Rajya Sabha

June 10, 2014

Derek O’Brien speaks on the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address | Transcript

Sir, we join the hon. President in congratulating the people of India for voting peacefully. They voted to punish poor performers and rewarded the good work. There are a lot of States where good work has been done. Those States have really been well rewarded — be it Tamil Nadu or Odisha or Bengal or other States. Sir, we join the hon. President in celebrating this wondrous democracy where each of those 543 Members who have been elected to the Lok Sabha has a beautiful story. I don’t have the time to tell you all the stories. But, one story bears special mention of a region where starvation deaths were an order of the day till 8- 10 years ago. And, those starvation deaths were due to people in that area ate ant eggs, because they did not have anything else to eat. Today, that region — Jangal Mahal — is represented by a 28 year old doctor. She is the first woman to come to the Lok Sabha and take her oath in Al-chiki (Santali language).

Sir, this is our wondrous democracy; let us celebrate it. Sir, my party, the Trinamool Congress, would also like to place it on record the people who do all the hard work but often get unnoticed; it is the Election Commission of India. It has conducted this election in the best way possible. I do not get into percentages today. But, in all the happiness of the new Government — someone has mentioned this before — the overall vote share was 30 per cent. So, that is a humble pill which will, perhaps, temper this mandate. Sir, everyone makes election promises. Those who are in opposition last are in Government this time and vice-versa. One promise they make every time is about Women’s Reservation Bill.

All talk, no go. The last time’s Opposition and this time’s Government, and between them all the major parties, the number of women they brought to Parliament in spite of promising 33 per cent or one-third is between 8 per cent to 13 per cent. That is the average. The all India average is 11 per cent. Sir, we, at the Trinamool Congress, are indeed proud to say that out of our 34 Members of Parliament, eleven are women. We have already done the women’s reservation; 33 per cent of women from Trinamool Congress are already in Parliament. If anyone tries to sneakily take credit for giving women the reservation should remember one thing; you may all want to share the credit now, but please remember, you all have talked, but we have done it. Sir, what will be our role for the next few years? We will watch; we will play the role of a constructive Opposition. We will support good initiatives and we will oppose them when necessary. Sir, we believe, all these new programmes which will be announced, which may be announced, need to be put through what we call the three-way-test. The first test is, how will you implement your programmes to touch the poorest of the poor. That is our first test. The second test is, how will you pursue unity in diversity and secure safety of all minorities, women and SCs/STs? This is the second test where we will subject all your programmes. The third one is, how will you deliver economic stability? Sir, in the next few minutes–because we have two speakers from our party, I will just take the first half–one would have been tempted to talk about all the things that you did not say or the Government missed out in the President’s Address.

We will not fall into that trap. We will give you the benefit of doubt and we will say that maybe you will bring all this up in Part-A of the Budget Speech, which seems the logical thing to do; otherwise, very often, the President’s Address and the Budget Speech become photocopies of the same thing. So, we will wait for the Budget Speech, especially Part-A of the Budget Speech. We will restrict our response to eight or ten points to give specific and constructive suggestions on the President’s Address itself. Coming from a party which has just come with the blessings of the people, I am sure, you will listen to us with some attention. Sir, specifically, we start with para 9 where he talked about rural infrastructure. Our specific suggestion from the Trinamool Congress is, and we urge you, to set up the Rural Infrastructure Mission. The party in power loves catchy acronyms and that kind of things, this should also pass your acronym test; that also sounds nice, the rhyme sounds quite nice, but more seriously, the Rural Infrastructure Mission should have two broad objectives. First, build bridges and, second, build pucca roads in rural areas. These are two objectives. Sir, paragraph 8 talks of food inflation. Lots of speakers before me have spoken about this. Sir, in West Bengal, we are providing tribals rice at Rs.2 per kg.

Our suggestion, Sir, is that this is a good scheme for tribals. Satishji also spoke about forest rights of tribals. But, on the specific scheme, can this rice at Rs.2 per kg. for tribals be passed on to the rest of the country? Sir, our third suggestion, which is for para 10, on agriculture is, agriculture engages 50 per cent of our work force, offers livelihood to 75 per cent of our people, consumes 80 per cent of our water, 25 per cent of our power, and must be availing 70 per cent of our subsidies. For agriculture, we have two specific suggestions. The first is, the Minimum Support Price for agricultural products and the loan waiver to poor farmers; the operative word being poor. West Bengal, in fact, has a land, agriculture and industrial Policy. And, more interestingly, we have a Land Policy which was implemented about 18 months ago, and we would urge you to take a very close look at that. Paragraph 11, we could not agree with you more. Each drop of water is precious. In the Trinamool Manifesto, three years ago, we made a promise to have 55,000 water bodies. In three years, 55,000 is not the number, it has become 1,06,000. The bureaucrats, perhaps, went and counted the numbers.

My colleague, Mithunda – you are not the only person taking helicopter rides – also went for a few helicopter rides over Bengal and saw lots of water. So, 1,06,000 is the number. The programme there is called Pani Dharo, Pani Bharo. In fact, the basic concept of what we are suggesting is that there are lots of State Governments who first thought out, then, tested out programmes. Those programmes have been tested on a small scale, before they have been rolled out on a large scale. Our observation is, that is the way to do it. I want to give you another example which would relate to paragraph 19, which is about the girl child and women. Sir, there are so many issues. In fact, sadly, seven lakh girls are killed every year before they are born. Seven lakh.

It is not a coincidence. We are happy that the Prime Minister has chosen Bhutan to be his first neighbourhood destination, but it is a sad irony that the population of Bhutan, which is seven lakh is equal to the number of female girl child killed before they are born in India. Sir, through you, we want to bring to the notice of this new Government a Scheme which is called Kanyashree. Now, how does this work? The problem here was that lot of girls had to stop their education. So, that was the problem. They stopped their education because they need to get married very quickly. Kanyashree is a Scheme, started exactly one year ago, here how it works, the girl’s family gets Rs.500 per year from Class 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. If she wants to continue her studies after class 12, the family gets Rs.25,000. Two things happen – economic help to the girl who gets educated and the child marriage is also stopped. Under this Kanyashree Scheme, thirteen lakh girls and their families have already registered, and by the end of the year, the number would go up to seventeen lakh. Sir, this Scheme was so useful that the U.N. have now tied up with the West Bengal Government to take this Scheme ahead. Sir, being a Member from West Bengal, I am giving you one example from West Bengal, but the thought we are trying to leave you behind, I am sure, my colleague, Dr. Maitreyan, is going to speak from Tamil Nadu, I think, after this, there have been such examples from many, many States, which have been tested, tried and moved on.

Another one is, medicines, where generic drugs are sold at 67 per cent discount. Real stories, real schemes implemented, loved by voters, and that is why they are sending us here. We strongly support and approve the decision to bring back black money, paragraph 22, but we don’t know who wants to take the credit. Let us not forget in all this brouhaha that this is the Supreme Court Judgement, and we are happy that you are following the Supreme Court Judgement. But whatever it is, it is a step in the right direction. I don’t share the cynicism of not anything happening in the next five years, we are optimist. Sir, in paragraph 24, you have mentioned about comprehensive reform of the Judiciary. We, at the Trinamool Congress, want to take it one step further. We believe, there is serious corruption in the media. Some of our most brightest men and women, some of the most brightest talent in this country are media professionals. We respect them very, very much. But the media corruption is an issue which needs to be taken up at the earliest because first, we were all concerned about paid news, but after seeing what has happened in the last few months, there is a new form of news, which is beyond paid news, this is super-paid news.

Sir, in paragraph 29, you talk about, ‘set up a task force to review our MSME sector’. I know there is a lot of discussion on this mirage, the Gujarat Model, so I am tempted to give you one example. For the MSME sector I suggest you to follow one State where the model was right. The best way to judge MSME perhaps is to see how banks are lending to MSME. You know a lot of banks want to lend. If the percentage of lending goes up, the things are well. Last year, bank lending in Karnataka increased to 48 per cent. Good. In Gujarat, it was 20 something per cent. Not bad. In my State, it was 105 per cent. Maybe, we can share with you some ideas as to how to revive the MSME. Thank you, Mithunda, for being the only one who is clapping his desk. …(Interruptions)… Okay, thank you, Sir. Sir, paragraph 20 was music to our ears and I quote, ‘highest priority will be accorded to bring the eastern region of this country on par with western region in terms of physical and social infrastructure.’ Very good, excellent. ‘Look East’ policy is acceptable but we will prefer, from ‘Look East’ it becomes ‘Act East’. ‘Act East’ is even better because Kolkata is not only the gateway to North East, Kolkata is also the gateway to South Asia. In fact, we are also promoting Yoga in Bengal. The President also through his speech mentioned Yoga. So, it is a very good system where every morning this Government gets up and the sun rises in the east. So, it is a very good idea to do some Suryanamaskar every morning before you start your Government works. We will assure you that it will bring lots of good luck.

Mithunda had written a line for me in Hindi, but I dare not deliver it because he is sitting here. He said, “Subah Surya pranam karne se din accha jata hai”.

Sir, that is the basic concept which we are trying to bring about. We are trying to communicate through you, Sir, to this Government and respond to the President’s Address. Bring the States on board. If you want an AIIMS in Bengal, yes, give us hundred days, we will find you a location for a new AIIMS. If you want to talk about the border areas, especially States like ours, which have Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, sensitive areas, talk to us, we will sort things out. If you are talking about modernizing Madrasas, it is a good idea. Don’t go cut-brush and then do it. Consult with the States, and then do it. Funding for education– you are talking about IIMs, IITs, very good. Keep counting the IIMs and IITs. Our requirement: we believe, more than IIMs and IITs, with no disrespect to them, more polytechnics are needed. If you want to improve telecommunication in rural areas, there again bring the States on board.

E-governance, my colleague who will speak after this will give you all the great things we have done on E-governance. So, this is the basic feel we have. As I said, we have restricted our comments to what has appeared in the speech. Sir, the States are not subordinate jurisdiction to the Centre. They are partners. Treat us as friends and we will never let you down. Treat us as hostile, the people will feel let down. In the hope that this new Government has learnt from coercive federalism of its predecessor, all we can say is that since you have loved all kinds of acronyms, you had the last one, which says the ‘5 Ts’, tradition, talent, tourism, trade and technology. Very nice.

But also remember before the ‘T’ comes the ‘S’, that is, the States.

Thank you, Sir.