The Week in Parliament
CPI(M) Parliamentary Office
THE Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was passed by parliament despite strong objections raised by the CPI(M) and other opposition parties. The divisive bill was passed by Lok Sabha on December 9 and by Rajya Sabha on December 11. Speaking against the legislation in the lower house, CPI(M) member S Venkatesan said we have no doubt this bill will haunt India for the next several years. A secular country can never offer citizenship on the basis of religion. The idea goes against the very fundamentals of our constitution. This idea goes against the traditions followed by India all along. The Indian political entity does not discriminate among its people on the basis of their forms of worship. “I wish to emphasise that if this bill is passed today, this day will go down in the Indian history as a barbaric day when India officially gave up on its very humanitarian principle,” he asserted.
It is indeed true that non-Muslims are persecuted in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. But is religion alone a tool for persecution? Many groups, including the Ahmadiyya, have been oppressed. The world knows why Malala Yousafzai was thrown out of Pakistan. Religion alone is not a measure of violence. Religion alone cannot become the basis for any decision. “I wish to ask how would you see an atheist who refuses to follow any religion? Why are you refusing to speak about Myanmar and Sri Lanka?” Venkatesan said. We are aware that persecution of Tamils in Sri Lanka is an act of Sinhala Buddhist majoritarianism. In Tamil Nadu today, 59,716 Tamils from Sri Lanka live in 107 camps across 24 districts. They have been here for three decades. There are refugees who have been born and grown up here. Why are you maintaining a silence on them? We wish to point out that this bill is against Muslims, against Tamils. In addition to giving an open call to Hindus in neighbouring countries, this bill hands over a direct threat and humiliation to Muslims in this country. “The home minister said that the people have given them the power to rule this country for the next four-and-half years. We agree but the people have only given you the power to rule -- not to divide this country. They have not given you power to push India to bottom using hatred as a vehicle,” he said. Union home minister Amit Shah introduced the bill in both houses of parliament.
In Rajya Sabha, CPI(M) member K K Ragesh sought that the bill be referred to a select committee, but it was rejected. Speaking against the legislation in the upper house, CPI(M) member T K Rangarajan said the bill was anti-constitutional, illegal and immoral. “On behalf of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), I oppose the bill tooth and nail,” he said. The bill’s stated objective is laudable, but its very text not only undermines that objective but also destroys the plural fabric of the Indian constitution. In its careful listing of protected communities, it explicitly and intentionally leaves out Muslims. The message is discrimination, exclusion and second-class citizenship based on religion. There are a number of countries surrounding India that have unleashed terrible violence upon minorities -- Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and Tamils in Sri Lanka. It is a Buddhist State, please remember. How the Sri Lankan government treats Tamils? That is why, my amendments to this Bill will be, make it for all neighbouring countries and there should not be any religion-based criterion. What is being done by the government is “Vinaash kaale vipareet buddhi (as doom approaches, one’s intellect works against best interest)”. “So, don't spoil the country and don't spoil the constitution,” Rangarajan said.
In Lok Sabha, A M Ariff opposed the Taxation Laws (Amendment) Bill. While moving the bill, the finance minister should have taken into account the raging debate taking place in the US about lowering corporate tax rates by the present Trump administration. The proposed tax reduction was from 35 per cent to 21 per cent. Economists and some top industrialists even in US criticised this move because it is against the cardinal principles of taxation. As we know, there is a progressive tax and a regressive tax. Progressive tax means that the rich will pay more tax and it is a widely accepted principle all over the world. The other one is regressive tax in which the poor people pay more tax, and this directly affects the lower income citizens. Several other advanced economies have top income tax rates. Sweden, often cited as the most progressive tax regime in the OECD, which includes 36 countries, maintains a top statutory income tax rate of 57.1 per cent. Other advanced economies are Japan (55.9 per cent), France (54.5 per cent), and Canada (53.5 per cent).
The government has written off debt of corporates, while the poor suffer. As per latest reports, all banks have written off a total of Rs 2.75 lakh crore. The revenue loss to the government through tax reduction will be substantial and it is estimated by the government itself that it will stand at Rs 1.45 lakh crore. This means, it will push up the already strained fiscal deficit to four per cent, which will be highly inflationary and thus will be further eroding the purchasing power of the common man. Also, tax concessions to the corporate sector will not lead to any employment growth since their tendency is to replace labour with machines. If the intention of the government is to ensure a real growth in the economy, it should take measures to increase the purchasing power of the people, which will benefit all segments of the society. “But this Bill is only for the benefit of the corporates, and hence I oppose the Bill,” he said.
During a discussion in Rajya Sabha on the reported use of Pegasus spyware to compromise phone data of some persons through WhatsApp, CPI(M) member K K Ragesh said it is a serious issue. The Israeli spyware was used to snoop on social activists, political leaders and even journalists. Facebook has already confirmed that it had informed the matter to the government twice, in May and September. So, why the government hid the information it got from Facebook? And why the government did not caution the WhatsApp users about this security threat and the issue of snooping? The owner of the Pegasus software, NSO, had said that it was selling the spyware only to government or government agencies. Then, how did it come to India? Which government agency brought Pegasus software to India? Was it brought by the government directly or through any other agency? The people who were targeted were raising their voice against the government. So how can one believe that the government has no role in bringing the software for snooping. The right to privacy is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. “I am requesting the government to immediately bring forward the data protection law with comprehensive provisions to ensure that right to privacy is treated as a fundamental right,” Ragesh said.
The CPI(M) opposed the Special Protection Group (Amendment) Bill in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha. Speaking against the bill in Rajya Sabha, K K Ragesh said, “I have many reasons to believe that this bill is politically motivated. The intentions of bringing forward this bill are not broad but these are narrow political intentions.”
Rajya Sabha, K Somaprasad supported the National Capital Territory of Delhi (Recognition of Property Rights of Residents in Unauthorised Colonies) Bill, with certain reservations. This must resolve vital problems of over 40 lakh residents of the 1,731 unauthorized colonies. “But what has inspired the government to bring this bill now? We all know that it is the upcoming Assembly elections in Delhi. The enactment of this law should not be only for election publicity. There are serious apprehensions about the implementation of the law. The government should clarify how many families would be benefitted and if they have any data to support it. How many days would the government take to complete this process? The benefit should go to the actually affected people,” he said. Today, 30 per cent of Delhi's population live in these unauthorised colonies. Since the colonies are unauthorised, government agencies are also facing several legal hurdles. I feel that regularisation would help resolve these problems. But the phenomenon of migration is continuing. Every day, thousands and thousands of new inhabitants come to the cities from rural areas. Nobody could stop this flow. Why this migration? It is due to the wrong policies of the government. Due to their anti-farmer policies, farmers are in a debt trap. They are not getting a fair price for their agricultural produce. They are reluctant to continue farming. Agricultural workers became unemployed. Moreover, lakhs and lakhs of small-scale and cottage industries have been closed. All of them are migrating to the cities for their livelihood. These poor people settle in unauthorised colonies and slums. In the absence of affordable housing for the poor, they are forced to settle in unauthorised colonies and slums. The government should look into their problems also.
On the concern over rise in prices of essential commodities, particularly onion, K K Ragesh said in Rajya Sabha that in various parts of the country, the price of onion has reached more than Rs 120 per kg. In reply to a question, the minister said 32,000 tons of onion have rotten in godowns. The government is allowing onions to get rotten in godowns, but not providing it to the people. The price rise had started in October. During the first week of November, the minister said it was due to a fall in the production. In fact, the government was aware of the rise in demand. But, unfortunately, what role had the government played? The government played a mere spectator's role. We are the largest exporter of onion in the world. We are producing surplus onion, more than our domestic requirement. But this price rise is not for the first time. Every year, in the months of November and December, we are witnessing steep hike in the prices of onion. What role is the government playing? Unfortunately, hoarders and black-marketers are benefitting out of it, and it seems that the government is aiding them by not intervening.
On the demand for enhancing upper income limit for SC/ST student scholarship, CPI(M) member K Somaprasad the upper income limit of Rs 2.5 lakh per annum is an injustice. “I request the government that steps may be taken to issue scholarship to all SC/ST students without considering the family income…the amount of the scholarship is very, very meagre. It is requested that the minimum amount may be fixed as Rs 1,000 per year because some other students from other communities who are studying in the same classes are getting Rs 1,000 per year,” he said.
In Rajya Sabha, T K Ragarajan spoke on the rising mental health problems among people. The World Happiness Report ranks India at 140 out of 156 countries. India is failing its citizens by not providing proper mental health facility. Bhutan is the first to release Gross National Happiness Index, and UAE, the first to create a Ministry for Happiness. The WHO’s definition of good health includes physical, social and mental wellbeing. Mental wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing. Socio emotional development is more important than socio economic development. India is one of the most depressed countries where nearly six crore people suffer from depression. People below poverty line are affected more by stress which leads to depression. Manual and under-skilled labourers, working more than 14 hours a day and deprived of social contact and interaction, turning to alcohol or drugs to overcome depression. Schools are a source of stress. Good marks lead to good college which in turn leads to good jobs. Good jobs in India are not as remunerative as a few other countries, leading to depression in some. Though India had started giving importance to mental health as early as 1982 by launching the National Mental Health Programme and through various other Acts, these concentrate primarily on treatment than prevention. With the massive shortage of mental health professionals in the country, and rising mental health problems, prevention is the best possible approach than treatment. I urge upon the government to take suitable steps in this regard.
In Rajya Sabha, Elamaram Kareem spoke on the strike by employees of Kochi refinery of BPCL. Kochi refinery, is one of the two main refineries of BPCL, presently having a crude oil refining capacity of 15.5 Million Metric Tonnes Per Annum (MMTPA). The product portfolio of the Kochi refinery today includes petrochemical feed stocks and specialty products in addition to its range of quality fuels. At present, this refinery, along with other refineries of BPCL, is going through a tough time due to the decision of the union cabinet to privatise BPCL. As far as Kochi refinery is concerned, it is one of the biggest industries in Kerala and it is operating on profit since beginning. The government of Kerala acquired land and gave it to the refinery for setting up a major industry. Another project is in pipeline. The government of Kerala is acquiring 500 acres of land for further expansion. At this juncture, the privatization has jeopardised all the expansion work. The government of Kerala and the Kerala Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution and I would request the government of India to refrain from the privatization move and hand over that unit, if it is willing to keep it in the public sector, to the Kerala government.