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Lowering the bar

As Parliament turns 60, it's clear that the UPA's planning process is not benefiting the aam aadmi. Instead, we have a skewed model of growth. Sitaram Yechury writes.

columns Updated: Apr 30, 2012 22:36 IST
Sitaram Yechury,columns,indian parliament

The country will soon observe the 60th birthday of independent India’s Parliament. Both the Houses met for the first time on May 13, 1952. As India celebrates this ‘sashtipurti’, ancient belief suggests that a new life will begin. It, however, does not say a ‘better’ life.

These celebrations are coming with an unprecedented and an unhealthy contradiction. The 12th Five Year Plan kicked off on April 1, 2012. In fact, this year’s Budget made allocations for the first year of this Plan. All the parliamentary standing committees are examining in detail the demands for grants for all ministries. Before this Parliament session ends, the Finance Bill will be passed and the country will progress on the basis of these allocations. The contradiction lies in the fact that Parliament, which represents the sovereign will of the people as enshrined by our Constitution, is sanctioning the Plan’s allocations without even discussing it.

Strictly, the Plan is not decided upon by Parliament. The National Development Council (NDC), consisting of all the elected chief ministers, discusses the plan. The NDC is yet to meet on this agenda. We learn that this may happen sometime in June or July. By then, the first quarter of the first year of the 12th Plan would have been completed, on the basis of allocations that have not been appropriately approved. This is, indeed, unprecedented.

It is necessary to recollect that the Planning Commission was set up in March 1950 by a resolution of the Government of India which defined the scope of its work in the following terms:

“The Constitution of India has guaranteed certain Fundamental Rights to the citizens of India and enunciated certain Directive Principles of State Policy, in particular, that the State shall strive to promote the welfare of the people by securing and protecting as effectively as it may a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life, and shall direct its policy towards securing, among other things:

a) that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood;

b) that the ownership and control of the material resources of the community are so distributed as best to sub-serve the common good; and

c) that the operation of the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment.”

The draft outline of the First Five Year Plan was addressed to the country for general discussion and comment in the following words:

“Planning in a democratic State is a social process in which, in some part, every citizen should have the opportunity to participate… The Draft is intended to be a document for the widest possible public discussion... and also to obtain the views of Members of Parliament…”

As Parliament observes its sashtipurti, the country needs to be prepared for the opposite of what is stated above. The new emphasis of the planning process now seems to be a pathological preoccupation with public-private-partnership (PPP). This has been evolving for some years now. At the beginning of the 11th Plan, the then finance minister wrote in 2007 that the investments required in the infrastructure sector of the plan “would be achieved through a combination of public investment, PPPs and exclusive private investments”. In order to attract such private investments, he said, “It is essential to create fiscal space by restricting public expenditure. Furthermore, we have to levy and collect appropriate and reasonable user charges not only to attract private investments but also to ensure proper operation and maintenance of the assets that are created.”

By now it is clear that all such PPP projects have resulted in the jacking up of user charges, which effectively prevent the poor from using these facilities. Delhi’s airport is the most expensive for travellers in the world today. Toll tax collection awarded to private players ‘in perpetuity’ has ruled out the aam aadmi from the highways. Humungous amounts are being transferred to private players in education and health by the government for paying the fees and charges for the mandatory admissions of economically weaker sections, as noted earlier in this column. With such amounts that are literally subsidies to the private sector, the public investments could have created larger facilities for the aam aadmi.

The experience of Latin American countries, where PPP became the norm for all social amenities such as water supply, electricity etc, shows how the common people’s livelihood has been devastated. Now the PPP is being planned in agriculture and a pilot project has been initiated by the Maharashtra government under the World Economic Forum’s “new agriculture initiative”. In a situation where 83% of land holdings in India are marginal and small, the PPP proposals for aggregating production and marketing will have a devastating impact on the already beleaguered farmers who are being driven towards distress suicides. Even here, the State will put in 50% of the investment and allow the private corporates to avail of all the existing agricultural subsidies.

All this is happening when recent studies, based on the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data on household expenditures in India have shown that more than 60% of the population in all states are below even the Planning Commission’s ridiculously absurd definition of poverty. So much for this so-called aam aadmi’s government’s declarations of ‘inclusive growth’. The opposite of the declared intention that “the economic system does not result in the concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment” is being firmed up in this 60th year of India’s Parliament.

(Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP)

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Apr 30, 2012 22:06 IST