December 12, 2021

The Week in Parliament

CPI(M) Parliamentary Office

THE winter session of parliament began on November 29 and the first day was marked with the undemocratic suspension of 12 MPs including Elamaram Kareem from the CPI(M) Rajya Sabha for the entire winter session. The opposition staged a walkout from both the houses in protest and the suspended members have vowed to protest in front of the parliament house till the end of the session. Both the houses witnessed disruptions over the issue. However, the Lok Sabha cleared the Farm Laws Repeal Bill, 2021 without any discussion and the Rajya Sabha passed it after a small intervention by the leader of the opposition.

Speaking on the Dam Safety Bill in Rajya Sabha, V Sivadasan pointed out that the bill goes against democracy. He said that the government cannot impose things that go against the constitution and democracy just because they have the numbers inside the house. He said that the bill would take away the states' ability to protect its interests. He said that water is a state subject according to the constitution and that the provisions of the bill go against the constitution as far as it relates to the 'operation of dams'. He said that all mentions about the ‘operation of dams’ should be deleted from the bill.

Sivadasan reminded the house that it is not the first Dam Safety Bill that has been brought in. In 2010, a Dam Safety Bill was brought in parliament. It was introduced by virtue of Article 252. The bill was introduced on the demand of West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. He said that the preamble of that bill clearly stated that it would be applicable to those states who accept it by a resolution, which must be practised even now. He said that the bill proposed now transfers the entire power to the union government which is against the law of the land and the federal provisions of the constitution. He added that the Dam Safety Bill has vague definitions and it will facilitate arbitrary use of power by the union government. “One of the definitions of ‘specified dam’ is a ‘dam of unusual design’. This is completely nonsensical. Each and every dam has been built with diverse standards and techniques. India has 5,701 large dams. These have been built with diverse technologies. The design standards and construction practices are very different. The word ‘unusual’ can be applied to almost any dam. We have seen plenty of examples of such loopholes being misused in the past,” he said.

The National Committee on Dam Safety has a maximum number of seven representatives of the state governments, such as engineer-in-chief or equivalent by rotation, to be nominated by the union government. He questioned the lack of representation from other states and asked, “What is the guarantee that the states, which are ruled by the opposition parties, will find their places in the committee? The number of representatives of the union government officials is ten. The number of independent experts in the bill, proposed to be appointed by the union government, is three. This makes the states a minority within the committee. The minimum number of representatives of the states is not specified. This is even more sinister. The bill has provisions, which give blank cheque to the union government to arbitrarily expand their powers,” he said.

The functions of the National Committee on Dam Safety, the National Dam Safety Authority, and the State Committee on Dam Safety are provided in the schedules of the bill. This bill says that those schedules can be amended through notification. This means, the core functions of these bodies can be changed by the executive through notification, without prior amendment of the Act by the parliament. This is a highly undemocratic move, Sivadasan said and requested the government to desist from the practice of creating institutions, which are highly centralised. 

The Lok Sabha took up a discussion on Covid-19 Pandemic and various aspects related to the issue. Member of Parliament AM Ariff said that the members of the ruling party compete amongst themselves to praise the central government for its intervention in curbing the pandemic and requested them to open their eyes to see the reality. “It is unfortunate that again and again we are forced to remind the government that it has been a total failure in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic even after almost two years of detecting the deadly disease in our country,” he said.

“First, the government made all of us stay wherever we were by announcing a nationwide lockdown for three weeks without any consultation or preparations. We saw thousands of migrant labourers and poor people, denied even food and water, fleeing their place of work with families on bare foot to reach their destinations miles away in their home states. Ironically, this government could easily wash off their hands by announcing in this house that they have not collected data on how many lives were lost during the migration.” Ariff also criticised the ‘Vaccine Maitri’ move by the union government.

“We boast of our Constitution which has provisions to ensure the dignity of life of its citizens. But we were forced by this government to see countless numbers of dead bodies floating in River Ganga, and a huge number of mortal remains were queued up in all crematoriums waiting for their turns to have a decent burial. What this Government has offered to the people of this country for the past two years is merely five kilograms of rice every month and one kilogram of pulse, which is continuing even now. But if the government would not have given these, they would have rotted and got spoiled in the godowns of the FCI like we have seen in the previous years,” he said.

Ariff noted that the Kerala government has been giving 13 essential commodities to 85 lakh families in Kerala irrespective of their poverty status. “We have started community kitchens for migrant labourers. The central government and other agencies appreciated the Kerala effort. How can a family sustain only with rice? What about vegetables, oils and cooking gas? Not only that, on the one hand, the government was hesitant to put liquid cash in the hands of the people and on the other hand, it remained a mute spectator while the prices of petrol, diesel, LPG and kerosene have been skyrocketing, squeezing the common people from all sides. Even now, this government has not completely withdrawn the hike in central taxes in various names brought out last year, and is denying the benefit of the fall of crude oil prices internationally. Instead, this government is asking the states like Kerala to reduce their share of tax, which has not been increased even once for the past several years,” he said. 

Ariff also said that the Covid-19 vaccination certificate should have the photo of the Supreme Court on it instead of that of the prime minister’s because it was the Supreme Court intervention that made the government give free vaccination. He said that otherwise the government would have allowed the pharma companies to loot the state governments and people below the age of 45 years, by charging exorbitantly high and differential prices for the vaccines.

Talking about the ex-gratia to those who lost their lives to Covid-19, he said that the government betrayed the families of the victims by withdrawing the notification making them eligible for an ex-gratia of Rs 4 lakh, on the same day. “Now, as a pittance, it boasts of giving just Rs 50,000 to all such families. But it is now the responsibility of the state governments to give this amount from the State Disaster Response Funds, and the union government is not offering a single paisa for this. What about the PMCARES Fund? No one knows how much was collected as a donation and how much was spent under this fund. It is functioning in a most opaque manner with no audit of accounts by the CAG. What prevents the government from disclosing the details of it if they have nothing to hide from the people?” he asked.