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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 20, May 8, 2010

Parliament and the People

Monday 10 May 2010, by Surendra Mohan

A cut motion was moved by the Opposition parties in the Lok Sabha on April 27 to ensure that the government is censured on the issue of raising the prices of petrol and diesel. Simultaneously, 13 Opposition parties called for a Bharat bandh to protest against price rise. These parties excluded the parties in the National Democratic Alliance. Earlier, on April 21, the NDA had organised a big public demonstration on the issue of rising prices. While the bandh had a partial success, the cut motion fell through.

The role of the BSP, Samajwadi Party and RJD changed within a week of the decision to move the cut motion. While the BSP felt obliged to the government for ensuring that the CBI will go soft on Mayawati, the other two parties also appear to have been influenced by the same consideration, in the expectation of similar relief by the same agency. However, their plea for not voting in favour of the cut motion was that they would not vote on the same side as the BJP. While the Communists and their traditional allies did not observe that restraint and, possibly for the first time in several years, voted together with the BJP, the ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude of the Samajwadi Party and RJD can only be understood in relation to their changing policies about the UPA Government. The Samajwadi Party had shown similar about-turn in July 2008. But then, it was rumoured that the author of that change of policy was Amar Singh, the then Secretary-General of the party.

These three parties, along with the Janata Dal (U) and Trinamul Congress, have been opposing the Women’s Reservation Bill as well. It is quite possible that their behaviour on the cut motion was influenced also by some back-stage understanding between them and the government that the Bill will not be taken up in the Lok Sabha. Whatever that be, they have been losing credibility in the public because of their inconsistent politics. Possibly, the RJD’s response is also shaped by calculations in respect of the general election for the Bihar State Assembly which is due later this year. In the parliamentary general election, the RJD and its ally, the Lok Janshakti Party, had suffered greatly. While the strength of the RJD was reduced to four from 23, the LJP was wiped out from the Lok Sabha. After the election, Laloo Prasad, the RJD supremo, said that an alliance with the Congress would have helped. This lesson might be learnt in the State Assembly election.

Adoption of a cut motion would not have resulted in the fall of the government. Nevertheless, the latter would certainly have lost face. But, its win in the Lok Sabha is a facile one, for, outside Parliament, the restiveness of the people has been increasing every day. Rising prices are certainly a big factor in this growing disaffection. In the second and third weeks of April, several meetings and dharnas were held for expressing it. A three-day conclave of representatives of unorganised sector workers from 22 States, organied by the National Campaign for Unorganised Sector Workers, met on April 11-13 to discuss the reports of the surveys that they had made of the conditions that the migrant workers suffer from. A general picture that emerged was that instead of employing local human resources, the employers recruit workers from faraway places with the help of contractors, while the local workers are also in the same way lured to other areas. This kind of induced migration disables workers from resisting any malpractices, under-payment of dues and unionisation. It encourages casualisation and contract work.

Home based workers in metropolises like Mumbai and Delhi are recruited from poor tribal or other hinterlands like the Konkan area or Jharkhand and Orissa. Some good agencies take care of them, but generally there is a lot of exploitation. In both cases, the Migrant Workers Act proves ineffective in the absence of appropriate advocacy. In the case of construction workers, the model law adopted by Parliament has not substantially changed the conditions of work, and, unfortunately, half-a-million of them are reported to have been retrenched. Even the educated boys and girls, employed by IT and other firms requiring computer work, are badly exploited.

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Hundreds of women, mostly from Rajasthan but from other places too, and a few hundred men staged a dharna in Jantar Mntar for five days on the issue of food security. A large number among them observed fasts also. Their complaint was that while the Supreme Court had ordered provision of 35 kilo of cereals to the BPL persons, the government had decided to reduce this amount to 25 kilos. The joke is that the government proposes to make this cut in the name of food security. Before the Planning Commission decided to accept the Suresh Tendulkar Committee’s report recommending that the proportion of the BPL persons was 37 per cent, it had been insisting that it is only 27 per cent. This low and unrealistic figure continued to decide the government’s policies in providing all kinds of benefits like health and admission to schools, thereby leaving aside millions of really poor families. The cruelty in our country is also planned. On the last day of the dharna, the CPI National Secretary, D. Raja, MP, was able to get an appointment with the Minister for a delegation of fasting persons sitting on dharna to see him.

A two-day conclave of protestors against the Special Economic Zones, attended by the affected persons from 11 States, also took place during these days. They told their tales of misery to a panel consisting of Kuldip Nayar, ex-MP and reputed journalist, K.B. Saxena, IAS retd., ex-Naval Chief Ramdas, Padma Bhushan Devaki Jain, Rahul Bose, Dr B.D. Sharma and Ashish Kothari. Kothari summed up the findings of the panel and other members offered comments. The Special Economic Zones Act was adopted by Parliament with full consensus, and not a single member pointed out that it would result in large scale displacements of people, creation of real estate on the pretext of encouraging the export oriented industries, damage to the physical environment and unfair labour practices as the Act had waived the operation of environment safety laws and labour laws in these zones. The panelists pointed to the induction and laundering of back money, use of brute force by the concerned industrialists and State governments to oust people from their homes, and utter lawlessness wherever the Zones had come up.

The fortnight also heard the terrible stories of the atrocities of the Security Forces and Salwa Judum, an ‘anti incumbency’ force created by the Chhattisgarh State Government. An Independent People’s Tribunal with Justices P.B. Sawant and Hosbet Suresh, scientist P.M. Bhargava and some others was presented with these gruesome tales by the residents of Dantewada and Bijapur districts in Chhattisgarh. The scale of violence by those who ought to have established peace was intolerable.

Did any one of these issues figure in Parliament? Was the Planning Commission grilled at its unrealistic estimate of the BPL families? Did anyone ask why the Tendulkar Committee took 15 long years for its recommendations? Was the ridiculous poverty line, at Rs 11. 90 till now and the new line recommended by the Committee, raising it by a rupee and several paise at a time of inflation for food items touching 20 per cent, questioned? Did the Operation Green Hunt figure there?

The author is one of the country’s leading socialist ideologues.

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