Vol. XLI No. 08 February 19, 2017

The week in parliament

CPI(M) Parliamentary Office

The second week of the Budget Session started with the discussion on the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address, wherein all the opposition parties slammed the government’s decision of demonetisation which has resulted in job losses, economic slowdown, agricultural distress and overall misery for the people.

Speaking on this in the Rajya Sabha, Sitaram Yechury said demonetisation is the biggest disruption that has happened to the country. It has disrupted the normal existence of a vast majority of the people and their day-to-day livelihood. None of the targets that the Prime Minister cited as reasons for this move has been achieved. All the black money that was held as stock in the country has now been converted into white. The government claimed that this move will reduce terrorism and corruption. But on the contrary, these are increasing. There is not even a mention in the President’s speech of more than a hundred people who died while wanting to withdraw money from banks. Nearly 80 per cent of the country’s employment is generated in the informal economy which is based on cash transactions. All that have been disrupted. A massive surge in unemployment has been registered. This move is eventually widening inequalities. If the government really wants to curb political corruption, the expenditure of political parties should be brought under a ceiling. It is very clear now that by digital economy, this government is giving a bonanza of profit maximisation to some companies, a bulk of which are foreign firms.

It is very unfortunate that farmer suicide rate has gone up. The government should waive off their loans for the welfare and prosperity of India. Because of anti-Romeo squads and cow protection squads, some innocent people have lost their lives. Today, intolerance is growing. Actually, a diabolic project is unfolding today. What is that agenda? Again, the construction of Ram temple is back on the agenda. The effort is to transform the secular, democratic Indian republic into their version of theocratic, rabidly intolerant Hindu Rashtra. Therefore, this deception, disruption, diversion which is the essence of the President’s Address should not be allowed to lead to the unfolding of the diabolic agenda.

In the Lok Sabha, Md. Salim said there is no ray of hope in the President’s address. The promise, made during last elections, of 4 per cent rate of interest on loan for farmers has not been fulfilled. The entire South India is under the grip of drought. The matter of women's reservation has been pending for long. As per data, women and child trafficking is on rise. This is a social, economic, political and administrative challenge in front of the government. The objective of the Constitution and the basis of democracy lies in the fact the religion and politics should remain separate. The President’s address does not mention it. ‘One Nation, One Election’ is very good thing. The Assembly and Lok Sabha elections should be conducted together.

The Prime Minister gave reply to the debate on both Houses. Yechury said the Prime Minister shied away from answering to the issues related to demonetisation and instead engaged in rhetoric and sloganeering. The sanctity of the debate on the motion of thanks to the President’s Address is being hijacked into election propaganda. One question was asked as to how much money has returned to the banks, but there was no reply.

In the Lok Sabha, P Karunakaran took part on the discussion on General Budget. He said the major objective of the budget should be to make social changes, reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. The budget was presented before the House when the common people of India were reeling under the impact of demonetisation. The increase in allocation to various ministries is nominal. The size of the budget has come down from 13.5 per cent of the GDP last year to 12.2 per cent of the GDP. There is reduction in the public expenditure. The total revenue received has come down. The tax forgone has gone up. On these grounds, the government is trying to reduce the fiscal deficit from 6.32 per cent to 3.2 per cent. We should have had better allocation for the agriculture sector. Rate of interest on farm loans should be brought down to four per cent. The government said it has laid emphasis on the health sector and infrastructure sector, but the allocation for NRHM is only Rs 5,000 crore. The allocations to the states are not sufficient to meet their demands. The reduction of income tax from 10 per cent to 5 per cent would give some relief to the middle class and the salaried people but to compensate the loss, revenue surcharge has been imposed. It is after 92 years that the Railway Budget is merged with the General Budget. We have given several suggestions that need due consideration. More fund must be earmarked for doubling of lines, electrification, new lines, infrastructure facilities, etc. The government is getting high foreign exchange from NRIs, and 90 per cent of NRIs are from Kerala. But there is no provision or package for the NRIs.

In the Rajya Sabha, Tapan Kumar Sen took part in the discussion on the budget. He said it is a contractionary budget. The GDP is consistently declining. If we talk about expenditure, in terms of figures, it is shown that a great increase has been made for SCs, STs, women, tribal population and minorities. But, if we go in terms of GDP, but the reality is different. I call this a deceptive budget. The government is going ahead with privatisation of all profit-making public sectors whereas the 'Make in India' slogan is being given to befool the people.

Legislative Bills
The Payment of Wages (Amendment) Bill, 2017 was passed in both Houses. In the Lok Sabha, Sankar Prasad Dutta asked what was the urgency to make this into a law by issuing an ordinance. In the Rajya Sabha, T K Rangarajan took part in the discussion and said that this corporate-friendly government is trying to impose this Bill on the people. Under the existing Act, a worker possesses the right to choose as to which mode he receives his wage. Crores of people do not have any bank account at all. In unorganised sector and unbanked rural areas, it would create a serious problem. The worker's right to consent or choose the mode of payment of wage should be incorporated in the bill.

The Lok Sabha also passed the Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of Liabilities) Bill, 2017 that ends the RBI and the government’s liability on currencies demonetised on November 8 last year. Speaking on this, A Sampath asked who was responsible for this action? Demonetisation was a war on the people. If the government wants to help the e-wallet companies, it should tell the truth to the nation, he said. Joice George said that due to demonetisation, plantation workers, agricultural labourers and the poor people are at the receiving end. All cooperative societies have been conferred constitutional status. The Central and Cooperative Societies and the District Cooperative Banks have been recognised under the RBI Act. Despite that, the right of cooperative societies has been taken away and these were barred from transactions after demonetisation.

Other Issues
Tapan Kumar Sen, in the Rajya Sabha, raised concern over privatisation/strategic sale of public sector undertakings and said the purpose was not to promote ‘Make in India’ but to help big corporate houses.
Jharna Das Baidya raised the issue of poor police infrastructure despite rising crimes in the country. Many police stations in the country do not have vehicles, phones and wireless sets. Manipur has 43 police stations without phones or wireless sets. The government should take immediate steps to improve the condition of police stations, particularly for women in the country, she said.

Ritabrata Banerjee demanded that the UGC notification regarding admissions to M.Phil and PhD courses be revoked. Jawaharlal Nehru University’s present admission policy has several unique features for ensuring social inclusion and academic rigour. Adoption of the UGC notification will undermine JNU admission policy. JNU should be allowed to uphold its institutional autonomy.

C P Narayanan made a request for providing kerosene to traditional fishermen in Kerala at subsidised rates. In Kerala, there are more than 10 lakh people depending on fisheries. Their boats use kerosene as fuel. They used to be given more than 2,500 kilolitres of kerosene per month at about Rs 14 per litre. Now this quantity has been cut by more than 50 per cent.

K Somaprasad raised the problems being faced by Kerala Minerals and Metals Limited which is giving employment to large numbers of people, directly and indirectly. The company is facing challenges and cannot compete with China, one of the major producers of titanium dioxide, he said and sought the central government’s intervention.
The first phase of the Budget Session ended on February 9 and the second phase will begin on March 9 and will conclude on April 2.