they are not getting unskilled occupation stipend. There are so many loopholes in the Act. The government should take necessary steps to remove them. There should be reservation in the public sector, as well as, in the private sector. There has been a constant demand for increasing the stipend for students, as well as, the yearly limit of family income of people belonging to the Scheduled Castes. It should be increased too, she said. 


Private Bills

CPI(M) member P Karunakaran introduced the Banning of Harmful Pesticides Bill, 2014 and Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2014 in Lok Sabha.

In Rajya Sabha, K N Balagopal introduced The Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 2013 seeking to further amend the Indian Penal Code (IPC). While moving the motion for consideration of the Bill, Balagopal said: "The intention of this Bill is to curb corruption and make proper amendment in the existing law to recover the properties acquired by the people as part of penalty clause. The government gave the assurance of bringing back black money but it has not yet done anything. For controlling corruption and bringing back the money, there should be some provision in the IPC. The Bill is meant for taking back the manipulated and ill-gotten money as penalty.