When the legislature starts functioning like Executive

When the legislature starts functioning like Executive

Dr Sandeep Pandey

In Asia we do not follow the practice of debating international agreement entered into by our Government in the parliament or state assemblies before approving them. This lacuna was again brought to the fore in the case of India’s Kerala Government cabinet trying to push an agreement with Asian Development Bank through amidst major controversy. The chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan almost created a constitutional crisis by insisting that his dissenting note be recorded that his approval was not secured before signing of the loan agreement with ADB and that he was not even shown the file!

The Rs. 1422 crore loan agreement was signed between the Central Government and the ADB on 8th December, 2006 and then the State Government also signed on it as the project executor. The loan is sought to be obtained on behalf of the municipal corporations of Kerala, making a complete mockery of the 74th Constitutional amendment empowering these municipal corporations as local self-government institutions. The matter was not put before the Parliament, the Kerala State Assembly or the concerned Municipal Corporations for discussion and debate. What is the hurry to push this loan agreement through without following a due democratic process? What are the pressures under which our governments are acting? All is not well with this agreement has been highlighted by the chief minister as well as number of people’s organizations working in Kerala who burnt the copy of the agreement with the ADB in Kochi on 3rd March, 2007.

The Kerala CPM general secretary M.V. Raghavan has demanded the chief minister’s resignation saying that he has lost confidence in his cabinet team. It is quite unfortunate that instead of initiating a debate within the party and the government, the CPM too is following the model of bigger opportunistic political parties which lack complete internal democracy. That the mainstream Indian political parties have now subsumed themselves to the international monetary agencies and private corporations is clear beyond doubt. By corollary, their commitment to the sovereignty of the people of this country has reduced. CPM first exhibited these tendencies in West Bengal and now it is doing it in Kerala.

The CPM says that it is supporting the ADB loan for Kerala Sustainable Urban Development Project because the conditionalities of the loan agreement have been changed since the time it was in opposition and was opposing the ADB loan agreement. However, going through the loan agreement it is quite obvious that the anti-people nature of it remains intact. For example the following texts from the agreement expose the truth.

‘By not later than March 2007, Government of Kerala will formulate a policy on conversion of standposts to individual metered house service connections and/or metering standposts, for the purpose of efficient demand side management and reduction of Non Revenue Water.’

‘Government of Kerala will ensure that all the municipal corporations pass a resolution by March 2008 to introduce service tax and/or other revenue mobilization measures in each municipal corporation to meet the shortfall of revenues needed to fund the operations and management of the expanded water supply.’

‘Government of Kerala will ensure that all the municipal corporations will prepare and implement a financial improvement action plan to (a) introduce a sewerage charge, (b) introduce a solid waste management charge, and (c) improve collection efficiency, by no later than one year after related sub-project completion.’

‘…the tariff will be increased twice during the project implementation period to a level which is sufficient to cover the operations and management costs of new and existing infrastructure…’

One wonders looking at above statements whether the job of our legislatures is being reduced to that of executive, with decision making having been left to external agencies. And there is an eerie feeling that we cannot change any of these things. The reforms are being virtually dictated to us by the international monetary agencies backed by the vested interests of private corporations who stand to gain as contenders of many contracts which will be thrown open once the privatization process is underway.

Is it difficult for a political party like CPM to understand that privatization of basic services like sewerage and natural resources like water and land will hurt the interests of the poor?

The people’s organizations in Kerala opposed to the ADB loan are demanding that the Government should announce withdrawl from this loan agreement immediately. It should publish all relevant documents regarding this loan in local language and specifically list those conditionalities which it is claiming have changed after it came to power. The draft of the agreement must be placed for discussion in the cabinet, assembly and municipal corporations. This is the minimum action needed on the part of the Government to demonstrate that as a legitimately elected sovereign body it has the capacity to modify or reject an agreement coming from an external agency which is not accountable to the people. It must come out clearly on where it thinks its basic commitment lies.

Efforts by the CPM to suffocate the voice of their chief minister are tantamount to strangulating democracy. It is a cowardly act to demand his resignation. V.S. Achuthanandan has shown rare courage going against his party line risking his coveted position in voicing his protest. If he resigns then the only voice of dissent will be silenced. It is not V.S. Achuthanandan but the CPM which has to introspect. They have to decide whether there is any room for inner party democracy in their structure? Will they debate an issue which is generating opposition within and outside the party and government or will they simply force a pre-decided agreement upon the people? It is a test not only of CPM’s commitment to the people and but also to its ideology.

(Author Dr Sandeep Pandey is recipient of Ramon Magsaysay Award for the year 2002 and leads National Alliance of People’s Movements in India. He can be contacted at: ashaashram@yahoo.com)

Published in:

The Scoop Independent News (New Zealand): 25 April 2007

The Kashmir Times (India): April 7, 2007