The Week in Parliament
CPI(M) Parliamentary Office
THE Rajya Sabha passed the New Delhi International Arbitration Centre (Amendment) Bill. Speaking on the bill, Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya said the whole amendment is only to change the name to India International Arbitration Centre. The change of name was absolutely a misguided concept. Not only a misguided concept, this excessive legislation reflects the lack of governance. It is known to everybody the arbitration centre is situated in Delhi and traders and the commercial authority would be willing to come to Delhi because of the accessibility and the logistical support which is expected to be there. And if it is said India International Arbitration Centre, the community might think that they would be sent to some far-off place. They would not be encouraged to come for arbitration here. There is a subtle political outlook reflected in this bill. There was no harm in keeping it as the New Delhi International Arbitration Centre. That is an international centre. There might be other New Delhi centres which are not international facilities. By this, you want to really -- I again say, subtle political ideological reflection comes -- kill the diversification. You want everything to be brought under one control, one man, one philosophy and that idea which is dividing the country is being encouraged through this amendment. There is no other purpose. Arbitration is a voluntary dispute resolution forum. The parties do agree that they will not go to court, they will go for arbitration. What is the role of the arbitration centre? It is only to provide better logistical support. As in the capacity of arbitrator and the counsel, I can say with confidence before this House that we have seen that the arbitrators would like to get better facilities for conducting the business of arbitration which is lacking. If that facilities are provided with, then what is the need of changing the name? You would be known by your performance and not by the name. I don't find anything in this bill which gives what sort of logistical support that is going to be given by the government. He said there is a need for a ceiling on fees charged by arbitrators. Nowadays, the fees of arbitrators are so sky-rocketing that everyone is scared of, at least in our country, to go for arbitration. Even public sector undertakings, nowadays, are really scared of bearing the fees of arbitrators. Therefore, the best course would be, if you want to make this Arbitration Act more effective and more adjudicative for the benefit of the traders' community or the commercial world, to make this part of this Act rational by putting a ceiling on the fees of the arbitrators and providing the best opportunities available. Then, we will find that nobody is going to Singapore or nobody is going to Tokyo. All willing parties would come here.
In the Lok Sabha, S Venkatesan spoke on the Supplementary Demands for Grants. He raised the demand for the beginning of the construction of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Madurai. The minister mentioned that the construction work relating to AIIMS in Madurai will be completed by October 2026. We are not asking about the date of completion of this AIIMS project. We want to know when you will start the construction work of AIIMS in Madurai? Nobody in this world has found the technology to complete anything without even starting that project. Scholarships for students of Classes V to VIII from SC, ST and minority communities and families of beedi workers have been stopped. Whereas the government is very generous towards corporates and is not collecting loans given to them. The government is showing loyalty towards corporate companies. We urge you to show such loyalty towards the education sector also. Village development funds were released to villages through a scheme called 'New Agreement for Villages'. Now the name has been changed in Hindi as 'Gram Uday Se Bharat Uday’. There is a saying in Tamil. "You have given a name, but have you provided food?" You have just given a new name but you have also reduced the actual allocation for the scheme. Similarly, funds are not allocated for the railway’s projects meant for Tamil Nadu. This is a completely deceiving act. You are not even allocating to Southern Railway an amount equal to one-fourth of the funds allocated to the railway projects of Northern and North Eastern Railways. We urge that funds should be increased for Southern Railway. Divyang -- which means children of God -- is a Sanskrit term being used for disabled persons. But the government has made a reduction of 30 per cent in funds allocation for Divyang persons. As mentioned by the MP from Tiruppur, the textile industry is facing severe crises. Collateral free loans should be provided. There was an announcement made 10 years ago about establishing a National Institute for Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPER) in Madurai. The government is refusing to allocate funds for the project. This decision to set up NIPER was taken by the then Union Cabinet. Similarly, the airport in Madurai should be operational round the clock with adequate security and necessary powers. I urge that GST dues that are pending for Tamil Nadu should also be released very soon by this Union Government.
In the Rajya Sabha, V Sivadasan supported the Constitution (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) Orders (Second Amendment) Bill, 2022. He requested the government to include Kol, Korwa, Musahar and Baiga communities in the SC/ST list in Uttar Pradesh. Because of mere inclusion of communities in the SC list, the adivasi communities will not get any benefit. So, proper financial assistance is very necessary for the development of adivasi communities in our nation. Adivasis and dalits are demanding more financial assistance, but this government is not ready to give any support to them. These people think that inclusion of their names in the SC and ST lists would create new space for them in government and public sector jobs, but what is the reality in India? Thirteen lakh posts are lying vacant in the public and government sector in the country. In the Army, 1,31,000 posts are lying vacant, in the Railways, 2,26,000 posts are lying vacant and many more posts are lying vacant in various public sector companies. What action has the government taken for filling up these vacant posts? In the last five years, less than two lakh posts have been filled by this government, which means, per year just 40,000 vacant posts are being filled. In Kerala, 1,99,201 posts have been filled by the Kerala Public Services Commission. That is the difference. Adivasis and dalits are getting jobs in Kerala. I wish to underline that, in Uttar Pradesh, not a single adivasi or dalit got a job in the telecom sector in the last five years. Why has this happened? This has happened because of privatisation. This government is not ready to allow reservation in the private sector. They are doing so much privatisation, but the adivasis and dalits are not getting jobs. Reservation in jobs in the private sector is very important. The government should take action for the inclusion of adivasis in the private sector also. What is the condition of adivasis in the education sector, especially in Uttar Pradesh? There, in 21 central educational institutions, they did not give admission to even a single adivasi research scholar in the last one year. Not a single dalit research student was given admission in 11 central educational institutions in the last one year. Majority of adivasis are dependent on the public health sector, but the government is reducing the allocation for the public health sector. That should be corrected. The government must try to provide more financial support to the public health sector. Adivasis face a lot of problems. Malnutrition is very high in adivasi areas. All these things should be addressed by the government. They must tell us what they are doing. Here, the government is running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. It should be corrected. They should try to support adivasi and dalit communities.
In the Rajya Sabha, Elamaram Kareem raised the burning issue related to the EPFO Scheme. There is a need to formulate a comprehensive scheme to implement the recent Supreme Court judgement and to increase minimum EPF pension. The EPFO is still one of the largest social security organisations globally, but its coverage is mostly limited to the organised sector consisting of industrial workers. The unorganised and informal sector workers constitute the major chunk of our workforce. They are deprived in many cases. The demand for higher pension has been raised by trade unions and pensioners' organisations for the past several years. Recently, some high courts intervened and there was this particular verdict from the Kerala High Court to amend the existing rules and permit higher options. The government appealed against it and on November 4, the Supreme Court gave a verdict and said that the amendment of 2014 shall apply to all employees. The Supreme Court also allowed another opportunity to the EPFO members who had availed of the Employees’ Pension Scheme to opt for higher annuity over the next four months. Employees who were existing EPS members, who were contributing 8.33 per cent of their actual salaries, as against 8.33 per cent of the pensionable salary, were capped to Rs 15,000 every month towards the pension. After the Supreme Court verdict, neither the Union government nor the EPFO has given a clear order on this. Because of that, the Supreme Court verdict has not yet been implemented. Not only that, the burning issue is that after the decision of the Government of India and EPFO minimum pension has been raised and fixed at Rs 1,000. Among the seven million pensioners, three million pensioners are getting an amount lesser than Rs 1,000. This is a very sorry state of affairs. Hence, I would request that the minimum pension should be raised up to Rs 9,000 per month. Universal coverage of EPFO to all employees in the various informal and unorganised sectors should be included in the EPFO scheme.
In the Rajya Sabha, John Brittas sought implementation of recommendations of various commissions in relation to governors and their role. B R Ambedkar, during constituent assembly debates, referred to the governor's position as ornamental and said that he has no functions which he can discharge by himself. Article does not confer power to overrule the ministry on any particular matter. According to the principles of the new constitution, he is required to follow the advice of his ministry in all matters. Seventy-three years later, the status is anything but what has been envisaged by the framers of the constitution. Holding a bill passed by the assembly instead of assenting or returning it for reconsideration as soon as possible as per Article 200, misquoting the limited discretionary power of governors under Article 163 etc. are common occurrences these days. Various commissions also recommended for introducing the procedure of consultation with the chief minister of a state in the selection of its governors and time-limit for taking decisions by governors on granting assent or reserving a bill for consideration of the president or returning a bill for reconsideration. But none of those recommendations have been accepted by the government in letter and spirit so far. I urge the government to take urgent steps to implement the recommendations of such commissions.
In the Rajya Sabha, A A Rahim demanded that gig workers be provided social security, insurance, pension and other such benefits as availed by regular employees. Delivery boys for apps such as Swiggy, Zomato and other workers who are engaged in such on-demand work are called gig workers. As per the e-Shram portal, the number of gig workers registered as on 28.01.2022 is 7,17,686. According to an estimate from a study by NITI Aayog, in 2020-21, seven lakh workers were engaged in the gig economy. It is estimated that the gig workforce will number 2.35 crore by 2029-30. Gig workers constitute a significant and increasing part of our workforce. However, they are facing severe exploitation at the hands of large corporations. Companies are getting away with exploitation by denying even the label of 'worker' or 'employee' to gig workers and rather giving to them empty titles such as 'partner' or 'executive'. This helps the companies deny any responsibility towards the gig workers. Further, though flexibility in gig work is touted as a major boon, in reality, the workers are suffering due to having to work long hours, much beyond the standard work day of eight hours. Often, this is to meet targets set by the company. Otherwise, they may face penalties. Also, they have to do this just to earn a meagre amount just enough for survival. We must not allow this super-exploitation of gig workers to continue. Special legislation must be brought for the recognition of gig workers, to extend the security of labour laws to them and to provide them social security, insurance, retirement/ pension plans and all benefits of regular employment.
In the Rajya Sabha, V Sivadasan demanded development of the Kannur airport. There is a need to promote development of Kannur airport by allowing more international flights. Kannur airport has an excellent infrastructure meeting international standards and hence it is the need of the hour that flights to all important international destinations should be permitted and promoted. The airport should be included in the point of call list which is essential for its advancement. Haj embarkation should also be allowed from the airport. The Union government is requested to take prompt action on the issue so that Kannur airport is able to realise its full potential and contribute to the development of the economy, industry, tourism and mobility in the region.