April 03, 2022

The Week in Parliament

CPI(M) Parliamentary Office


IN Rajya Sabha, John Brittas took part in the discussion on the Appropriation Bill, 2022. He said he expected the finance minister to come up with a concrete and comprehensive strategy to deal with the post-Covid-19 scenario and global and domestic challenges, but her speech suggests everything is absolutely okay -- there is no crisis, no issue, no problem. She is mum on the challenges of growing unemployment, poverty or inequality. The government is relying on half-baked data to paint a rosy picture. The budget estimates tell us nothing about the real growth rates in 2021-22. It talks about the advance estimates which are largely based on data from the formal sector alone and there is a complete blackout of the informal sector. Whereas, most of the people are in the informal sector. There is another catch even with the formal sector -- data is used only from those firms that employ more than 20 workers under the Factories Act. It simply means that we cover up the humongous crisis that has gripped the economy. The revenue from corporates was 3.3 per cent of the GDP in 2017-18 and it has come down to 2.5 per cent in 2021-22. Since 2017-18, the government must have foregone at least Rs 1.6 lakh crore of tax each year to corporates. This is called crony capitalism. There is a reason why the common man becomes poorer and the corporate becomes richer. The stark reality staring at us cannot be covered with mere rhetoric. Members from the ruling party are actually concerned with raising certain slogans and “Modi-ji” is the catchword. Can the word ‘Modi-ji’ be a solution for all the challenges? Three days ago, the Happiness Index came. We are tenth from the bottom. The ruling members are all happy with the prime minister, but the country is not happy. That is why the Happiness Index has gone down. Kerala is being perennially penalised for its good performance. Just because we do wonderfully well in social indicators, our share in central taxes comes down. During the Tenth Finance Commission, Kerala received 3.9 per cent share from the central taxes. Now, it has come down to 1.9 per cent. Can you penalize a state just because it is performing? 

P R Natarajan took part in the discussion on demands for grants under the ministry of civil aviation-2022-23 in Lok Sabha. The government has sold all assets of Air India at a very low price since the carrier had started making operative profits from 2015-16. This is in tune with the government policy of selling national assets for private profit. Desperate exercise is going on for all-out privatisation of all national assets/PSUs. The National Monetisation Pipeline is tantamount to sale of India through transfer of vast infrastructural assets/machineries to private corporates, virtually free. The latest is the virtually free gift of Air India to Tatas. This pathetic situation of panic privatisation has risen because of the government’s spectacular economic mismanagement. It is not able to raise enough through taxes to generate the resources needed to revive the economy. Unable to meet disinvestment targets in a systematic manner, the government is now trying to give away the nation’s silver even for small change.

Speaking in Rajya Sabha on the budget of the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir for 2022-23 and the Jammu and Kashmir Appropriation Bill-2022, V Sivadasan said Kashmir was known as the paradise on earth, but what is it that we are seeing now? At the time of Independence, when attackers came from Pakistan, the people of Kashmir fought against the invaders. The people of Kashmir were very confident that their culture, their livelihood and their beliefs would be safe in secular India. But now, we are witnessing a very painful situation there. Earlier, representatives of the people of Jammu & Kashmir discussed their budget and budgetary allocations in the legislative assembly, but their statehood has been dissolved by the present union government. It has been one of the most agonizing experiences of the Indian people. Usually, a union territory becomes a state, but here, in the case of Jammu & Kashmir, a full-fledged state has been made a union territory. This is a democratic country, but we witnessed relentless Internet shutdown in Kashmir. Life came to a standstill in many ways. Education, employment, healthcare -- Internet shutdown affected every walk of life. There were mass detentions in Kashmir and a large number of common people were sent to jail. People's representatives were detained for months.  There is a need to protect the federal rights of the people of J&K. Jammu and Kashmir should be granted statehood. The promises made to the people of J&K should be fulfilled. It is the only way to ensure the peace and prosperity of Kashmir.

Participating in the discussion on working of the ministry of railways, John Brittas the railway is considered as the largest public sector employer, the vehicle of economic growth and virtually the artery of the nation. For the last several years, because of policy paralysis, policy summersault, unprofessionalism and lack of finance, we have been depleting in this area. In 1950, the railway had 84 per cent share in national goods transport; now, it is hardly 28 per cent. As far as passenger transport is concerned, it is more pathetic; from 79 per cent in 1950, it has come down to 12 per cent. During the pandemic, the minister had been very benevolent in running trains. But in 2021-22, the passenger revenue increased by 191 per cent as he hiked the fare by 200 to 350 per cent. This is the service that he gave to those hapless people who were trying to return to their villages. Now, I will come to a topic which is agitating the mind of an average Malayali -- K-Rail issue. In the last several weeks, in the context of Kerala, the minister has been cheering for the disruptors and jeering at the performers. Many of the members who have spoken have argued for such railway projects in their states. On December 30, 2015, the union cabinet took a decision and said that the states should be partners for the railway projects, and, developing the railways should not be the sole responsibility of the central government. We adhered to the decision of the cabinet. We signed a joint venture with the railways. But what happened? Now, they are saying that, 'look, we have several issues with regard to the project.' They should realise the fact that the Silver Line is owned by not only the Kerala government but also the railways. They have 49 per cent of the share in the joint venture. While replying to a debate in Lok Sabha, the minister spoke about the genuine environmental concerns attached with this project. How did he come to know about that? E Sreedharan, the metro man, came and briefed him as part of a BJP delegation. All of a sudden, he got a revelation that the project has a lot of pitfalls, environmental issues! There should be no petty politics on the issue. If there are any deficiencies, the railways and the state should address these jointly and move forward.

In Rajya Sabha, Elamaram Kareem raised the demand for the construction of a rail coach factory in Palakkad in Kerala. There is an urgent need to augment the rail coach building capacity of the nation to produce 400 Vande Bharat trainsets within three years, as announced in the Union Budget. It may be noted that the land acquired for a proposed coach factory is lying vacant at Kanjikkode, Palakkad. Though some of the previous budgets had made some nominal allocations for the project, the recent ones lacked even a passing mention about it. The factory was sanctioned following agitations. Hence, it is requested that immediate steps may be initiated to start the construction of a rail coach factory in Palakkad.