July 21, 2019

The Week in Parliament

CPI(M) Parliamentary Office

ON July 5, Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman presented the Union Budget 2019-20 in Lok Sabha and subsequently it was laid in Rajya Sabha. 

Speaking on the budget in Lok Sabha, P Natarajan said it is shocking that the government has chosen to give several tax concessions to the corporate sector while burdening the common people with additional excise duties on petrol and diesel to the tune of Rs 2 per litre. The budget shows very little increase in spending for people. Total subsidies as per cent of total expenditure have remained almost unchanged at about 12 per cent. The first woman finance minister of the country has presented a budget in which the expenditure on women has fallen from 5.1 per cent to 4.9 per cent. There has been a marginal increase in spending on welfare of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes but it continues to be much less than their share in the population. Despite the government's own statistics showing a massive increase in unemployment, the finance minister has cut the allocation for MGNREGA by Rs 1,000 crore as compared to revised estimates for last year. Spending on the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the government's flagship programme, has been reduced by about Rs 4,500 crore. The budget reflects the complete denial by the government of the real economic situation of the country-which is a living proof of the inability of a private capital-led development process to either address the agrarian crisis or create employment opportunities outside it. This budget, therefore, is bound to mount further economic burdens on the vast majority of our people.

In Rajya Sabha, Elamaram Kareem said the budget discriminated against Kerala. The government of Kerala had asked the central government for permission to raise the limit of its borrowings. That too was not agreed to by the central government.  The budget speech is full of promises and commitments to the big corporates, capitalists and the wealthy to strengthen their grip on the Indian economy. But there is nothing for India's working class, farmers and labourers. The government is trying to put the burden of all revenue shortfall on the shoulders of these sections. The finance minister's speech was generally short of any real details regarding the revenue measures and expenditure commitments of the union government for 2019-20 and was completely silent on the problems of economic slowdown, agrarian distress, industrial stagnation and joblessness that currently afflict the Indian economy. The government is actually exaggerating the figures to portray India as a strong economy growing at much faster rate compared to the other economies in the world. The budget has no specific proposal or answer as to how the projected GDP growth of 7 per cent for 2019-20 will be achieved. Instead of addressing the fundamental problems in the taxation system and raising more resources from direct taxes, the finance minister has chosen to give several tax concessions to the corporate sector.

A M Ariff took part in the discussion in Lok Sabha on the demand for grants for the ministry of railways. He said insufficient funds have been earmarked for new lines, gauge conversion, doubling of lines and electrification that act as a major impediment for development of the railways. The demand for development of ‘adarsh stations’ in Kerala’s Alappuzha, Cherthala and Mararikulam has not been met. The state of Kerala has acquired 235 acres of land for a railway factory in Kozhikode. Even after laying the foundation stone six years ago, nothing has been done on that land.  I am sorry to say that Kerala has been a neglected region for the railways. The long pending demand for a separate railway zone for Kerala has not been made. Till now, the railway has not given the compensation amount for many who have given the land for track doubling in Kerala. Despite tall claims on security and safety, the budget speech on railways is silent on the shortage of human resources. Around three lakh vacancies, majority of which are related to management and maintenance of safety standards in railway operations, remained unfilled. Sadly, the national transporter is also going on the way of privatisation like many other public sector undertakings.

A short duration discussion on the need for electoral reforms in the country was held in Rajya Sabha. Speaking on the subject, CPI(M) leader T K Rangarajan said that my party is of the opinion that far-reaching thorough electoral reforms are required in order to strengthen our democracy. He pitched for a system whereby the election commissioners are appointed by a collegium formed by the President of India rather than by the government. He demanded a legislation to ensure that at least 50 per cent of the votes counted by electronic voting machines (EVMs) are matched with VVPAT. There is also a need for re-examination of the credibility of EVMs. Permission should not be given by the government to accept foreign money or corporate money to conduct elections. We should move towards a system of state funding. The partial, proportional representation must be there. To justify his demand, he said the BJP, with 31 per cent of vote share, won 282 seats, whereas in Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party drew blank even after receiving 33 per cent of votes.

Speaking on the Aadhar and other Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in Lok Sabha, P Natarajan said the amendment bill violates the supreme court's decision on Aadhaar and puts data and privacy of Indian residents into jeopardy. Lack of transparency, public consultation and scrutiny by any parliamentary committee are all glaring omissions. According to the government, it is voluntary in nature, but all organisations, including the Reserve Bank of India, says that it is mandatory. Privacy and security concerns related to Aadhaar remain unaddressed. A special law on personal data protection must be enacted.

Supporting the Homeopathy Central Council (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in Rajya Sabha, K Somaprasad said homoeopathy is an integral part of Indian healthcare system. More attention of the government is needed to it, especially homoeopathy medical education section. Most of the medical colleges are working without proper infrastructure. More money has to be pumped in for the infrastructural development. The efficacy of homoeopathy medicines in the prevention and treatment of viral diseases has been clinically proven. A separate virology research institute on this subject is the need of the hour. The main problem is that homoeopathic medical doctors are facing a lack of sufficient job opportunities. So the government should open more homoeopathy dispensaries.

Speaking on the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers' Cadre) Bill, 2019 in Rajya Sabha, K K Ragesh said the bill seeks to provide reservation in teaching posts in certain educational institutions and the bill treats educational institution, per se, as a unit for the purpose of reservation and hence, it overrules the judgment of the supreme court, which was delivered in 2017. The government could have brought a bill in this ‘house’ in 2017 itself. But it waited for two years and all of a sudden, it found that an election is at hand. So, it promulgated an ordinance. That is the very reason why we had opposed the ordinance route. Even after promulgating the ordinance, 13 universities in the country have published advertisements for teaching posts in which the reservation policy was violated. During this period, we have witnessed a mushrooming growth of educational institutions in our country. That growth is mainly taking place in private sector. Reservation should be extended to private educational institutions as well.

In Rajya Sabha, K Somaprasad supported the Dentists (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and called for establishment of more dental colleges. Urgent measures should be taken to ensure quality of dental education as well, he said.

Speaking on the Indian Medical Council (Amendment) Bill, 2019 in Rajya Sabha, K K Ragesh said the Medical Council of India has failed to regulate medical education in the country. Allegations were levelled against MCI and the supreme court had to intervene and appoint an ‘oversight committee’. MCI is an elected body and it had ensured representation from various states. The government is trying to make MCI as a mere central government department which is highly objectionable. During the last few years, mushrooming growth of private medical colleges in our country has taken place which are collecting exorbitant capitation fee. Merit is not being considered. Merit is replaced with money power. It is requested to look into the matter so that the needy and poor students get the opportunity to study medicine.

K K Ragesh requested the government to order an inquiry into a report which revealed that premium brands of edible salt contain alarming levels of poisonous and cancerous components such as potassium ferrocyanide. He said the government should ensure that this kind of contaminated salt is not distributed. K Somaprasad requested that the government issue a total prohibition or impose strict restrictions on e-cigarettes.