THE WEEK IN PARLIAMENT
CPI(M) Parliamentary Office
IN Lok Sabha, CPI(M) member A M Ariff opposed the motion of thanks on president’s address to the joint sitting of parliament in the beginning of the budget session. The mover of the motion has done only “Modi-stuti” (glorification of Prime Minister Narendra Modi), nothing more than that. “That is why, I rise to oppose the contents of the motion of thanks. It is not so common for the opposition parties to boycott the president’s address as we witnessed this year. I believe the president is aware of the circumstances that led to such an unprecedented incident. Yet, unfortunately, it is not even reflected in his address. The farmers of the country are in the streets for the past 75 days across the country protesting against the corporate-oriented agricultural reforms…. What was the urgency to bring the three reform bills, without any consultation or without giving opportunity for debate in parliament, by promulgating ordinances when the whole country was fighting against Covid-19? The farmers are apprehensive of the reforms aimed at writing off the agriculture sector of this country to the corporates seriously affecting the income and livelihood of the farmers. Do the so-called annadatas of the country not deserve a better treatment? It is disappointing that instead of acknowledging the reality behind the farmers’ protest, (the address) tried to justify the wrongdoings of this insensitive government,” Ariff said. Instead of acknowledging the reasonable demands made by the farmers, the government is trying to suppress the unparalleled protest through use of brutal force, imposing draconian laws and portraying them as anti-nationals. He questioned the role of the Delhi Police in the violence on January 26 during the farmers’ tractor parade. Is it possible to even approach the Red Fort without the support of the Delhi Police, breaching the strong security arrangements there especially on Republic Day? Then, how come some mischievous elements hoist some other flags there without the government’s secret support? I will not be surprised if someone suspects it as a plot of the government itself to tarnish the image of the farmers using anti-social elements. Will the government show the courage to order an independent inquiry into this incident to bring out the truth? I hope everybody will understand that this callous attitude of the government towards the millions of farmers of this country led to boycotting the President’s address. In his speech, the President raised the issue of abrogation of Article 370 and claimed that the people of Kashmir have been empowered with new entitlements. But no one knows about the veracity of this claim and reports from there suggest just the opposite. How would one believe such a claim by this government which cunningly circumvented the constitutional provisions in respect of Jammu and Kashmir by abolishing the State Assembly and taking over its role for abrogating the provisions of Article 370? The CPI(M) asked whether the government will be ready to constitute an all-party delegation with proportionate representation to visit Kashmir and verify the truth behind this claim.
MAJOR PORT AUTHORITIES BILL
In Rajya Sabha, Elamaram Kareem opposed the Major Port Authorities Bill, saying it was nothing but an attempt to convert the ports into corporate entities. It would make them an easy target of acquisition by corporates or multi-national companies at throwaway prices, including its huge lands and other assets. The bill also does not have any clear provisions for the protection of employees and retirees. It has provisions allowing persons, as per government's wish, to become board members as union representatives, bypassing the recognised trade unions. It is very serious and the government should step back from such a move. Since the Major Port Trust Act, 1963 is a unique enactment already in place, there is no justification in repealing this Act and introducing the Major Port Authorities Bill, 2020. Whereas it is inevitable to give more functional autonomy and financial power to the Port Trusts, suitable and appropriate amendments can be made in the existing Act. National safety and security would be under threat if the proposed Bill becomes an Act in the present form. The Parliamentary Standing Committee says, "…the government intends to attract investors in the ports. However, the ports like Cochin, Visakhapatnam, Mumbai and Goa are handling defence cargo. If the private operators are given authority to handle such confidential cargo, there may be chances of leakage of the details to anti-national elements.” That is very serious. All the time, the ruling party is speaking about national security. But here, they are compromising with national security. As all other legislations of this government, this Bill is also an instrument to appease the corporates.
In Lok Sabha, P R Natarajan took part in the general discussion on the Union Budget 2021-22. He said the budget is a betrayal of the people caught in the double crisis of pandemic and recession. It is a classic illustration of the government’s unshakeable commitment to promoting the interests of a handful of big business houses at the expense of increasing distress and misery for the working people. This is reflected in the refusal of the government to increase public expenditure notwithstanding its bombastic claims. The budgeted expenditure of Rs 34.8 lakh crore in 2021-22 is identical in nominal terms to that in 2020-21 – which amounts to slashing expenditure in real terms. This represents the complete abrogation by the government of its responsibility towards the people but shoring up the fortunes of a privileged few through various ways, including their greater control over the nation’s productive assets. The apparent increase of the fiscal deficit to GDP ratio to 9.5 per cent in 2020-2021, which the government claims because of increased expenditure, is primarily on account of revenues collapsing. This collapse happened despite the government’s cynical imposition of a heavy additional tax burden on common people through the sharp increase in taxes on petrol and diesel. Moreover, the total transfer of resources to states and UTs has gone down in this budget from last year’s revised estimates by more than Rs 40,000 crore. Not only has there been a big shortfall in corporate and income taxes in 2020-21, the government is also keen to acknowledge the ‘distress’ of the corporate sector and the rich by not expecting them to pay in 2021-22 even the taxes they were to pay in the pre-Covid period. While the Budget Estimates for Corporate Tax and Income Tax in 2020-21 were 6.81 and 6.38 lakh crores respectively, the same figures for 2021-22 are 5.47 and 5.61 lakh crores. The panacea for this government is to sell off India’s national assets and privatize even profit-making public sector companies. This drive for privatisation is a subversion of the national interests and a mockery of the slogan of aatmanirbharta. As the country goes through the worst crisis in its history, the budget has lost its sense of direction and has no proposals to overcome the distress in the economy.
In Rajya Sabha, Elamaram Kareem said the budget is very disappointing and has failed miserably in addressing the present situation. It did not heed to the suggestions of renowned economists that the government should implement plans to put money into the hands of people and increase their purchasing power to uplift Indian economy, which was on the verge of collapse much before the Covid-19 pandemic. There are no plans or announcements to help the millions of people who lost their jobs and income due to the pandemic. It is friendly to Indian and foreign corporates and continues to give huge concessions and reduction in tax for them while proposing increase in cess for the common mass. He also elaborated on the initiatives taken by the government of Kerala in reviving the public sector. central PSUs in Kerala which are decided to be sold off by the central government are being taken over by the state and are being operated efficiently. In each and every sector, the Left Democratic Front government in Kerala is setting alternatives in front of the nation. This difference in approach is because of the difference in ideology. The Financial Year 2020-21 was a like-never-before year. It warranted a change in the stance of the government with a shift away from fiscal conservatism to a more proactive fiscal policy. There was widespread agreement that this was the way to go, even among those who advocate a conservative fiscal stance in the normal times. But the government has persisted with its neo-liberal fiscal stance resulting in collapsing revenues and stagnant expenditure. Under several heads, expenditure in 2020-21 was actually lower than budgeted. These include agriculture, education, social welfare, women and child development, science-related departments, urban development, and pensions and disability affairs. These cuts are being carried forward into the next year also. The finance minister was vocal about the government's commitment to people's wellbeing and livelihood in her speech. But it does not match with the actual allocations, particularly in the social sector and welfare-related expenditures like MGNREGA, ICDS, Mid-Day Meal Scheme, jobs and skill development, etc. In MNREGA, the budget drastically cut down allocation by 41 per cent of what the government actually spent last year in 2020-21, although the rural unemployment and joblessness have increased drastically. In Mid-Day Meal Scheme, allocation has been cut down by Rs 1,400 crore to what had been spent last year. In ICDS, the allocation has been reduced by 30 per cent compared to the allocation in last year's budget. In job and skill development, allocation has been cut down by 35 per cent compared to the allocation in the last budget. In the run-up to the assembly elections in five states, including Kerala, some announcements have been made in the budget to mislead the people of those states. But it can be seen that the projects which are already underway have been included in the budget again. In the State of Kerala, many of Kerala's age-old demands are still pending.
In Lok Sabha, A M Ariff said this budget is an advertisement for disinvestment. After reading this budget, I would suggest that it is better to change the government’s slogan of ‘Make in India’ to ‘Sell Out India’. I wonder whether anything will be left in the public sector in this country at the end of five years of this government. He said 235 Public Sector Undertakings were once in the commanding heights of India’s socialist economy and they still account for about 20 per cent of the GDP. This has helped us to withstand the perils of the latest global economic crisis. The Left government in Kerala has shown how the Public Sector Undertakings could be revived and utilised to serve the people, if we have political will. It is not one or two but 21 loss-making PSUs were revived and turned into large profit-making institutions in the past few years by the strong intervention of the Kerala government. I want to know whether this government has brought in any single progressive legislation like RTI Act and MGNREGA. There is no answer to it. On one side the government is invoking nationalism in each and every event and on the other side, they are selling India to the corporates. The prime minister has delivered more-than-an-hour-and-half-long speech, but mentioned nothing about fuel prices. Petrol prices are going to touch Rs 100 a litre. Gas prices are reaching near Rs 1,000. Who is the government trying to fool by using words like aatmanirbhar? How can we become self-reliant by selling the common assets of the country every now and then? With the kind of policies adopted by this government, only the corporates would become aatmanirbhar. Now, let me come to how this budget is affecting my constituency. What is the situation of the All India Radio relay station in Alappuzha? From here, Modi ji’s Mann Ki Baat is relayed in Lakshadweep also. The threat of its closure hangs over its head. What the government wants is to sell the prime property that belongs to NH-66 to private parties at cheaper rates. The situation is not different in the case of the thermal power plant owned by NTPC in Kayamkulam. That is also in my constituency. Production at the plant had already stopped for over eight years. A Kendriya Vidyalaya attached with the NTPC plant is going to be closed down. This will affect the future of thousands of students studying there. I request the government that this project may be converted into a general sector. I have given separate petitions to the ministers concerned in the education and power sector. The government through this budget has tried to create an impression that there has been a free flow of funds to poll-bound states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. But we know that it is another gimmick. Without paying heed to the decade-old demands like railway zone, an ayurveda research institute, AIIMS, etc. in Kerala, the finance minister says that she has earmarked Rs 65,000 crore for the national highway development. But even a substantial portion of this is a repetition of the already sanctioned projects. The budget is just an eyewash prepared by the Modi government through manipulated and inflated data. It hides the grim realities on the ground.