December 17, 2023

The Week in Parliament

CPI(M) Parliamentary Office

THE winter session of parliament began on December 4 and is scheduled to conclude on December 22 after 15 sittings.

The Rajya Sabha passed the Post Office Bill, 2023, to replace the Indian Post Office Act of 1898, on the first day of the session. CPI(M) member A A Rahim raised specific objections to the bill. His first point was that this bill was against the Constitution and breached the fundamental rights provided by the Constitution. Secondly, this bill was against the federal principles. Thirdly, through this bill, the government is giving up the liabilities invested upon it. He also expressed concern over the privatisation of postal services. The Objects and Reasons of this bill state that it facilitates the evolution of postal services. I would like to ask what the Narendra Modi government has done for the prosperity of postal services? Since 2014, not even a single post has been created in postal services. As of now, 90,000 posts are lying vacant. Is this the evolution and prosperity of the postal services? It is evident that if you see non-creation of posts or lack of recruitment together with the introduction of this proposed legislation, this bill paves the way for privatisation. This bill has a significant omission concerning the consequences for officers who misappropriate or damage postal items, which used to be a punishable offence, but it is not addressed in the bill. This oversight will negatively impact the department’s efficiency and the integrity of the officers involved, eroding the trust in the services provided. This bill is against the federal principles of the Constitution. This is the new normal under the Modi regime. The bill removes the authority of the state governments or their authorised officers to intercept a shipment, vesting this power entirely on the Union government or its designated officers. This is a direct attack on federal principles. This bill is intentionally trying to breach privacy. As we know, according to the Constitution of India, privacy is part of our life. It is a fundamental right. The government is trying to change the grounds for interception of a shipment, and thereby trying to breach privacy.

The Rajya Sabha took up a short-duration discussion on the economic situation in the country. Speaking on this subject, Elamaram Kareem said the real state of our economy concerning around the people will be clearly understood by the latest RBI report which says that the household financial assets, including bank deposits, cash and equity investments, fell down sharply to 5.1 per cent of the GDP in the fiscal year that ended in March, 2023. On the other hand, the household debt increased to 5.8 per cent of the GDP in the financial year 2023, which is the second highest annual increase since Independence. Recent RBI data also reveals that the bank/financial institutions credit to institutions/businesses marked a decline while personal loan portfolios have increased in volume during the current quarter which clearly signals further slowing down of the economy along with the rise in people’s indebtedness and resultant distress. In addition to these technical issues, there are broader concerns about the overall economic direction of the country. Tax concessions and incentives are given to the rich and corporates and are widening the gap between the two Indias - the rich and the poor. Real income of the top one per cent, the cronies of the Modi Government, rose by 30 per cent from Rs 7.9 lakh crore in 2019 to Rs 10.2 lakh crore in 2022, while the real income of the lowest 25 per cent, who are shouting slogans for you, fell by 11 per cent from Rs 3.8 lakh crore to Rs 3.4 lakh crore. A relentless propaganda continues to boost the Indian economy’s resurgence. The recent G20 Summit was used to project India as an emerging economic powerhouse of the world. But the truth is that India has the lowest per capita GDP amongst the G20 countries. That was hidden. It ranks the lowest in terms of human development indices and records the lowest labour force participation rate. The continued decline in people’s purchasing power is impeding economic growth as this is leading to declining levels of domestic demand. This, in turn, leads to declining levels of investments. This means potentially further declining levels of employment guarantee. New proposals for investment in the economy have rapidly declined over the last year - 72.5 per cent in the government sector and 79 per cent in private investments. Massive propaganda is launched over the grand success of 'Make in India'. That was the slogan from 2014. Its target for manufacturing sector growth over this decade was 12-14 per cent. The reality is that since 2013-14, this averaged only at 5.9 per cent per annum; it was a tall claim; but see where it has gone! The share of manufacturing to GDP was targeted to reach 25 per cent. This, however, remains stagnant at around 16.4 per cent. But, during 2011-12 and 2021-22, jobs in the manufacturing sector declined from 12.6 per cent to 11.6 per cent. Deepening rural distress is reflected in the demands for jobs under MGNREGS. Last year, this grew by 15.3 per cent and compared to 2019-20, this grew by 29.4 per cent. But unluckily, the allocation for MGNREGS was cut down drastically in the last budget. Fresh evidence has emerged about the Adani Group manipulation is also a part of this economic policy. Manipulation of stock prices of its companies calls for a serious probe. The Financial Times and the Guardian newspapers have revealed how the close associates of the said shell companies bought millions of shares in Adani companies. These are the affairs of the Indian economy. The tall claims are not true.

Speaking on the subject, V Sivadasan said some of the leaders of the ruling party are trying to make an illusion that India is growing, the economy is growing. What is the meaning of the growth of the economy? The assets and income of corporate families, big corporate families, are increasing. That is not the development of the economy. The assets of the ruling party are increasing. Through the electoral bond, they are getting thousands of crores of rupees. The increasing asset, the increasing income of the ruling party, is not the development of the economy. They are saying that they are rich. Government people are rich, but the public is poor. Look at the education sector. Thirteen thousand students have dropped out of higher educational institutions. The government is not providing fellowships. He also flagged lack of recruitments in LIC, BSNL, railways. Everywhere we are seeing a ban on recruitment. Anganwadi and ASHA workers are not getting minimum wages. The WHO says that there should be a minimum of one doctor for one thousand people, but what is the condition in India? The WHO says that there should be a minimum of three nurses for one thousand people, but what is the condition in India? In India, the number of nurses is very less, but at the same time, thousands of nurses are going abroad. Why are they going abroad? That is because they do not get proper salaries here. The term Vishwaguru is okay, but they are not paying proper wages and they are not ready to invest money in different sectors.

The Lok Sabha passed the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill and the Jammu and Kashmir Reservation (Amendment) Bill on December 6. Speaking on the bills, CPI(M) member A M Ariff said these are nothing but an attempt by this government to keep alive the Kashmir issue ahead of the coming parliamentary elections. We have no objection in providing reservation to the communities or nominating members of unrepresented communities. But that should not be for skewed political interests. I wish to draw attention to how this government has treated the Anglo-Indian community in this country by taking away a few years ago the seats nominated for them in the Lok Sabha as well as state assemblies that existed since 1951. Regarding nomination to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, giving the power to the Lieutenant Governor to nominate members is nothing but giving the BJP power to nominate members. Now I am coming to the reservation for Scheduled Tribes. We know about the double standards of the BJP government. We have seen the government boasting about electing the President from the Scheduled Tribe community and, at the same time, keeping her away from the inaugural ceremony of this new building of Parliament. The President is the sole custodian of Parliament. The President gives assent to the bills, sends summons to the Members and addresses both the Houses. So, she is the first and the most eligible person to inaugurate the new building of Parliament. But the government purposely kept her away from the inaugural ceremony. Now, the government is speaking about the reservation given to the Scheduled Tribes! Giving reservation to SCs and STs is nothing but a ceremonial piece like a cherry on top of the cake. But the core of it is still hatred towards the downtrodden sections. This kind of discussion was necessitated by the BJP government’s out-of-the-way decision to take away the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir by virtue of Article 370 of our Constitution and reorganise it into two Union Territories. We all should understand one thing. It was against the wishes of our constitutional forefathers, who had promised to keep high the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir while agreeing to join the Dominion of India. Our ancestors have regarded Jammu and Kashmir as the crown jewel of India. But this government has downgraded Jammu and Kashmir to the status of a clown. Only because the majority of the people are Muslims whom RSS oppose ideologically, the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was abolished, which itself shows the intolerance of the BJP government. I wish to remind the government that they had not kept the promise of holding the election of the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly as Home Minister Amit Shah had promised on the floor of this House many times. I wonder when the ‘appropriate time’ comes. Will it come at the end of this century? This government, including its ministers, is repeating the rhetoric that it has successfully conducted the elections to local bodies. But what is the reality? I had been to Jammu and Kashmir as a Member of Parliament to participate in the study tour of the Standing Committee on Housing and Urban Affairs a few months back. How can this government claim it a success with the turnout of just 15 to 20 per cent voters? About 80 per cent of the voters did not participate in the local body elections. I could not also witness any kind of development revolution in Kashmir as claimed by this government. Even after the abrogation of Article 370, the government could not control the incidents of terrorism in the Valley. Terrorist activities are still continuing there. We all know that RSS has put forward four political agendas as its declared goals. The first one is the abolition of the special status of Kashmir. The other one is the demolition of Babri Masjid along with the enactment of Citizenship Act to deny citizenship to Muslims on the basis of religion and finally, the Uniform Civil Code. In all respects, the BJP government is preparing to transform India into a Hindu-religious state. We have just seen the portrayal of Dhanwantri replacing the national symbol in the logo of the National Medical Commission. It is just the beginning, The BJP government is portraying the victory in the recently held assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh as a licence to act according to its whims and fancies. I wish to remind them that they still do not have the mandate. If half of the voters of India stand united, the opposition parties have a strong chance to win.

John Brittas raised concern over rising concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. On one count, the Constitution talks about exhorting the governments to bring policy to reduce the inequalities and on the other, the policies of the government are instrumental in surging inequalities. The OXFAM India Report, 'Survival of the richest' talked about one per cent of India owning more than 40 per cent of the total wealth, while the bottom 50 per cent share only 3 per cent. We had a strange phenomenon during the Covid times, 84 per cent of the people lost their incomes or their incomes reduced drastically whereas the corporate increased their profits. The government brought down the corporate tax and thereby enabled the corporate to benefit at least Rs 2 lakh crore per year. The OXFAM Report adds that the wealth of billionaires surged at an unprecedented rate of Rs 2.5 crore per minute. Yesterday only, the finance minister, while replying to a question in the Lok Sabha, stated that more than Rs 10 lakh crore of loans of the industrialists have been written off. 2300 people have been castigated as willful defaulters eating up more than Rs 2 lakh crore. We all harp on India being the fifth biggest economy; statistics and figures can be fake unless we analyse them. If you just look at the real picture; we are 127th on the ladder, and in per capita GDP, we are behind Sri Lanka and even Bangladesh. Yesterday, the stock exchange had a rally and, at the same time, there was a rally of Dalits and agricultural workers, a stone's throw away from Parliament. They were demanding land reforms and remunerative wages but our government was looking at the Sensex rally because their friends have benefited. This is the paradox which our country is presiding over.

A A Rahim raised concern over increasing loan app crimes and other fraudulent activities in the country. Recently, there has been a significant surge in loan app crimes in the country. These crimes involve fraudulent activities committed by using digital platforms primarily through mobile applications offering quick and easy loans. This is a matter of grave concern and requires urgent action. How could loan apps exploit a large number of people in our country? The reasons are increasing unemployment and living expenditure. Common people, especially the youth, are running from bank to bank for ordinary loans, but our nationalised banks are in a competition to provide loans to corporates without granting any loan to the needy masses. Our conventional banking system is denying loans to the poor and the needy. The situation will naturally lead the common man to depend on other sources of money. One of the main reasons for the increase in loan apps is the flawed policies of the government. The situation of people who borrow money through loan apps is very pathetic. Once the payment is left or if they fail to pay the amount demanded by the app owners, the customer is blackmailed and such mafias commit heinous crimes, including circulating deepfake videos and morphed images by using data extracted from the clients during the registration process. This leads to clients’ suicides and other problems. I urge the government to expand more credit schemes to nationalised banks. Strengthening the cooperative sector and promoting credit schemes through cooperative banks are the solutions. Awareness should be created among the public about which loans are legitimate and which are not. Service providers like Google, IOS, etc. shall be regulated in this regard. Apps that violate the laws should be identified and punished. This is a problem that affects the lives of the youth and common people. I urge the government to take urgent action.