Yechury Points out Major Areas that Require Development

June 19th, 2019 [IST]

On behalf of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), I express my thanks for being invited to this meeting and present our views.  The listed agenda consists of five issues: (a) Ways to improve the productivity of the Parliament; (b) One country one election; (c) Building of a New India in the 75th year of Independence; (d) Programme and commitments to celebrate Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary; and (e)  Development of the aspirational districts.


We have also been asked to address any other important issue that requires immediate attention of the government. Hence, I shall raise other important issues also that need the immediate attention of the government.


On each one of the items listed in the agenda, our viewpoint is also specifically detailed.


I. One Country One Election


Apart from the technical issues involved in the holding of the simultaneous elections to the Parliament and state Assemblies, our opposition to this is based on the fact that it is fundamentally anti-federal, anti-democratic and strikes at the root of the parliamentary democratic system, as ordained in the Constitution.


At the outset, it needs to be noted that the elections were indeed simultaneous after we adopted our Constitution.  However, elections to the state Assemblies got detached from the general elections due to the arbitrary misuse of Article 356 by the Central government.  This process began with the dismissal of the Communist Ministry in Kerala in 1959.


Holding the Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections together would require  tampering with the Constitutional scheme of accountability of the government to the legislature.   Article 75 (3) states that the collective responsibility of the Council of Ministers is to the House of the People.  Similarly, Article 164 (1) concerning the Council of Ministers states that it is collectively responsible to the legislative assembly of the state.


Under the Constitution, if a government loses the confidence of the legislature either by being voted out on a no-confidence motion, or, losing a vote on a Money Bill, it is bound to resign. If no alternative government can be formed, the House is dissolved and a mid-term election held.


There is no fixity of tenure  enshrined in the Constitution either for the Lok Sabha, or,  for the state legislatures.  Both Article 83 (2) and Article 172 (1) specify that the term of the Lok Sabha and the Legislative Assembly will be for five years “unless sooner dissolved”.


Any attempt to prolong the life of the Lok Sabha, or, legislature will not only be unconstitutional but also anti-democratic.  It is the will of the people through their elected representatives that must prevail.


In order to bring about simultaneous elections, various suggestions were made to amend the Constitution. One of the suggestions made by a discussion paper released by the Niti Aayog is that if the dissolution of the Lok Sabha  cannot be avoided and the remainder of the term of the Lok Sabha is not long, then  a provision can be made for the President to carry out the administration of the country, on the aid and advice of a Council of Ministers to be appointed by him/her till the next House is constituted.  This outrageous proposal would make the President head the executive.  This is bringing an executive Presidency through the back door.


The other suggestion is that if, at the time of the dissolution of the House, the remaining period is long, then fresh elections would be held and the term of the House would be only for the rest of the remaining period, i.e., if the dissolution of the House takes place say after two years of its term, then, the subsequent election will be held for a three year term.  So, actually, there will be more frequent Lok Sabha elections, which defeats the purpose, for which simultaneous elections are being advocated.


The other casualty of the efforts to straightjacket simultaneous elections will be federalism.  One of the proposals for aligning the Lok Sabha and state Assembly elections made by the 79th Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, 2015 and the Niti Aayog  paper is to extend the life of some of the assemblies, or, shorten the tenure of some in a phased manner.  Both reduction of the tenure of the assembly, or, its extension are an assault on the rights of the states and circumscribes the rights of citizens to elect  their legislators.


Another suggestion in the case of state legislatures is that if dissolution takes place after the major part of the term is over, the Governor could run the state for the rest of the term of the House. This, again, would mean Central rule.


Various proposals are put forth to circumvent the accountability of the legislature and to ensure fixity of tenure of the House. One of the proposals mooted, including in the Draft Working Paper of the Law Commission of India, is that when a no-confidence motion is moved, it must be accompanied by a motion to elect a new leader of the House. This means that the right of the legislators to vote out a government is circumscribed and conditional to their electing a new government.


The right of elected legislators and members of the Lok Sabha to vote out any government cannot be circumscribed, nor can the  right of a ruling party which has a stable majority in the House to recommend dissolution of the House and hold early elections also be curtailed.


In the name of ensuring simultaneity of elections, all these proposals would enhance the role of the Governor and Central intervention.


India is a vast country with myriad diversities and only a federal set-up can  sustain political democracy. Having elections in states at different times is one aspect of the federal system.


We are, therefore, totally opposed to any artificial attempt to bring about simultaneous elections which can only be done by trampling upon the existing Constitutional scheme of parliamentary democracy.


Role of the Election Commission and Electoral Reforms


The Indian Constitution mandates the Election Commission alone the responsibility to conduct a free and fair election. During the course of the 17th general elections, the role of the Election Commission has come under a severe dark shadow. The neutrality and impartiality of the Election Commission is widely questioned.


Given this experience, the CPI(M) is of the firm opinion that the current practice of the government of the day appointing the Election Commissioners must be replaced by these appointments being made by a collegium under the sanction of the President of India.  This is the procedure that has been adopted for the appointment of the Lokpal by the Parliament.


The CPI(M) is of the opinion that far reaching thorough electoral reforms are required in order to  strengthen democracy in the country.


EVMs: Questioning the credibility of the electoral process widespread inconsistencies with the use of Electronic Voting Machines have surfaced.  A parliamentary legislation  must ensure that at least 50 per cent of the votes counted by the EVMs are matched with the VVPAT.  Further, all technical objections that arise from the fact that technology is growing at a pace faster than human capacities to adopt to it will have to be resolved.  Hence there is a need to reexamine the credibility of the EVMs and verifiability of the VVPATs.


Money Power: These elections have seen the humongous growth of money power. This distorts reasoned opinion formation by the voter which is the backbone of an informed democracy.  Laws must be enacted to curb such use of money power.  This should begin by banning the electoral bond scheme which was smuggled in the Finance Bill before the Parliament ignoring the opposition to this scheme at that stage. The Rajya Sabha’s consideration was bypassed since the Finance Bill is a `Money Bill’.


Corporate funding of political parties should be banned and we should move towards a system of State funding.


Partial Proportional Representation: No government at the Centre in India, after we adopted our Constitution, has ever had the support of over 50 per cent of the votes polled.  Many countries elect their governments on the basis of 50 per cent plus support of the entire electorate not only of those who have voted. Democracy, by definition, is the rule of the majority. In order to ensure that such a democracy  is properly established, the country must seriously consider a partial proportional representation system.


There are many other issues that need to be addressed.  The CPI(M) urges the government to immediately set-up a parliamentary mechanism to suggest deep-rooted electoral reforms.


The CPI(M) is of the considered opinion that such reforms are necessary to restore the strength and integrity of our democracy.


II.  Economy: Issues that Need to be Urgently Resolved


1. Alarming Drought Situation


According to the Drought Early Warning System, a real time drought monitoring platform, as of May 30, 2019, more than 43.4 per cent of the country was reeling under drought.  Failed monsoons are the primary reason.  The north-east monsoon was deficient by 44 per cent in 2018.  On top of this, the pre-monsoon rainfall (March 1 to May 31, 2019) was the lowest in 65 years.


According to the Central Water Commission, water levels in India’s 91 major reservoirs plummeted to 20 per cent of their storage capacity by May 30, 2019.  This is less than the average levels in the past decade. Worse is that the south-west monsoon, which provides 80 per cent of our rainfall, has been forecast to be delayed and below normal this year.


The Central government must, in consultation with the state governments, take appropriate measures on a war footing to tackle this drought situation, in particular, and deepening agrarian distress, in general.


2. Growing Unemployment


Official employment data, kept under wraps during the course of the election campaign, has now been released to show that unemployment levels are the highest in the last five decades.


Urgent measures to generate employment need to be undertaken. During that time, all registered unemployed must be paid an unemployment allowance which should be above subsistence needs.


3.  Privatisation


Reports indicate that the government is proceeding on a plan for large-scale privatization. This will only compound the unemployment situation even further. More importantly, this is akin to selling family silver to meet the daily expenditures.  All blue chip public sector companies and those which are profitable today must not be privatized.  Efforts must be made to turn around those public sector units who are incurring losses.


We are opposed to the current drive of large-scale privatization of the railways, which is the running thread that unites our country and its people.


4. Labour Laws


Reports suggest radical changes in the labour laws are in the offing. This will only increase the levels of insecurity of the working class.  The Indian working class has earned its rights through struggles and legalized these  rights even before India became independent.  These rights were subsequently enshrined in our Constitution. Any attack to dilute these provisions will not be acceptable.


5. Stagnant/Declining Economy


The economic stagnation, decline in many areas, is adding to the already heavy burdens imposed on the people.  The revival of the economy requires the growth of domestic demand.  This, in turn, can only be achieved through higher doses of public investment for building our much needed economic and social infrastructure.  The government must urgently draw up plans in this direction.


6. Data Credibility


The credibility of official data has come under a big  question mark.  This needs to be urgently corrected both for the sake of India’s international standing as well as to assess the ground realities so necessary to take the required policy measures.


The government needs to appoint a committee/commission to rework the data parameters and to restore credibility and faith in the statistics that are being provided.


III. `Sab Ka Vishwas’


The CPI(M) hopes that the government will seriously adhere to the Prime Minister’s assertion, post-elections, of following a policy of `sab ka saath, sab ka vikas, sab ka vishwas’.


The experience of the last five years, however, offers no confidence to the people that this would be followed. The instances of the growth of private armies in the name of `cow protection’, `moral policing’ etc. have resulted in the most tragic deaths of the marginalized sections of our society.


Aghast at the reports of incidents of mob lynching, the Supreme Court had advised the government to adopt a special law against mob lynching.  This, however, has not happened.  This government must ensure that such a law is brought into effect at the earliest.  The spread of hatred, intolerance, terror and fear must be effectively prevented.


May we underline that the unity and integrity of India can be strengthened only by strengthening the bonds of commonality that run through our immensely rich diversity  and not by seeking to impose uniformity – religious linguistic etc. – upon this diversity.  The CPI(M) hopes this government will adhere to this understanding.


This is essential for the building of a New India in the 75th year of our Independence, an issue that has been listed in the agenda for this meeting.


Social Upliftment


This government must legislate the Women’s Reservation Bill, which is a long pending promise before the country.


This government must seek to strengthen the laws and provisions regarding the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and desist from diluting them further.


With large-scale privatization of industries, education and health, it is imperative that reservations for the SCs, STs, OBCs and disabled must be extended to the private sector.


IV.  Ways to Improve the Productivity of the Parliament


The Indian Constitution defines the centrality of the sovereignty of the people.  The preamble defines this most eloquently by stating, “We, the People of India” and “Do hereby Adopt, Enact and Give to ourselves this Constitution”.  People exercise their sovereignty through their elected representatives who are accountable to the people and the Executive, or, Government that assumes office as a consequence of elections is, in turn, accountable to the legislature.


Parliament is, therefore, the key link in the Constitutional Scheme of Things.   The basic element to improve Parliament’s productivity is to ensure that it meets more often.  The CPI(M) continues to adhere to its longstanding proposal that, by law, the Indian Parliament must meet not less than a hundred days in a calendar year.


Before the new year beginning, the schedule for the Parliament sessions must be announced.  This will ensure greater presence and participation of the Members in parliamentary proceedings.  This will also ensure that the foreign tours of the Prime Minister  and other Ministers, or, for that matter, visits by foreign dignitaries do not disturb the parliamentary proceedings, as these schedules can now be determined according to the announced parliamentary schedule.


The government of the day must ensure that the Parliament functions strictly in accordance with its rules and that the presiding officers will meticulously follow the Rule Book and subjective considerations will not prevail.


The practice of arbitrarily defining which Bill is a `Money Bill’ currently resides with  the Speaker of the Lok Sabha under Article 110(3) of the Constitution.  Articles 110(1) and 110(2) elaborately define subjects that qualify  to be treated as a `Money Bill’ or not.  Ignoring 110(1) and 110(2) but invoking 110(3) arbitrarily must be stopped, if necessary, through a Constitutional amendment.  Both the Houses of the Parliament have their equal role and responsibility in deciding on matters of public importance and legislations.


Functioning of Parliamentary Committees: More than participation  in the sessions of Parliament, substantial work takes place in the Parliamentary Committees where Members meticulously dissect the proposed legislations. The viewpoints of all stakeholders should be heard before finalizing the suggestions/recommendations.  Of late, such committee functioning has been weakened.  This must be corrected at the earliest.


V. Combatting Terrorism


It is a matter of great concern that post-Pulwama/Balakot terrorist attacks have continued to mount. In the state of Jammu & Kashmir itself, at least four instances have been reported  with more than 10 deaths and nearly a hundred injured.


The alienation of the people of Kashmir must be seriously addressed. The elections to the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly must be held at the earliest.  This would be an important way to restore people’s confidence in the democratic process.  If the conditions were conducive for the holding of Parliamentary elections,  we see no reason for the Assembly elections not being held.


VI.  Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th Birth Anniversary


The previous government had set-up a committee to work out the programmes for this observation.  We consider this to be a major event that must be properly observed. I was a Member of the previous committee.  The CPI(M) would cooperate with the government by offering  our suggestions/opinions on this matter.


VII.  Development of Aspirational Districts


115 aspirational districts have been identified by the Niti Aayog.  These include districts which were categorized in previous terminology as being “backward” districts. The five main themes chosen are health and nutrition, education, agriculture and water resources, financial inclusion and skill development and basic infrastructure.   The planned convergence of Central and state schemes  will have to be done in consultation with the elected state governments.  Likewise, the weightage given to each one of these five themes must be discussed with the state governments and a consensus arrived at.


The aspirations of a district or an administrative unit at the local level are best met through democratic decentralization of power to them.


Under India’s federal system, direct monitoring of district level development by the Central government, bypassing the state governments, will not be acceptable.


As far as the weightages  that have been prescribed by the Niti Aayog are concerned, we find the weightage for agriculture and water resources is below par.  This is true for skill development and basic infrastructure as well.  These areas are important to ensure a healthy economic development providing a decent livelihood status for the people there. Failing to do this results in incapability to restrict the unbridled growth of migration to urban areas which expands urban slums and leads to the burgeoning of urban poor.


The way forward suggested by the Niti Aayog is to entrust the conduct of surveys in these districts to the Tata Trusts and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation bypassing the elected state governments cannot be accepted.


It is not clear as to what would be the role of the elected state governments in the districts in their states and their involvement in the entire concept and implementation of the development of aspirational districts.