Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mamata taking West Bengal towards a dangerous situation: Buddhadeb



THE HINDU, Published: December 18, 2011 23:16 IST | Updated: December 19, 2011 01:56 IST 

KRISHNANAGAR: The Trinamool Congress-led government is taking West Bengal towards a dangerous situation, said the former Chief Minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, here on Sunday. He said, The ruling party was as confused as were the policies of the State government. This would spell disaster, if not resisted.
He was speaking at a rally on the occasion of the district conference of the CPI(M) at Krishnanagar in Nadia district.
In a scathing attack on the Mamata Banerjee government's handling of the incident resulting in the police firing at Magrahat in South 24 Parganas district, the devastating fire at the AMRI Hospitals, Dhakuria, and the hooch tragedy at Sangrampur, Mr. Bhattacharjee said that each day there was a new law and order problem.
Referring to the liquor tragedy, he said: “It is only because of the lack of proper treatment that so many people died. Had there been timely treatment many lives could have been saved … There were neither the required number of doctors nor medicines and the administration had even failed to arrange for ambulances to bring the sick to the hospital.”
He was also critical of the State government in its handling the situation in the Darjeeling hills and in the Maoist-affected Jangalmahal region. He alleged that the government had further complicated matters in Darjeeling, where it had given leeway to divisive forces and precipitated the situation where unrest could erupt anytime now. The Trinamool government had failed to set its priorities right in Jangalmahal, where it was taking on the CPI(M) instead of Maoists.
 Happenings in CPI(M)
But Mr. Bhattacharjee, a member of the CPI (M) Polit Bureau, was also unsparing about the goings-on in certain sections within his own party.
“There have been some incidents of high-handedness within the party for which we have been punished by the people,” he said referring to the defeat of the Left Front in the April-May Assembly elections.
“The wrong-doings will have to be eliminated and the party will have to resume its position as the one which the people want,” Mr. Bhattacharjee said, adding there was no recourse but moving forward.
He came down strongly on the Union government for its economic policies which had resulted in spiralling prices of essential commodities.
If the Centre continued to de-control the price of petrol, not provide subsidies to bring down the prices of essential items and merely go by the diktats of the World Bank, “only those with money will survive, those without will not.” Claiming that the ground beneath the Manmohan Singh government was shaky, he ridiculed the Trinamool for its superficial opposition to matters like the rise in fuel prices though it continued to be part of the same government.

Left Front accuses TMC Govt of violating norms


Kolkata, 16 Dec, 2011: West Bengal's Opposition Left Front today accused the Trinamool Congress government of violating constitutional and legislative norms and requested Governor MK Narayanan to withhold his consent on the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Bill.

"Several amendments to various clauses of the The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Bill 2011 were submitted by the opposition for consideration of the house. During debate on her deliberation in the house, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee agreed with the amendment no 1, 5, and 14 moved by the opposition," a letter from the Left Front to the governor stated.

"Parliamentary Affairs Minister Partha Chatterjee mentioned acceptance of the same, when the bill was placed in the house. During clause wise consideration, two of our amendments - number 5 in clause 5 and number 11 in the clause 25 - were passed by a voice vote and the speakers declared the amendments as part of the bill.

Opposition Left Front today urged Governor to withhold his consent to Gorkhaland Territorial Adminsitration (GTA) Bill, 2011. The LF in a memorandum to the governor said a portion of amendments of the bill passed in the Assembly was omitted in the Bill and the provision of Zila Parishad was inserted in it. The memorandum said. ''The manner in which the portion of amendments in the bill was passed in the House was omitted and the provision of Zila Parishad inserted is a serious breach of the provisions of the Constitution and tantamounts to breach of privilege of the members,'' it said. Alleging that there was 'a serious breach' of the provisions of Constitution, an 8-member Front delegation, led by Leader of the Opposition Suryakanta Mishra, submitted to the governor the memorandum requesting him to withhold his consent to the Bill for such time as may be required for proper rectification of the same.

Chatterjee moved the The Gorkhaland Territorial Administration Bill, 2011 as settled in the assembly be passed and the speaker "announced that the bill as amended and settled is passed", the missive said. "Unfortunately, after going through a copy of the amended bill as settled, we notice that the aforesaid amendment number 5 moved by the leader of the opposition to clause 5 has been omitted," the letter said.

The LF delegation also drew Narayanan's attention to The LF delegation also drew Narayanan's attention to the West Bengal State Health Service (Amendment) Bill, placed in the House on December 14. ''It has come to our notice that an ordinance on the same issue was signed by you and promulgated on May 27, 2011. It is obligatory to lay the ordinance in the House in the next session of the House. ''After May 27, there were two sessions of the House, but the Ordinance was not laid. The Government has kept us in the dark,'' the memorandum said adding it was a gross violation of the Article 213(2)(a) of Constitution.

They delegates urged the governor to look into the allegations and take corrective measures to protect rights of the opposition. The Front delegation members included Subhas Naskar (RSP), Anandamoy Mondal (CPI), Paresh Adhikary (Forward Bloc), Biswanath Karak (Opposition chief whip), Probodh Sinha (DSP), Chand Mohammad (Samajwadi Party) and Anisur Rehman (CPI-M).





Sunday, November 13, 2011

West Bengal: Threat to Democratic Rights


The Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) met in New Delhi from November 11 to 13, 2011. It took stock of the international and national situation and has issued the following statement on West Bengal Situation:


The assumption of office by the TMC-led government  in West Bengal and its actions are posing a serious threat to accepted democratic principles of governance.  The killings of opposition political activists continue  unabated.  Since the formation of the new government, 44 Left activists have been killed, thousands have been rendered homeless, hundreds have been framed in false cases and literally crores have been collected forcibly from political activists of the Left.  The forcible takeover of opposition Party and trade union offices also continues.  The latest in the round of  muzzling political freedom – and the freedom of association is the forcible stoppages of conferences of Left parties by the goons belonging to the ruling party and the involvement of the police. 

Subversion of the police has  reached a new high with the Chief Minister herself  rushing to a local police station and getting miscreants detained by the police released.  The Chief Minister, who also happens to be the Home Minister, got the Officer in-charge of the Police Station (Bhawanipur) suspended and then transferred even though this happened to be part of the South Kolkata Lok Sabha constituency which is having to a by-election. 

The powers of the panchayats are being usurped and handed over to the bureaucracy. The most obnoxious move of the state government has been to promulgate a draconian ordinance to nullify all the existing university Acts which were in place. The ordinance usurps powers of the elected senates and syndicates and concentrates them in the hands of the state government.  The elected character of university governance is replaced by nominated bodies, totally bureaucratizing the running of the university management.  Provision for elected representation of students, non-teaching employees and alumni of the institutions have been given a go by. 

Date: 13 November 2011
New Delhi.

All Out Attack on Democracy in West Bengal

Dr. Surjya Kanta Mishra's press statement on 11th November, 2011 at New Delhi

A story of Two Ultimatums of Mamata Banerjee


KOLKATA: THE much-hyped ‘ultimatum’ of Trinamool Congress on the issue of petrol price hike proved to be a mere short-lived media exercise after the party MPs met the prime minister and meekly accepted his argument. Even more, TMC MPs and union ministers refrained from demanding an immediate roll back of the increased prices.

Mamata Banerjee, TMC chairperson and West Bengal chief minister exhibited an angry reaction after the recent hike in petrol prices. She argued that she was not consulted. Her allegation was that her party, though an ally in UPA, was not being consulted on major policy issues. She threatened that her party might pull out from the UPA ministry.

Immediately, there was a hue and cry. It was also reported in a section of the media that TMC central ministers have submitted their resignations to party chief.

Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee played a spoiler when he asserted that the decision to decontrol prices of petrol was a collective decision of the union cabinet and TMC was very much a part of it. Left parties in West Bengal questioned the stand of TMC as they had supported 16 such hikes after they began to support UPA. The cut in petro products subsidy in the last union budget was supprted by TMC and Mamata was a member of the union cabinet at that time.

Finally, TMC MPs met the prime minister on November 8 at his Race Course residence. By then, the exhibited anger had evaporated. Trinamool Congress leader and union minister of state for health, Sudip Bandopadhyay, who led the delegation said, “We will not digest any further hike in petrol prices. In that case we will have to rethink our alliance with the UPA.” So, it is now “another hike”.

Some observers have pointed out that Mamata Banerjee was trying to pressurise the centre on a “package” for the state. The sudden outburst over the hike in petrol prices was just another ploy to bargain with centre. That too proved to be non-starter after the chief minister’s meeting with Pranab Mukherjee in Kolkata.  

While TMC was meekly surrendering on petrol price hike, the West Bengal chief minister's temper was on display elsewhere. At the receiving end was the Kolkata Police Commissioner and top ranking police officers.  Mamata Banerjee directly intervened and threatened those officers for arresting two members of her party for rioting and arson.

The incident occurred on Monday night after the chief minister unexpectedly stormed into a city police station and forced the release of two Trinamool workers. They had been arrested after an altercation with the police over bursting crackers outside a cancer hospital. A mob had even ransacked the police station, police cars were attacked and buses were stoned after the two men were detained.

But to everyone's shock, the chief minister rushed, within minutes, into  Bhawanipore police station, which falls under her constituency as well, shouted at the police officers and  ordered the release of Tapas Saha and Sambhu Sau. No case has been registered against them. Both of them are local TMC workers and close associates of chief minister’s brother. In fact, it has been alleged that the chief minster’s brother was involved in the violence that took place near the police station.

Now, it is the turn of police officers who have ‘dared’ to chase away TMC hooligans from the police station. They may be implicated in departmental enquiry and would have to face the music. CPI(M) state secretary Biman Basu has termed the incident as a brute example of  the partisan administration in the state.

Addressing a press conference in Kolkata, CPI(M) central committee member Md Salim has slammed the chief minister for allegedly pressurising the police. "It is reprehensible that the chief minister, who holds the Home (Police) department, herself stormed into a police station to force the police to release two detained persons," he said.

"The chief minister led her party workers for the release of the detained persons, who are her brother's associates, from the police station by force," the CPI(M) leader alleged.

West Bengal chief minister’s annoyance is perfectly 

measured: one for the prime minister and one for the 

road!

People's Democracy, November 13, 2011


Kanoria Jute Mill: Saga of a Treachery


THE workers of Kanoria Jute Mill in Uluberia, Howrah, have already learnt what the much-trumpeted ‘change’ means in West Bengal.

The mill opened after two years of closure on August 22. Shiv Shankar Pasari, the promoter personally accompanied state labour minister Purnendu Basu in a hyped ‘opening’ of the mill. Purnendu Basu assured Kanoria workers on August 22 that within one year all problems would be resolved through discussion and not movement. Since then, 2700 workers of Kanoria Jute Mill were denied their jobs as they were not allowed to enter the mill itself. Only 318 workers, according to the mill attendance register, are working for the maintenance of machines in the mill. Rest of the 3041 workers are stunned at the unique way of treachery.

This is causing a further problem. The Left Front government initiated a monthly allowance for the workers of closed factories. The workers of Kanoria Jute Mill were also getting that allowance. As the mill is opened officially, the payment of this allowance may be closed, denying them the meager source of livelihood. Meanwhile, no dues including provident fund have been paid. To make things worse, the promoter of the mill has demolished the bathroom in the labour line. This, according to the workers, is an ominous sign.

Even those who have been chosen to enter have been recruited by local Trinamul leaders. They terrorised the mill area. Sponsored by the promoter Shiv Shankar Pasari, these TMC leaders have appointed some unskilled labourers from Sijberia, Howrah, in exchange of their unconditional loyalty to the Trinamul Congress. One of the leading trade union leaders of the mill, Prafulla Chakraborty, once a very close associate of the TMC, has now been ousted and arrested. The ‘misdeed’ he perpetrated was that he sharply criticised the ‘labour policy’ of the TMC government. He also slammed the government and TMC leaders for creating autocracy and hooligan-raj in the mill. The government however rewarded their electoral associate and the leader of Sangrami Shramik Union Prafulla Chakraborty, stunning even TMC-spiked intellectuals by putting him behind the bars under fake allegation.

The CITU while condemning the situation at Kanoria Jute Mill demanded immediate release of Prafulla Chakraborty. In a statement, the CITU Howrah district president Nemai Samanta said the workers are being deprived of their legal rights by sheer force. The government is also arresting Left workers under false cases, thus trying to curb the workers’ movement and mass movement in the state.

People's Democracy, November 06, 2011

MANIK SARKAR AT THE NDC MEET ON APPROACH TO TWELFTH PLAN



‘Improving Every Indian’s Life Must
be the Goal, Not Just GDP Growth’


Below we reproduce the text of the speech delivered by Tripura chief minister  and CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Manik Sarkar at the 56th meeting of the National Development Council held in New Delhi on October 22, 2011 to discuss the Approach to the Twelfth Five Year Plan.

AS we discuss the Approach Paper to the Twelfth Five Year Plan, we should be aware of a major milestone that we have just crossed, namely the completion of sixty years of planning in our country. Sixty years is a long time in the life of a nation, long enough to warrant our taking stock of the achievements of planning over this entire period. While there has undoubtedly been much increase in the size of our per capita gross domestic product (GDP) over this period, which is in sharp contrast to the last half-century of colonial rule, on the basic task of building a nation where each citizen is assured a minimum standard of life, where the gap between the rich and the poor does not widen over time, and where everybody feels a sense of belonging, our Plans have been a conspicuous failure.

This failure had already become apparent by the end of the 1950s, which is why a committee was set up by the then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1960 under the chairmanship of Professor P C Mahalanobis to go into the issue of “distribution of income and levels of living” and examine who had been the beneficiaries of the first two Plans. The committee submitted its report in 1964 and observed that “planned economy encouraged the process of concentration by facilitating and aiding the growth of Big Business”. For the planners of that time, “aiding the growth of Big Business” was a matter of concern; but, for contemporary planning, it has become not only desirable policy, but one deserving the highest national priority. This shift, which is the essence of our turn to neo-liberal policy, is justified in the name of increasing the growth rate of GDP. And it undoubtedly has ushered in an increase in the growth rate of the GDP compared to the pre-liberalisation period; but the gap between the rich and the poor has widened even more sharply under neo-liberalism, to a point where India is now home both to the most malnourished people in the world, even more so than Sub-Saharan Africa, and to some of the world’s richest billionaires. In fact, it is no longer a matter of just widening gaps. There is a process of absolute economic impoverishment going on which is as striking as it is dangerous for the future of our society and polity.

CONTINUING THE  FLAWED STRATEGY

The Planning Commission’s “poverty line”, which has been much in the news lately, obscures this process of absolute economic impoverishment.  But if we take the proportion of population accessing less than 2200 calories per person per day in rural areas and 2100 calories per person per day in urban areas -- which still constitute the official benchmarks for poverty, accepted even by the Planning Commission -- we find that in 2004-05 the figures were 69 per cent and 64.5 per cent respectively. In 2009-10, the latest year of large sample NSS, the figures have increased to 76 per cent and 68 per cent respectively. Thus on the most elemental criterion and on the basis of the most authoritative official data, we find incontrovertible evidence of an increase in the incidence of poverty in the most recent period. It is exceedingly difficult for any nation to hold together in the face of such a sharply accentuating internal dichotomy. This constitutes our most urgent problem today and one would have expected the Approach Paper to the Twelfth Five Year plan to do some introspection in this regard, to discuss how this accentuating dichotomy could be rectified. Instead we find the Approach Paper’s strategy being a mere continuation of what has gone on before. Like the Eleventh Plan, it also talks of “inclusive growth”, but since the above-mentioned increase in poverty occurred precisely during the period of the Eleventh Plan, when growth was supposed to have been “inclusive”, the continuation of the earlier strategy clearly would compound the problem instead of providing a solution. The Approach Paper’s basic strategy in short continues to be a flawed one.

There is an additional problem. The Twelfth Five Year Plan is being launched at a time when the world capitalist economy is caught in an acute crisis, of which no end is in sight. Meaningful planning requires what Professor Amartya Sen has called a “control area”, over which the planners have some control and hence a reasonable chance of ensuring that the objectives and achievements of the plan can converge. The insulation of the national economy, over which planning is being done, from unplanned shocks emanating from the world economy is a condition for such a “control area” to materialise. Even when there is no actual insulation, if no major unplanned shocks are likely to emanate, then too there may be scope for meaningful planning. But given the acute capitalist crisis, actual unplanned shocks from the world economy are bound to come our way, which makes this planning exercise tenuous.  In this backdrop, under the neo-liberal regime, India is closely integrated with the capitalist world, which places the entire Twelfth Plan exercise on an extremely shaky foundation.

For instance, the rupee has been sliding down against the US dollar for some time now, because of the predilections of globalised finance capital. This, by raising the rupee costs of imported goods, has contributed to the inflationary pressures in our economy, given the central government’s totally erroneous policy of “passing on” the costs of imported oil to the domestic users of petro-products. Now, with the Eurozone crisis getting intensified and the Euro getting increasingly weakened, there is likely to be a “flight to the dollar” which will further strengthen the dollar against the rupee and aggravate our domestic inflationary pressures, undermining whatever prospects of “inclusiveness” that the Approach Paper holds out before the people. 

INFLATION AND FOOD SECURITY

The current inflation is a worldwide phenomenon, especially in the capitalist economy.  To say this is not to suggest that nothing can be done about inflation. On the contrary, it can be effectively countered within the country, but through an altogether different set of measures. What it requires is a degree of insulation from the world economy on the one hand, and supply management, including the provision of essential commodities at fixed and affordable prices through the public distribution system to everybody, without distinction between APL and BPL, on the other. 

The Planning Commission has now announced that benefits will no longer be linked in future to the poverty line estimated by it, and that the “priority group” of beneficiaries will be selected on the basis of the socio-economic caste census that is currently underway. The census itself, of course, cannot determine who is poor; so the criterion for selecting the “priority group” will simply be so fixed that this group comes to a pre-determined percentage of the population. This is the logic of the draft food security legislation: it fixes beforehand what percentage of the population should constitute the “priority group”. This so-called “priority group” however is nothing else but a revival of the BPL-APL distinction in a new form. True, the percentage of population constituting “priority group” will be larger than what has hitherto been counted as BPL, but if the so-called “poverty line” of the Planning Commission makes little sense, then an arbitrarily pre-determined ratio of the poor (even if re-christened as “priority group”) makes even less sense. The only way that every Indian can be assured of a minimum living standard is to have universal public distribution of essential commodities at fixed affordable prices, universal healthcare, universal education at least up to a certain level, and universal employment guarantee. The de-linking of benefits from the Planning Commission’s “poverty line” must entail, to start with, a universal provision to the entire population of all those benefits which are currently available to the BPL population. And together with this there must be an Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme run by the centre on lines similar to the MGNREGS, as a rights-based programme. The basket of commodities covered under the universal PDS and also the scope of the Employment Guarantee Schemes will have to be enlarged.

To sustain and further strengthen and widen the scope of a universal PDS, the requisite supply management will have to encompass a stepping up of agricultural growth, including especially the growth rate of foodgrains production. This requires a whole set of measures whose essence is a re-engagement of the State in a supporting and protecting role vis-à-vis the peasantry, and hence a reversal of what has occurred under the neo-liberal dispensation when the State abandoned such a role. This no doubt will yield results in the medium term, but, given the fact that there are 60 million tonnes of foodgrain stocks with the government right now, well in excess of the “normal” level, and that the 2010-11 foodgrain harvest has been a bumper one according to the Approach Paper, increased public provisioning of essential items at fixed prices through the PDS can start right now. The fiscal burden arising on account of it is perfectly manageable, especially if the government resists its temptation to provide favours to the big corporate and financial interests, and gets them to contribute more towards tax revenue.

AGGRAVATED POVERTY

The commodity price increase that has occurred has hardly brought much prosperity to the petty commodity producers, but those of them who have to buy their food requirements from the market have been squeezed by the inflation in food prices. Other labouring classes and middle class employees, whose money incomes are not indexed to prices, have of course been its special victims. Even apart from the rise in the price index, there has been a process of dismantling of public services, forcing people to turn to private service providers and pay much higher prices. The net result of all these, as we saw above, has been a remarkable increase in poverty precisely during the eleventh plan period when “inclusive growth” was the plan objective!

The increase in poverty, defined in elemental nutritional terms, must not just be attributed to the crisis of the capitalist world. It had been occurring long before that crisis hit. Per capita food availability for the country as a whole, which had risen until the end of the eighties to roughly 180 kilogrammes per year, first stagnated and then came down precipitously during the period of neo-liberal reforms, reaching around 165 tonnes by 2008, even before the capitalist crisis. This decline is on account of the flawed trajectory of development that the country has been following under the neo-liberal dispensation, where the emphasis on GDP growth has been accompanied, as already mentioned, by a withdrawal of State support and protection from petty production, including peasant agriculture. This has meant not only a sectoral imbalance, between agriculture and other sectors, but a social imbalance, between the bulk of the working population on the one hand and the corporate and financial interests, together with their satellite groups, on the other. It is this which explains aggravated poverty under the neo-liberal dispensation.

This imbalance, producing aggravated poverty, was sought to be justified in the beginning by invoking a “trickle down” effect. But the emptiness of that argument was recognised in the Eleventh Plan document which still made GDP growth the main objective of planning, but no longer on the earlier argument that its effects would automatically “trickle down” to the poor; instead it advanced a new argument to the effect that with a high GDP growth it becomes possible, through State intervention, to lift the condition of the poor. Its slogan of “inclusive growth” aimed as before at a high GDP growth rate, but postulated in addition that the State should take away a part of this growing GDP to provide for the poor. To focus on this particular role, of taking resources away to cater to the needs of the poor, the Eleventh Plan suggested that the State should off-load some of its responsibilities in other sectors like infrastructure to the private sector, through Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP). But if “trickle down” had not worked earlier, “inclusive growth” too has been a failure.

This is to be expected: if the growth process itself is poverty-engendering, because of the squeeze it puts on petty producers and the entire work-force dependent upon them, then State intervention can negate its effects only partially but not completely. The very factor that makes the growth process poverty-engendering, namely the influence on the State apparatus of the corporate and financial interests who use it under neo-liberalism to enrich themselves at the expense of the vast mass of the working people, also negates the State’s ability and willingness to reverse this very process through fiscal intervention. The manifestations of this inability and unwillingness can be seen from the fact that the instrument chosen for affecting “inclusiveness” was a blunt one.

According to the understanding of the planners, the chief means through which “inclusiveness” was to be affected consisted of a set of centrally-sponsored schemes. These were of the “one-size-fits-all” variety, with no variations permitted for taking into account the specificities of the problems of different states. And each scheme demanded a contribution from the state governments, whose share was arbitrarily fixed by the centre and altered at its whim.  The states from the very beginning had been opposed to centrally-sponsored schemes, wanting instead a transfer of the amounts to themselves to launch schemes in accordance to their specific needs and priorities.  The centre not only systematically resisted this, but consistently undermined even such schemes as it introduced unilaterally, by making impossible and arbitrarily increasing demands for concurrent contributions from states. Thus the centre decreed an increase in the states’ contribution towards the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, despite a unanimous request from chief ministers at a meeting of the National Development Council not to do so. The Right to Education programme has been effectively dented by the centre’s refusal to transfer adequate resources to the states for implementing it. This arbitrary approach of the centre needs be changed to give flexibility to the states.

ALTERNATIVE  GROWTH STRATEGY

This poverty-engendering growth strategy itself must be abandoned in favour of an alternative strategy, which places the growth of agriculture, especially foodgrains, through State support to the peasantry, at its centre. The neo-liberal strategy talks of the importance of export markets. But a revival of peasant agriculture expands the domestic market; and the effect of this increase in the domestic market that includes millions of people is far greater than anything the country can hope to achieve in the international arena. The perspective of export-led growth through an open economy that underlies neo-liberalism, has to be replaced by an alternative perspective of growth sustained by an increase in the domestic market through a State-supported expansion of peasant agricultural output. In the latter scenario, not only can the economy be insulated against external shocks emanating from a crisis-ridden world capitalism, and planning acquires meaningfulness through the cordoning off of an appropriate “control area”, but the incomes of vast masses of working people, both peasants and agricultural labourers, can increase, and workers and employees in the non-agricultural sector can be protected against the ravages of inflation in food prices. The provision of cheap credit, of subsidised material inputs, of extension services, of State-initiated R&D support, and of assured remunerative prices, together with the introduction of land reforms, to break land concentration and distribute land among the landless, will have to be the central elements of this alternative growth strategy. It will run counter to the current trend of distressed peasants flocking to urban centres in search of non-existent work, and being forced to become part of the reserve army of labour; it will also entail a reversal of the current trend of dispossession of land from the peasantry in the name of “development” which leaves the dispossessed without adequate livelihood options.

A re-emphasis on the growth of peasant agriculture, as distinct from corporate agriculture, will also enlarge employment opportunities for the vast number of working people, unlike the current growth strategy. Of course, the unemployed and the underemployed cannot be made to wait for an increase in employment opportunities. They have to be provided work immediately, for which, as I have already mentioned, an Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme, to complement the MGNREGS, must be put in place immediately, and the scope of both Schemes expanded to make the right to employment a universal reality.

Together with emphasis on agriculture and the realisation of universal right to employment, there has to be a universal right to healthcare and education, at least up to a certain level. The neo-liberal strategy of development which permeates the Approach Paper to the Twelfth Plan aims at a commoditisation of education and healthcare, with the State coming in at best to support a target group, defined on certain criteria, with cash assistance. This is a completely misconceived strategy for a number of reasons. First, any targeting, given the extraordinary levels of deprivation in India, necessarily leaves out significant sections of the poor from its ambit. The only practical way of covering the deprived is a universal system from which the non-deserving rich will automatically opt out in any case. Second, any scheme of cash assistance provides an incentive to the private service providers to put up the prices of the services they provide. No attempt by the State to control these prices can possibly succeed, unless the State is itself in a position to provide these services through State-run institutions. And for an adequate numbers of State-run institutions to be there, the State has to play the primary role as service provider in these crucial areas of human resource development. Third, when it comes to education, we cannot overlook the important bearing it has on the whole project of nation-building, in creating a society that is free of patriarchy, caste and gender oppression and extreme inequalities. Commoditisation of education militates against these objectives, whose abandonment is tantamount to a flouting of the Constitutional mandate of the government. Hence there has to be a massive effort on the part of the State, primarily through its own institutions, to provide universal healthcare and education up to a certain level.

Likewise, there has to be universal provision by the State of potable drinking water. Privatisation of drinking water will price out the poor from this elemental necessity of life. Hence this must be a part of the services made available by the State free of charge, but through a system of rationing if need be. (Where a price is already being charged it must be kept low with an adequate subsidy). The central government must have a scheme for immediate universal provision of drinking water. 

The other area crying out for attention is housing. The current housing scheme “Indira Awas Yojana” is woefully inadequate both in its coverage and in the amount of money it makes available to the beneficiary households. State governments lack resources to implement housing programmes of adequate coverage, which provide adequate funds to the beneficiaries for decent housing; and the Planning Commission has been opposed to the idea of states making advance claims on the IAY funds due to them. Under these circumstances a scheme for universal and decent housing for deprived households must be formulated by the centre to eradicate homelessness completely within the Twelfth Plan period.

In addition to the above proposals, a special package has to be worked out for the SC/ST, OBC and minority households, not just religious minorities but other minorities as well. At present the only special benefit they get is through reservations and that too in the public sector. With the weight of the public sector declining in the economy, the benefit of reservation too is declining; and minorities, including even religious minorities, are deprived of these benefits in most states. Reservations must be extended to the private sector, including private educational establishments, and must be made available to minorities that suffer from socio-economic deprivation. But over and above reservations, there has to be a special package of assistance, so that these beneficiary groups can, among other things, benefit from the reservation policy itself.

PROBLEMS OF THE NORTH-EAST

The development strategy being pursued in the country at present also has the effect of widening regional inequalities. This is especially apparent with respect to the north-eastern region of the country, which continues to remain in a state of abject poverty and deprivation. The region suffers from an absence of infrastructure, meagreness of employment opportunities, underdevelopment of educational institutions, and a lack of diversification of economic activities. Not surprisingly, it has become an easy prey for secessionist and terrorist groups. The PPP route favoured by the Planning Commission for initiating investment projects is almost entirely irrelevant in this region, since very few investors are willing to come forward to invest, except with subsidies that are so large that the very rationale of PPP, namely, the need to supplement inadequate State resources by private funds, gets defeated. Even when the state governments take the initiative to develop some institutions with their own resources, there is usually a shortage of personnel for running them, since very few persons are willing to remain in the North-East, sacrificing careers in the metropolises or in the non-metropolitan heartland of the country. A number of steps need to be taken to overcome the problems of the north-eastern region, without which our very integrity as a nation will get threatened. I shall briefly mention some of them.

There is one problem which is common to all small states, including those in the North East, of which Tripura has been a special victim.  Any state, no matter how small, must have a minimum administrative structure which constitutes a fixed cost from its point of view. Smaller states therefore have a higher fixed cost per capita. When there are revisions of salary structure in tandem with Central Pay Commission recommendations, which the state governments are more or less obliged to follow if they are to avoid the invidiousness of unequal pay for de facto equal work, the fiscal burden for a small state increases to a far greater extent than for a larger state, even if the two have the same per capita income. Unless some allowance is made for this fact in determining the magnitude of resource devolution to states, which unfortunately the Thirteenth Finance Commission, using its so-called “normative approach”, has not made, states like Tripura suffer. For such small states, where Pay Commission-related expenditures impose a heavy fiscal burden and eat into Plan funds, enhanced Special Plan Assistance must be provided, for which a request has already been made by me to the honourable prime minister.  I would request that follow-up action on the request made by me may be taken by the central government at the earliest. In our federal polity while a state faces problem whatsoever whom it should approach and ask for help other than the central government?

Almost all the north-eastern states suffer from the problem of insurgency and have to undertake substantial expenditure out of their own resources for countering insurgency. This leaves less resources for expenditure on people’s welfare, which in turn contributes further to nourishing insurgency. Leaving insurgency-affected states to fend for themselves, which has been the practice till now, especially when the insurgency is latent as in Tripura, is totally counter-productive. Particularly and specially, the recurring expenditure undertaken for countering insurgency, therefore, must be shared between the centre and the concerned state in the ratio of 90:10, even when this insurgency itself may have become latent.

STEPS  REQUIRED

Starting institutions for higher education requires heavy construction costs. Such costs are beyond the capacity of the state governments of the North East in view of their resource constraints, and PPP, as already mentioned, is entirely inadequate for the purpose. But starting such institutions is absolutely necessary. In Tripura, for instance, our very success in spreading school education now makes the starting of institutions of higher education a matter of urgent priority. The centre must therefore take the responsibility of starting such institutions, particularly the technical institutions, in the north-eastern states.

Central government agencies like the Airport Authority of India, and even the Railways, which make handsome profits and which should be using these profits to cross-subsidise investment for meeting the infrastructure needs of backward states, tend instead to make states compete against one another in giving concessions to them, and invest where they get maximum concessions. This crude “capitalist” behaviour is against the logic of the public sector itself, and negates “inclusiveness”. This must stop, and government agencies must be enjoined to pay heed to the needs of backward states, especially those of the North East, whose connectivity with the rest of the country is as important for them as it is for the country as a whole.  

Connectivity must include above all an adequate communication network in north-eastern states, which is currently very poor. Even the internet connectivity that exists at present is woefully inadequate. The centre must develop a communication package for the north-eastern states, without which there will be little possibility even of attracting investment to the region.

Connectivity also requires adequate road links to the scattered hamlets in the region. The Prime Minister’s Grameen Sadak Yojana as it stands now provides for connectivity to villages with a minimum population of five hundred. This minimum must be brought down to one hundred, so that tribal hamlets, which dot the entire North East and which typically have less than five hundred inhabitants, get road connectivity.

The North East being properly connected with the rest of the country is only a necessary condition for its development, but by no means a sufficient condition. A development package covering industry, tourism and other promising sectors and outlining concrete steps that must be taken to give a boost to these sectors must be prepared by the centre in consultation with the north-eastern states. The economies of most of these states are already linked to those of the neighbouring countries, and the region will stand to gain greatly if these links are further strengthened. Tourism in the region for instance will get a big boost if tourist packages could be devised covering both, the states in the region and some neighbouring countries. For all this however, close and friendly relations with the neighbouring countries are essential. The need for such relations for the purpose of security is often readily appreciated; the need is equally great for the purpose of development too.

Notwithstanding severe constraints Tripura has taken significant steps to ameliorate distress in its largely poverty-ridden population. It has been providing a minimum amount of homestead land to every landless household in the state in a systematic manner. It has given rights over forest land to the tribal population. It has introduced an Urban Employment Guarantee Scheme, and it has vigorously implemented MGNREGS as well as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. It is because of these measures that the problem of insurgency that was so acute at one time has abated somewhat in recent years. But to sustain these initiatives, the central government has to come forward with a number of steps. Some of these, in addition to those listed above, are the following:

(i) In Tripura a significant non-tribal population has also occupied forest land for long, though under the existing legislation it is denied rights over this land. It must be given legal rights. The central government must take immediate steps in this regard. (ii) The tribal population which has obtained rights over land needs financial assistance for undertaking proper economic activities, obviously, of course, including cultivation. This assistance cannot be provided through MGNREGS; and the state government’s capacity in this regard is limited. The central government must therefore formulate a scheme for providing such assistance. (iii) I have mentioned above the need for a scheme that ensures universal and decent housing. As a first step towards this end, the Indira Awas Yojana must be made applicable to all SC/ST, OBC, Minorities and marginal households. They must be provided with subsidised and decent housing. (iv) The Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana currently imposes “conditionalities” for eligibility for assistance, by way of minimum ratios for agriculture in state plan outlays. These, no matter how reasonable they may appear at first sight, are fraught, as experience has shown, with major problems of definition and classification. RKVY funds must therefore be made available without any “strings”.

Planning in India has come to be identified exclusively with the promotion of GDP growth rate, and, towards this end, the handing out of concessions to the private corporate sector and the financial interests, which are supposed to be the main agencies for effecting higher growth. This growth, by its very nature, is not only poverty-engendering, but also restricts the “inclusiveness” which the Eleventh Plan believed that fiscal intervention would achieve in the wake of higher growth. The Approach Paper to the Twelfth Plan has gone a step further and now wants to induct the private corporate sector even into the task of achieving “inclusiveness”, which only underscores the hollowness of its conception. It is time that the planners began “at the other end”, making the provision of a minimum standard of living to every Indian the direct and proximate objective of the plan rather than the growth rate, and worked out and arranged for the resources required for it.

The logic of such an alternative approach, as I have argued, will necessarily lead to a development strategy different from what the country has been pursuing under neo-liberalism. A minimum standard of life for everyone is incompatible with the poverty-engendering growth process that neo-liberalism unleashes. To ensure a minimum for everyone, we shall have to develop agriculture, introduce proper land distribution, revamp the public sector, and abjure the huge fiscal concessions that have been given out to the rich in recent years. But, even if the union government does not immediately accept my argument for an alternative development strategy, let us at least agree to provide a minimum standard of life to every Indian, and let the Twelfth Plan take concrete steps towards this. If planning aims at ensuring such a minimum living standard for every Indian we would have made a genuinely new beginning and fulfilled the promise of our independence.

WEST BENGAL PEASANTS IN CRISIS


KOLKATA: THE jute and paddy growers in West Bengal are facing severe crisis as prices of their produce have sharply declined, causing distress sale. They are not even getting declared minimum support price as there is little or no effort from the state government for procuring the two major crops of the state. The jute price, which was around Rs 4000 per quintal last year, has come down to around Rs 2000 this season. In some of the major jute-growing districts like Nadia, North and South Dinajpur and Jalpaiguri the price is even lower in many areas. Repeated appeals by the peasants to the state government and Jute Corporation of India to procure from them have yielded no results. The middlemen are taking every opportunity available and forcibly lowering the prices. There is perceptible anger among the peasants who have come out in protest. In many areas in Northern districts, they have burnt their produce in wholesale markets and resorted to road blockades.

The paddy growers are also threatened by similar disastrous situation. Already the price of Aman variety has declined by nearly Rs 500 per quintal. At same period last year, per quintal paddy of this variety could fetch Rs 1150 to Rs 1200. This has now come down to Rs 750. The Aush variety is almost ready to be harvested.

Earlier, the Left Front government had added Rs 50 per quintal to declared central minimum support price. It used to prepare procurement infrastructure by September and apart from FCI, self help groups were activated to procure paddy from fields so that the peasants did not fall victim to market volatilities. There is no sign of this preparation apart from issuing formal bureaucratic circulars to district administrations.

With the cost of production increasing dramatically, the prices of fertilisers and pesticides shot up by many times. Black marketeering of fertilisers has become commonplace.

West Bengal recorded splendid development in agricultural production during the Left Front government’s period. The state had become one of the front-ranking producer in the country. This growth was the result of land reforms, intensified efforts from small and marginal farmers and well-planned administrative back-up from the state government. All these are now under serious strain with Trinamool Congress coming to power.

The Left peasant organisations have already submitted deputation to the state government demanding immediate intervention. A delegation of Left Front legislators, led by leader of opposition, Surya Kanta  Misra met the agriculture minister and urged him to declare minimum support price following the recommendations of Farmers’ Commission. The peasants’ organisations are preparing for a wider movement in the near future.

People's Democracy, October 23, 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

State has funds for development: Asim Dasgupta


TNN | Oct 28, 2011, 06.48AM IST

KOLKATA: Former finance minister Asim Dasgupta on Thursday pointed out "accounting fallacy" in his successor Amit Mitra's rejoinder to his slur against Mamata Banerjee. "In accounting propriety, revenue head shouldn't be added to capital head," said Dasgupta. He also turned down Mitra's request for a telephonic discussion on the fiscal calculations.

"Every number in this book speaks silently and I absorb every word. I stand by my own statement," Dasgupta said, holding up the "Trends of Expenditure and Growth Trajectories", tabled by the state government on August 11.

His second press conference in a week at the CPM headquarters turned out to be a classroom lecture (Dasgupta had taught economics at the ISI)to prove that Mamata had indeed talked out of her hat to claim that the Left misrule had cost the state so dear that she could only spend 6 paise for development out of every rupee earned.

Contradicting the CM's "misleading statements" at the National Development Council ( NDC) meeting in New Delhi to coax the centre for more bail-out funds, Dasgupta on Monday cited figures from the new government's financial statement to prove that the state, in fact, had 26% (not 6) funds reserved for development.

Less than 24 hours later, Amit Mitra jumped to the CM's defence to depict that a crucial category (loan repayment) had been omitted from the expenditure bracket. Resorting to the statistical legerdemain Dasgupta himself had often been associated with, Mitra said at Writers' Buildings on Tuesday: "His (Dasgupta's) presentation that the state's gross receipt is Rs 65,847 crore is true, but it boils down to Rs 59,462 crore because of the central grants that are barred from being used in the non-plan category." Mitra then invited his former Presidency college senior to telephone him for the clarifications.

On Thursday, Dasgupta said, "Quite so. These funds can't be used for paying salaries. But they can be used for development. Therefore, they must be added in the development expenditure category... If you start adding capital payment, you must also add the total capital receipt. Add Rs 21,794 crore to the revenue earning of Rs 65,848 crore and the sum soars to Rs 87,642 crore. After expending Rs 56,031 crore on salaries, pension, central loan repayment, transport subsidy etc, around Rs 33,000 crore would still be available for plan expenditure. This is no modest amount.

The low-down on the state's fiscal situation continued:

"This way, you would have spent 63% of the gross earning and are left with 37 paise from every rupee earned...You can't mix revenue and capital accounts. They (Mamata and Mitra) have combined the two in a glaring instance of accounting fallacy." These were his final words.

Defending the former Left Front government, Dasgupta said, finance minister defended the Left Front government's market borrowing spree, claiming that Rs 5,213 crore was raised in April-May alone "because tax receipt is low in the first quarter and the government had to resort to higher borrowing during this period,". He reiterated:

"The new government has borrowed Rs 10,000 crore in five months which is double of what we borrowed during the same period last year." He said he couldn't fathom why Mitra had added the Rs 3,000 "unpaid bills" in the spending bracket (it didn't figure in the financial statement tabled in the Assembly) since "payment is a continuous process and, thus, remained pending".

Shooting down Mitra's allegations that his government had left a Rs 4,800 crore DA burden on the new one, Dasgupta tom-tommed the Left Front's policy of including teachers, municipal employees and others within the purview of DA. He said, "In the last vote-on-account we had kept aside money for DA. It's for the present government to decide when it will be paid."

Finally, on Mitra's jibe that Bengal was the only state to extract coal royalty as well as cess, Dasgupta said, "Ours is the only state that has been discriminated against this revenue income. A Supreme Court ruling backs this. If Bihar and Jharkhand haven't claimed the money, it's because their Coal Cess Act was nullified."

What about coal royalty arrears? : Asim Dasgupta


The Hindu, October 25, 2011 00:00 IST

“Why no mention made of this legitimate demand by State?”
Even as Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee pressed for a special financial package for West Bengal, the former Finance Minister, Asim Dasgupta, pointed out that the State government had made no mention of coal royalty arrears to the tune of Rs. 5,000 crore payable by the Centre. “The arrears in coal royalties are a legitimate right of West Bengal.
The order given by the Supreme Court establishes this right. At least Rs. 5,000 crore is payable but we find that this demand has not been made by the State,” Dr. Dasgupta told journalists here on Monday.
“No other State can make this claim as they have already received the royalty. West Bengal is the only State that has been deprived.”
As for the demand for a special financial package, Dr. Dasgupta said, “It was never done when the Left Front was in power, but we will be pleased if the Centre provides assistance to the State.”
However, the the State government, while demanding assistance from the Centre, had made statements that were “misleading and incomplete,” he said.
The State had claimed that it was paying 94 per cent of its total revenue as salaries, pensions and interest. However, according to the books placed during the Assembly budget session, West Bengal had spent only 74 per cent of its total revenue and only 63 per cent of its total income under these heads, he said.
Also, the State borrowed heavily from the market, Rs. 10,000 crore in the five months the new government had been in power.
The market borrowings of the Left Front government during the same period last year were Rs. 5,000 crore, he said.

· No special package was given when Left Front was in favour
· In pressing demand, Mamata government has made ‘misleading' claims

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Attacks in Bengal: Wake-Up Call for Indian People

Editorial, People's Democracy
September 04, 2011

IN the midst of the country’s and parliament’s pre-occupation with Anna Hazare’s fast and the Lokpal Bill, the serious attack on democracy and civil liberties in West Bengal is not receiving the required and necessary attention. This is not surprising given the congenital anti-Left attitude of the corporate media. Recollect that a few months ago, people in numbers that were exponentially larger than those who collected at Ramlila Maidan, marched to the parliament at the call of the central trade unions. These equally patriotic Indians were protesting against both price rise and corruption. The only reference in the mainstream media to this huge mobilisation was the traffic dislocation that this caused in the capital! The electronic media decides its content on the basis of TRP ratings and not on the worthiness of the news. Showing the ‘wretched of the earth’ protesting price rise and corruption may not influence TRP ratings positively. Such is their logic!

It is this very mindset that reflected in the virtual black out of the news, by the mainstream media, of a dharna staged by more than 1500 sitting and former elected representatives from Bengal on August 25, 2011. A 17-member delegation met the prime minister on behalf of this dharna and presented a detailed memorandum listing the serious violent attacks against the Left Front cadres, offices and homes in West Bengal.

A summary of this report reveals that 30 Left Front leaders and workers [CPI(M) : 28, RSP : 2] have been killed and seven more were abetted to commit suicide during this period; 684 women were assaulted physically, 508 molested and 23 raped; 3785 persons had to be hospitalised for the treatment of injuries suffered by them and many more were forced not to lodge complaint and seek hospital treatment. There had been 2,064 cases of arson and looting of houses and 14,081 persons were evicted from their place of living. Around 40,000 in total had to leave their home under threat. To buy peace and stay in their home, people have been forced to pay money to the local AITC leaders and workers. According to a conservative estimate, total extortion amount thus paid might exceed Rs 277.7 million. 758 Party, trade union and other mass organisation offices were either attacked, ransacked, burnt, forced to close or captured. 77 student union offices have been captured. Their office-bearers have been driven out, some of them forced to resign and even others denied to appear for their exams. There has been a widespread attack on the rights of the peasantry where by 3,418 ryots were denied the right to cultivate their own lands amounting to 9222.73 acres. Besides 26,838 patta holders and sharecroppers have been forcibly evicted from 9222.02 acres of patta and barga lands.

Despite such serious and unacceptable attacks on democratic rights and civil liberties, not a whimper was heard from any section of the so-called civil society. These very luminaries were in the forefront, in collaboration with the Maoists, in highlighting the blatantly fabricated attacks against the Left Front and the state government on the issues of Singur and Nandigram. Now, given the seriousness of these attacks in Bengal, they choose to remain silent. Need anything more be said about their ideological predilections?

This, however, is not surprising. It brings back memories of the decade of 1970s. For full six years from 1972, a semi-fascist terror was unleashed against the CPI(M) in West Bengal. This was aimed at seeking to decimate the Communist-led popular movement in the state. Over 1,400 comrades were martyred and 22,000 Party families had to be relocated during the successful resistance defeating this semi-fascist terror. Only when such attacks on democratic rights was generalised for the whole country with the imposition of internal Emergency in 1975 did some other sections wake up to the dangers of authoritarianism. The people finally triumphed in defeating the serious assault on India’s democracy in 1977. Likewise, contrary to the hopes and machinations of the ruling classes, the people of West Bengal had not only reposed faith in the CPI(M)-led Left Front in the 1977 elections but continued to repose, in an unprecedented manner not found elsewhere in the country, such faith in seven consecutive elections.

Such a bitter experience and the imposition of misery and agony on the people through attacks on their democratic rights and civil liberties cannot be allowed to repeat. During the past four decades, the consolidation of the Indian Republic has moved forward and the Indian people will not tolerate such attacks and refuse to take them lying down.

These attacks in Bengal and resistance against them must be seen as a wake-up call for the Indian people as a whole to be vigilant and rise together to ensure that such anti-democratic authoritarian trends are defeated.


(August 31, 2011)