December 27, 2015

The Week in Parliament

CPI(M) Parliamentary Office

THE week started with uproar in both the Houses of Parliament as the opposition united against the government over the exclusion of Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy from a programme attended by Prime Minister Narendra  Modi. In the Lok Sabha, the Left parties along with Congress, the NCP and the RJD, staged walkout. The Rajya Sabha was disrupted over the killing of a Dalit in Punjab and on the encroachment drive by Railways in Shakur Basti, Delhi where 500 slum-dwellings were demolished mindlessly leading to the death of a child and leaving several slum-dwellers roofless in winter. On this issue, a notice for short duration discussion was given by Sitaram Yechury, Leader of CPI(M) in the Rajya Sabha.

The Lok Sabha took up the discussion on prices of essential commodities under short duration discussion which was initiated by P Karunakaran, CPI(M) Leader in the House. Karunakaran said we are discussing a very important issue of the price rise which affects the day to day life of the people. Prices of essential commodities are going up every day. The price of dal has continually been in upwards trend causing the suffering of the people. Though it was considered as a poor man's protein, nowadays, it has become rich man's luxury. MSP for pulses should be substantially increased. The government has to go for procurement from the farmers. The Economic Survey of Delhi for 2014-15 shows that the prices of pulses and other items are now twice and thrice costlier. Hoarding and black-marketing are going on and the government is not taking any action. The skyrocketing prices of onion and other food items show that the prices have more than doubled from last year. The prices of rice and wheat show the same upward trend. One of the main reasons for the burden on the people is that when there is abnormally price rise, there is no corresponding increase in the wage of the workers and employees. There is no corresponding increase in the prices of agricultural produce and cash crops. The cost of production in all sectors is going up. The farmers find it difficult to cultivate their land because it has not only become an unprofitable profession but the prices of agricultural produce and cash crops are also declining. It should be ensured that they get Minimum Support Price, adequate subsidy, financial assistance including low interest rate on bank loans. We do not have adequate storage facilities and due to absence of this storage facility we are losing 30 to 35 per cent of our vegetables. There are other factors also like new taxes imposed by the central and state governments which contribute to the increasing burden on the poor. The best method to control the price rise is the Public Distribution System. The Food Security Act passed by the Parliament was a noble Act. But to get his Act implemented, the Centre has to fulfil its responsibilities. It has been repeatedly stated in the House that increase in petroleum prices in the international market is the main reason for increase in the prices of essential commodities. But now the prices of petroleum products have come down by 50 to 60 per cent in the international market. So, I want to know as to why this government is not able to transfer this benefit to the common people.

Left Front MPs staged a dharna inside the Parliament on the demand of renaming Chandigarh Airport after Shaheed Bhagat Singh.

Speaking on the Demand for Supplementary Grants (General) 2015-16 in the Lok Sabha, Md. Baddruddoza Khan said the budgetary allocation for agriculture has been decreased by more than Rs 5,000 crore. This budgetary allocation should be increased. Farmers are not getting the minimum support price. The burning issue of farmers suicide should be addressed by the government. The government should intervene seriously to meet all these difficulties in agriculture and cooperative sectors. I am demanding more allocation of funds to improve ICDS programme. Allocate more funds to the Ministry of Home Affairs to set up an Indo-Bangladesh Transit Checkpost at Lalgola in Murshidabad. The Ministry of Tourism needs more funds to set up one more new tourism circuit at the historical place Murshidabad. The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation needs more funds for providing safe drinking water.

Legislative Bill

The Lok Sabha passed the Atomic Energy (Amendment) Bill, 2015. Speaking on this, M B Rajesh said this Bill allows the formation of joint ventures between Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. and other government companies. We insist that the nuclear industry should continue to remain in the domain of the government and there should not be entry of private capital and FDI into this sector. That will compromise our national interest. I would like to make it clear that we are not opposed to nuclear energy. Compared to 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol was signed, in 2014 both wind and solar power exceeded power added by nuclear sources. All these are clear indications of nuclear energy becoming a much lesser source of energy throughout the world. This was the experience of Japan, France, Germany, Spain, the UK and even the United States. So, we should not turn a blind eye towards this global experience. In such circumstances, our government is investing heavily on nuclear energy and want to promote it as a major source of energy. That is a flawed policy. We should explore other sources especially in a country like India, where untapped hydro potential is enormous.

In the midst of uproar in the Rajya Sabha, the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2015 was introduced.

The Lok Sabha passed the Sugar Cess (Amendment) Bill, 2015. Speaking on this, P K Biju said this Bill proposes to amend the Sugar Cess Act, 1982. The rate of sugar cess is notified by the central government from time to time. This cess has been proposed to meet the government's expenditure on intervention to ensure payment due to the sugarcane farmers. We have no sugar policy today. We had a heated discussion in this. At that time, the sugar price was very low. In fact, it was only Rs 12.50. We exported sugar to other countries at that rate. At the same time, we imported sugar from other countries at Rs 30. That is why a sugar policy is very much important. I would like to ask the minister as to what is the present thinking of the government regarding a sugar policy. Eight hundred farmers committed suicide this year including sugarcane farmers. It is a very important Bill. We use 90 per cent of production. Sugar price impacts every other food items. The mill owners owe the farmers. This money is there in their hands. It is not given to the farmers till date. When we give that directly to the farmers then only we can change the present system. India's import price of sugar is Rs 2,200 per tonne. But the cost of production is around Rs 3,100 per tonne. So, it should be increased.

The Lok Sabha took up the Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Court Bill, 2015. Speaking on this, M B Rajesh said this Bill seeks to ensure speedy disposal of high value commercial disputes. This is nothing but an effort to serve the interests of corporates. The government should establish commercial courts on the basis of the requirement. The Standing Committee pointed out that Sikkim and Uttarakhand are having one and 25 such cases, respectively. So, the requirement of commercial courts is different from state to state. The government should have collected statistical data regarding the number of commercial suits, applications, appeals, and petitions pending before various courts. An important observation made by the Standing Committee is regarding the appointment of judges in commercial courts. The Bill gives the power to the Chief Justice of the High Court concerned. The power of appointment of person to the post of district judge in a state lies with the governor who exercises that power in consultation with the High Court concerned. Now, in this Bill that power has been given to the Chief Justice of the High Court. We do not have any complaint if the Indian legal system is responsive to the investor world. It is all right. But what is the responsiveness of our legal system to the common people of our country? The number of pending cases in all courts is estimated to be more than three crores. Why is there a huge number of undertrials in our jails? It is because of failure of our justice delivery system. Why has the government not concerned about making Indian legal system more responsive to ordinary poor and common people? So, I would like to make an appeal to the minister to address these serious issues which concern the ordinary and poor people. After discussion, the Bill  was passed with a few amendments.

The Lok Sabha passed the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Bill, 2015. This Bill aims at improving the ease of doing business and ensuring speedy disposal of arbitration cases. On this Bill, Joice George said that nowadays arbitration and conciliation have become a very lucrative business. In this Bill, we are trying to reduce the involvement of court in arbitration proceedings. We have also reduced the scope of judicial interference in an award by introducing a new section. On the other hand, we are reducing the scope of the public policy. Instead, we are encouraging international arbitration. Regarding the time limit prescribed in this enactment, we have a lot of enactment prescribing similar time limits for concluding the judicial process but in none of the cases, there is compliance. Yet another issue is regarding institutional arbitration. For institutional arbitration, we should have a specific policy. If we can introduce such a system here, we can avoid spending huge money on international arbitration. For this we have to set up centre for excellence for international arbitration. The awards made by the arbitration shall also be scrutinised by this apex body for the purpose of ensuring transparency and professionalism. By virtue of Section 11 of the Act, the Supreme Court and High Courts are entrusted with the responsibility to appoint arbitrators. There should be some checks and balances to demarcate the powers of the designated courts and designated judges to appoint arbitrators. Apart from it, we are signing a lot of international treaties every year. Unfortunately, in our Constitution there is no provision for getting all these international treaties ratified by Parliament before their implementation. So, my humble request to the minister is that there should be some mechanism in the Ministry of Law and Justice to see what are the treaties which are going to be signed by various ministries and they should be vetted by the Law Ministry.