February 20, 2022

The Week in Parliament

CPI(M) Parliamentary Office


IN Rajya Sabha, CPI(M) member K Somaprasad opposed the motion of thanks on the president’s address to parliament and pointed out that his speech portrayed a bright and colourful picture of India whereas the reality is different. According to him, India is a fast-developing nation without poverty, malnutrition, unemployment, illiteracy, etc. As per his version, Indian citizens are living in a semi-paradise and when Prime Minister Narendra Modi completes his tenure, India would become another paradise. But what is the reality? It is far away from his depiction. The president's address does not narrate the real picture of political, economic and social realities of the country. The content of the speech is nothing but usual combination of high rhetoric, unrealistic claims of achievements of the government. When the president spoke about the handling of the pandemic, he was full of praise. But we know the central government was an utter failure in handling the situation. How could we forget the floating dead bodies in the Ganga River? How could we forget the innocent children and patients who died without getting oxygen and treatment at the proper time? How could we forget the long queues of dead bodies in crematoriums? Population-wise we are the second largest country in the world. Administering 150 crore vaccine doses to 100 crore people within one year is not a big deal. It could have been finished earlier. Actually, the government failed to administer two doses of vaccine to the entire citizens within this period.

The government utilised the pandemic situation to implement its anti-people policies. Price hike of petroleum products and disinvestment of public sector undertaking are the best examples. The government is selling shares of PSUs which are running profitably and using the money to save private sector companies which are running in loss. The youth, especially the educated youth, in India are in severe frustration and mental agony because of shrinking job opportunities. Every day the unemployment rate is increasing. Disinvestment of PSUs does not help create new job opportunities. Moreover, it would eat into existing jobs. At the same time, the government is not ready to fill up existing vacancies. The total number of vacancies in central ministries and departments would come to about 12.3 lakh. In the defence ministry itself, there are 2.4 lakh civil posts vacant, 1.28 lakh in the home ministry, while it is 2.37 lakh in the railways. More than 70,000 vacancies are there in the health and family welfare ministry. In the department of higher education, there are 25,000 vacancies. In the central police forces, the vacancies are 96,000. The disinvestment and undeclared ban on appointment would badly affect the marginalised sections and dalits. The president kept mum on issues such as social justice and reservation.  He also did not mention about the regularisation of services of scheme workers.

The president said that more than two crore pucca houses have been provided to the poor under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana. I welcome it, but as per the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC), there are 24.39 crore households in India. Out of it, 17.91 crore are living in villages. Out of the 17.91 crore rural households, 56 per cent are landless. Let us examine the status of SCs and STs. Seventy per cent of SCs and 50 per cent of STs are landless. Without a piece of land, how can they construct a house? Land reforms are the only remedy. The president is keeping mum on this serious matter. The disinvestment of public sector undertakings badly affects employment prospects of weaker sections, especially SCs and STs. Reservation in employment is introduced only in government jobs and public sector undertakings. When a public sector undertaking becomes private, the reservation mechanism is abolished there. In order to compensate for the job losses due to privatisation, the demand for reservation in the private sector should be considered very seriously. Kerala has a very good healthcare system at all levels. There is a long-standing demand for an AIIMS. It is still pending without consideration. As per our constitution, India is a union of states and the constitution gives much importance to the federalism. The constitution upholds the federal character, but the central government always imposes unilateral decisions on the state governments and curbs the powers of states. The governors, appointed by the centre, are acting most of the time as political agents of the central government.

P R Natarajan took part in the discussion on the Union Budget 2022-23 in Lok Sabha. On the whole, the budget is disappointing and there is nothing in it for the general public, he said. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, people had high expectations from the budget, that it would strengthen the public sector, help generate more employment and cut rising prices. The MSP of crops was not even mentioned in the finance minister’s speech. The budget has lesser allocations for MSP on paddy and wheat compared to previous years. The finance minister proudly announced an allocation of Rs 2.37 lakh crore, but the actual spending last year was to the tune of Rs 2.48 lakh crore. Allocations of all major schemes for farmers have seen a cut. The allocation for procurement by FCI and under decentralisation procurement scheme has been reduced by about 28 per cent at a time when farmers are struggling for a legally guaranteed MSP. Allocation for fertilizer subsidy has been reduced by 25 per cent. Under PM-KISAN, 12.5 crore farmer households are supposed to be provided Rs 6,000 each annually, which requires an allocation of Rs 75,000 crore.  However, only Rs 68,000 crore has been allocated. Allocation for the crop insurance scheme has also fallen by about Rs 500 crore. So, it is a clear indication that it is an anti-farmer budget and the government has again cheated the farmers.

In recent years, the government has made meagre allocations for the welfare of children. The revised estimates for expenditure on welfare of children is Rs 5,700 crore less than what was budgeted. Nothing has been done to help children cope with the devastating impact of closure of schools and anganwadis. The country expected that the budget would provide some relief to the unemployed youth. Unemployment in India is the worst in 50 years and people have been devastated by the pandemic, but they were completely disappointed with the budget. Frequent hikes in the prices of petroleum products have also upset the household budget beyond recovery, and a rollback of the excise duty would have given them some relief. Over the last two years, there has been a huge cut in LPG subsidy. Last year, allocation was cut by 60 per cent and another 60 per cent cut has been inflicted in the budget for 2022-23. The union budget has only protected the interests of the rich friends of the Modi government. During the last two years of pandemic, the rich have become richer. According to Oxfam, the wealth of India’s richest families reached a record high in 2021. The top ten per cent people in India hold 57 per cent of the income. Yet, there is no proposal to impose tax on these super rich and use these resources to provide relief to the vast majority of suffering people.

Speaking on the Union Budget 2022-23 in Rajya Sabha, Jharna Das Baidya said the budget was presented in the backdrop of an economic scenario wherein a majority of the people are facing joblessness and huge cuts in real income. The budget has completely failed in identifying the priorities to provide relief for the common people. GDP in the current financial year is projected to marginally cross the pre-pandemic levels. Private consumption expenditure is still short of the pre-pandemic levels and industries are facing low-capacity utilisation and rising inventories, primarily because of very low demand in the economy. This budget has proposed a growth in total expenditure by Rs 1,74,909 crore from the revised estimates of 2021-22 but as percentage of GDP, the total expenditure has come down from 17.8 per cent in 2020-21 to 15.3 per cent in 2022-23.

In Rajya Sabha, Elamaram Kareem opposed the budget proposals. It is an anti-people budget, aiming for all-out privatisation, he said. We all know that the budget has been presented in the backdrop of an economic scenario when majority of the people are facing unimaginable miseries in the form of huge loss of livelihood, loss of earnings, deepening poverty, and intensified hunger in the midst of unprecedented price rise of fuels and essential commodities. Wealth and income inequalities are among the worst in the world. Millions have been pushed into poverty because of the pandemic and the lockdown. The inflation is accelerating even in the midst of massive unemployment. No budget in the recent times has been presented at a time when the economy is going through such a challenging situation. In this scenario, what was needed in the budget was a big push towards job creation and an increase in domestic demands. But this budget miserably fails in addressing these issues. It displays shameless hypocrisy of the union government. The total budgeted government expenditure for 2022-23 is Rs 39.45 lakh crore, which is just 4.6 per cent higher than the revised estimate for 2021-22. That means, the increase is below the rate of inflation, and, hence, below the growth rate of real GDP of 8-8.5 per cent, projected by the Economic Survey. This squeeze on expenditure is visible not merely in the central government expenditure, but by squeezing the transfer of resources to states, the state governments are also being forced to do the same. These transfers are to come down from 6.91 per cent of the GDP in the revised estimate 2021-22 to 6.25 in 2022-23. The growth of revenue receipts has primarily grown as corporates were able to accumulate profits during the pandemic, reflected through increased corporation tax realisation and also garnered through GST and hike in petroleum prices from indirect taxes levied on common people. The revenue expenditure budgeted in 2022-23 of Rs 3.19 lakh crore, supposed to include the welfare schemes, named after Prime Minister, marks increase by less than 1 per cent, despite a huge increase in GST collection, as claimed by the finance minister in her budget speech.

The allocation on MGNREGA is reduced to Rs 73,000 crore from Rs 98,000 crore in the previous year. Even allocation for the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, which is for the poor children, now renamed as PM-POSHAN, faced a drastic cut by Rs 1,267 crore. The budget did not bother about the miseries being faced by the working people during the pandemic in the form of loss of livelihood and earnings and also widespread in formalisation of employment. Despite demands for relief and expansion of social security for all, the budget remained absolutely in a denial mode for the working people, who actually create wealth for the nation. The budget does nothing to stimulate the demand for effecting an economic revival and also for providing relief to the working people. The outlays for a whole range of programmes that provide relief to the poor have actually been slashed as compared to last year. What was required was introducing an urban employment guarantee scheme. On the contrary, it has cut down expenditure on MGNREGA. The budget is presented in the overall background of desperate and destructive privatisation drive embracing the infrastructure, manufacturing and mineral sectors in entirety and facilitating transfer of resources from national exchequer to private hands. The finance minister, in the very beginning of her speech, was praising the government for its successful sale of the national carrier Air India and Neelachal Ispat to the Tatas. The budget has reiterated the government’s commitment of further transferring of state-owned capital assets to private sectors, both domestic and foreign. In fact, under this regime, the economic policy making is gradually moving towards purely anti-people destructive trend, much to the detriment of the national interests.

Allocations for farmers’ relief have been cut down drastically in the budget. This is a revenge on the farmers who were protesting against the controversial farm laws. Finally, in the post-Covid period, there is a need to provide more assistance to states including Kerala, but the budget has been inconsiderate and silent on this. The union budget will not aid in taking forward the development of Kerala.