March 27, 2016

The Week in Parliament

THERE was uproar in Rajya Sabha a day after a sting video purportedly showed 11 Trinamool Congress leaders accepting money from a fictitious firm. CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury appealed to Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to assure that the sting against the TMC leaders will be probed and a House committee will be set up to enquire into it. Lok Sabha witnessed a heated exchange of words between TMC members and other opposition MPs. Raising the matter, Md. Salim said the dignity of the House should be protected as some members were found to be indulging in unethical conduct. Keeping in view the gravity of the matter, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan decided to refer the matter to the Committee on Ethics for examination, investigation and report.

Lok Sabha took up discussion on the situation arising out of the recent terror attack on Pathankot air base. Speaking on this, Salim said this was a serious issue as it relates to the national security. It has got two aspects. First, we all will have to speak in one voice about cross-border terrorism. Secondly, we should sit together and decide as to how to overcome it so that terrorists do not have the courage to sneak into India and attack us. We are also concerned about Indo-Pak relations. We feel that there should be good relations between India and Pakistan but we should also keep our border safe. When our External Affairs Minister visited Pakistan and comprehensive dialogue resumed, some people across the border tried to derail the process by launching such attacks on our country. The government should remain firm and the dialogue process should continue. The other point is that the terrorists are using the narcotics routes. The government should look into it.

Rajya Sabha took up discussion on the General Budget. Speaking on this, K N Balagopal said our economy is being seriously affected due to the global economic crisis. Purchasing power and employment opportunities are contracting. The government should spend more on public sector. The government say the PPP model is good for the corporate sector but it has been a failure in the country. There is a need for mobilisation of additional resources. The government has not done anything to increase the tax-GDP ratio. There is a new tax on cashew import and the entire cashew industry in Kerala is suffering on account of this. So far as 'Make in India' is concerned, we have to do something to support the foreign investors.

K K Ragesh, while delivering his maiden speech, said when industrial growth is stagnant, when the export is falling, when the agrarian distress is deepening and farmers are committing suicide, can we claim that our economy is booming? Today, medicine prices are sky-rocketing and manufacturing sector is registering a decline. There are only thirteen billionaires who are holding wealth equal to two-thirds of the total population. It shows an alarming increase of inequality and this all is because of the policy of the government.

Later Finance Minister Arun Jaitley replied to the discussion on the General Budget, after which it was passed.

While discussing the Railway Budget in Rajya Sabha, Tapan Kumar Sen said the budget made a proposal for inviting GE in the locomotive area whereas in Chittaranjan Locomotive Works, the locomotive producing capacity under BHEL, which was established only to feed the Railways, and other wagon manufacturing units, is severely underutilised and it is being neglected. Their technology and productivity are not being modernised. How far is this approach consistent with the government's overall approach of Make in India? Secondly, you have planned a huge capital expenditure for expansion of Railways. But you are not depending on your own resources generation but on PPP route. Lastly, you have expressed a great concern on safety but without filling the safety-related manpower vacancies, safety cannot fall automatically from the sky. T K Rangarajan reminded the minister of the promises and commitments of his predecessors. Ritabrata Banerjee said rail is a public transport and the public transport must have public characteristics. People were expecting that budget will address the issues of expanding railway connectivity but they were disappointed. Developing infrastructure has been forgotten. Three lakh vacant posts are mainly in maintenance and safety sector. It has been mentioned that hospitals, central schools and 191 factories will come up in West Bengal. There is no mention of Kisan Vision Yojana at Singur, coach factory at Noapara and Kanchrapara and rail wheel factory at New Jalpaiguri. The factories announced earlier are nowhere to be seen in West Bengal.

Legislative Bill

In order to scuttle the strategy of the government to pass the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Bill, 2016 before the Budget Session goes for recession, the opposition including CPI(M) recommended several amendments to the Bill. In Rajya Sabha, Yechury raised objection on certain points. He said this bill is ultra vires of the Constitution. The Constitution provides us, as fundamental rights, the right to life and liberty and this 'liberty' includes privacy. This Bill violates the individual privacy of any citizen of our country. This is beyond the legislative competence of the House. Secondly, the Supreme Court has constituted a five-member bench to examine this issue. On this the Deputy Chairman said this bill was transmitted from the Lok Sabha and as it was passed in Lok Sabha, at this stage the legislative competence question does not arise and we are bound to consider it. While this was taken up in Lok Sabha, Md. Salim objected to it. However, the bill was passed in its original form.

Tapan Sen, while objecting to the manner this bill was made a Money Bill, said an impression is being given that once the Aadhaar Bill is passed, everybody will get a subsidy. Aadhaar is only fixing the identity. More people will be excluded if Aadhaar is made mandatory for the subsidy regime. The Aadhaar has been operating in our country for quite some time but till now the character of coverage is quite low.

Lok Sabha passed the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill, after it was passed in the Rajya Sabha last week. Speaking on this, A Sampath said most of the illicit money is having its roots in the real estate sector. This definition of 'allottee' in Clause 2(c) of the Bill may be improved. Why should there be a discrepancy or a difference between houses of 500 square metres and above 500 square metres? If any of the realtors are making any difference or showing any discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, religion, food habits, skin colour, race etc. it should be punished because it is an illegal act.Speaking on the Bill, Joice George said this bill is the need of the hour too.

The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2016, a bill seeking to guard against claims of succession or transfer of properties left by people who migrated to Pakistan and China after the wars, was referred to a 23-member committee of Rajya Sabha for detailed scrutiny. This bill was passed by Lok Sabha last week.

The Lok Sabha approved a bill to include three castes in the list of Scheduled Castes (SC) in Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Kerala, Odisha and West Bengal. Speaking on the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order (Amendment) Bill, A Sampath said the rights of the poor people, the landless people, the toiling masses, the Scheduled Caste people, the Scheduled Tribe people, the minorities, and the other backward classes are being trampled upon. We all know that one million vacancies are yet to be filled up in various government departments and public sector undertakings including public sector banks and insurance companies. Why has the demand for reservation in the private sector come up? Nowadays, we hear about public-private partnership, privatisation of public sector, disinvestment etc. There is a fear that a day will come when the disenfranchisement of the poor people may also happen where the economic power would be grabbing away the political power of the people. It has become a practice that those who are deadly against reservation, who propagate self-immolation, who encourage suicide against reservation are now coming and demanding reservation. Even the propertied class are also coming forward. We have the National Commission for the Other Backward Classes. Unfortunately, the National Commission for the Other Backward Classes does not have any constitutional status at all. It is working just like a post office. We are sending some complaints; they are sending some replies. We are sending some appeals; they are also sending some replies. It has to be given constitutional status.

Parliament passed a bill to replace the 30-year old Bureau of Indian Standards Act and bring more products like jewellery under the mandatory standard regime.

Farewell Speech

While rendering his farewell speech, K N Balagopal thanked all the leaders. We experienced a lot of heated arguments and discussions. But the friendship developed after such experiences will be cherished. Rajya Sabha is the highest body that symbolises the federal character of the country. We discussed the Education Tribunal Bill .There were great experiences like the impeachment of Justice Soumitra Sen. We had great discussions and arguments on the Lokpal Bill as well. I raised the issue of the airport fees. I am getting pessimistic because the issue of rubber growers could not be solved.

T N Seema said every day in this House has been very educative. There were memorable debates on corruption, price rise, food security, women safety, etc. For a large and diverse democracy like India, this Council of States is the foundation of cooperative federalism. When law-making bodies like Assemblies and Parliaments have 50 per cent women then we can proudly say that Indian women have half the sky.

The first half of the Budget Session concluded on March 16. The House will meet again on April 25.