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The living's not easy

The PM's New Year's speech was contradictory. To improve people's livelihood security, the UPA must reverse the trajectory of its economic policies, writes Sitaram Yechury.

columns Updated: Jan 03, 2012 01:31 IST
Manmohan Singh’s New Year address,Manmohan Singh,Lokpal Bill

This is a dangerous time. Second thoughts about well-intentioned New Year resolutions have started their creeping journey. But what about those resolutions which carry the seeds of negating other resolutions? This is the nagging question that emerges from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s New Year address to the nation.

Even though the PM reiterated that his government is committed to enact an effective Lokpal Bill and it was “unfortunate” that the Bill could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha, he did not offer any explanation for the debacle in the Upper House or offer a roadmap for the eventual enactment of the anti-corruption law. In addition, the PM also listed a five-point policy agenda: livelihood security (education, food, health and employment); economic security; energy security; ecological security and national security.

First, let us take the lokpal. It is clear that faced with the eventuality that the Rajya Sabha would pass the Bill only with important amendments, the government chose to enact the midnight drama. It was ably assisted by its allies, particularly the Trinamool Congress, which had not opposed the clearance of the Bill either in the Cabinet or in the Lok Sabha.

Indicating that this Bill alone would not be sufficient, the PM also emphasised on the urgent need to reform the system of governance to increase transparency. While admitting that new forms of corruption have emerged after the liberalisation of the economy, the PM was silent on the type of crony capitalism that these reforms have produced.

In the din of the legitimate public outcry against corruption and for a lokpal, two other issues moved into oblivion: the revelations made by the Niira Radia tapes and the obnoxious prevalence of paid news. The unholy nexus among the corrupt politician-bureaucrat-businessmen-corporate media is one expression of growing crony capitalism. The corporate media that relegates the news of lakhs of trade unionists marching before Parliament against corruption and price rise to obscure corners of the newspaper also champions the cause of the Anna Hazare-led campaign. Is there a method behind this? While the focus is on corruption at lower levels and targeting the C and D classes of government employees, the mega scams in high places don’t get adequate attention. It was left to a CPI(M) member to point out in the Rajya Sabha that class D has virtually ceased to exist with the policies of ‘outsourcing’. Stopping such mega loot of our country’s resources is essential to realise our potential and make India a truly emerging power in the world.

The PM’s five-point agenda is riddled with internal contradictions. The country’s economic security was equated with reducing India’s growing fiscal deficit. The PM says that this requires a reduction in subsidies. Recently, Parliament was informed that the subsidy bill runs into over Rs 1 lakh crore annually. However, the government, by its own admission, collected over Rs 1,30,000 crore as revenue from taxes in the petroleum sector alone.

According to the budget papers of the last three years, a staggering Rs 14,28,028 crore has been the legitimate tax forgone by the government. Of this, Rs 3,63,875 crore has been in the form of concessions to corporate houses and the rich. The estimated fiscal deficit of Rs 4,65,000 crore this year pales into insignificance in the face of such concessions. While subsidies to the rich are called incentives for growth, subsidies for the poor, too meagre to permit over 80 crore of our people to barely survive, are seen as a burden on economic security. Can the PM’s plan for livelihood security for the people be achieved in this way? Only proper collection of legitimate taxes, which would then be used for public investments, can ensure livelihood security for the people.

On energy security, the PM talked about aligning our energy prices with global rates. Such an alignment with regard to petroleum products, irrespective of the actual cost of production in India, will only add to the continuous hikes in fuel prices. The latest audited accounts reveal that the Indian Oil Corporation shows a net profit of Rs 10,998 crore and a reserve revenue surplus of Rs 49,470 crore. Now, aligning electricity charges with global rates would only mean increasing the burden on the people while bolstering the profits of oil companies.

Similarly, concerns for ecological security cannot contradict the need for energy security. At the recent Durban Climate Change summit, India promised unilateral reduction of our carbon emissions without wresting similar promises from the developed countries. The PM himself has said that without significant increases in the production of energy, India will not be able to reduce its poverty levels. Today more than a third of our households have no electricity connection and nearly two-thirds of our people have no access to proper sanitation. Over half of our children suffer from malnutrition and over two-thirds of pregnant women are anaemic. The PM’s views are contradictory and his concern about our people’s livelihood security is hollow. If people’s livelihood has to be improved then the trajectory of our economic reforms and liberalisation needs to be reversed.

India and its people cannot remain content on hopes that second thoughts will start creeping into the minds of our PM and the UPA 2 government. As 2011 showed, only popular pressure on the government can push it to remove contradictions in its approach to ensure livelihood security for our people.

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

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Jan 02, 2012 20:59 IST