Govt sought info from EIU over its Democracy Index ranking claiming 'democratic regression' in India

The latest EIU rankings had put india on the 53rd spot and also classified it as a ‘flawed democracy’
In the latest 2020 Democracy Index global ranking released on February 3, India slipped two places to 53rd (out of 167 countries), its overall score fell from 6.9 the previous year to 6.6, and it was classified as a “flawed democracy” along with countries including the US, France, Belgium and Brazil.(PTI Photo/For Representative Purposes Only)
In the latest 2020 Democracy Index global ranking released on February 3, India slipped two places to 53rd (out of 167 countries), its overall score fell from 6.9 the previous year to 6.6, and it was classified as a “flawed democracy” along with countries including the US, France, Belgium and Brazil.(PTI Photo/For Representative Purposes Only)
Updated on Aug 16, 2021 10:08 AM IST
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ByAnisha Dutta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The Union government tried to engage with the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) headquartered in London, following the latter’s “Democracy Index” ranking of India that categorised India as a “flawed democracy”, according to documents accessed by HT and officials familiar with the development.

This admission was made in a letter, reviewed by HT, written by the Union law ministry to the Rajya Sabha secretariat on July 15 seeking to disallow a question by an MP on “Indian Position in Democracy Index,” that was due for answer on July 22. The ministry said the question was sensitive in nature.

“The Rajya Sabha Secretariat is requested to refer to the Provisionally Admitted Question... raised by Smt. Shanta Chhetri, M.P., due for answer on 22 Jul, 2021 on “Indian Position in Democracy Index... In this regard, it is to state that question raised by the Hon’ble Member is very sensitive in nature. As per the report of the Economic Intelligence Unit, United Kingdom (the publishing agency), the primary cause of the democratic regression, inter alia, was an erosion of civil liberties and the authorities handling the coronavirus pandemic in the country,” the letter said.

The letter also noted that the methodology adopted by EIU to deduce the rankings was not shared and noted that the rankings were arrived without consulting any government agencies. “This (law) ministry made efforts to establish contacts with the said publishing agency to know the methodology adopted by it and the sample size considered by it to arrive the said rankings. However, the said agency is not willing to divulge the required information. Further, these ranking were arrived by independent studies without consulting any government agencies,” it noted.

“Hence, this ministry do not have any information or data pertaining to the to the said Index. As such it is very difficult to this ministry to answer the said question because it involves information on trivial matters and raises matters not under the control of bodies or persons not primarily responsible to the Government of India subject matter of the question. Hence, in terms of the rule 47 (xv) and 47(xviii) of the Rules of the Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Council of States, it appears this question is inadmissible. The above facts may please be placed before the Hon’ble Chairman to decide the admissibility of the question. This Ministry has no objection to the above facts being conveyed to the Hon’ble Member,” it added.

HT reached out to EIU with a detailed questionnaire but received no response. HT also reached out to the Union law ministry but received no response till the time of going to print.

According to the Rajya Sabha website, the admissibility of notice given by members in respect of questions in Rajya Sabha is governed by Rules 47-50 of Rules and Procedure and Conduct of Council of States (Rajya Sabha).

The aforementioned subsections mentioned by the ministry state: “ (XV) it shall not ask for information on trivial matters; (XVIII) it shall not raise matters under the control of bodies or persons not primarily responsible to the Government of India.

HT on April 17 reported that the law ministry’s legislative department wrote to several ministries and departments on April 1 seeking details on the parameters used in the rankings of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, as part of a larger exercise under the aegis of Niti Aayog to monitor parameters used in key global indices including Ease of Doing Business, World Press Freedom, Human Development, Global Innovation, and Global Climate Risk.

EIU’s index is based on 60 indicators grouped in five different categories measuring pluralism, civil liberties and political culture.

In addition to a numeric score and a ranking, the index categorises each country into one of four regime types: full democracies, flawed democracies, hybrid regimes and authoritarian regimes.

The five fields that the government is monitoring for the Democracy Index are electoral process and pluralism, functioning of the government, political participation, democratic political culture, and civil liberties, officials aware of the matter said on condition of anonymity.

This, senior officials familiar with the matter said, was with the view of improving India’s rankings on global barometers, including the Democracy Index. In the latest 2020 Democracy Index global ranking released on February 3, India slipped two places to 53rd (out of 167 countries), its overall score fell from 6.9 the previous year to 6.6, and it was classified as a “flawed democracy” along with countries including the US, France, Belgium and Brazil.

The government’s move to monitor indices, and work on improving rankings, however, precedes the release of index. A CoS (committee of secretaries) meeting was held on 30 January, 2020 to discuss India’s ranking in the Global Competitive Indices decided to measure and monitor India’s performance on various important parameters through 32 internationally recognised indices to improve performance on these indices.

The legislative department had been assigned to monitor India’s performance on the Democracy Index. Niti Aayog’s Development Monitoring & Evaluation Office (DMEO) was tasked with monitoring all the indices and facilitating the measurement and monitoring of India’s performance on these indices through a single dashboard.

Niti Aayog is also collecting information on other indices. For instance, in December 2020, it also sought inputs from the home ministry on the Global Peace Index.

“The methodology used by the agencies like the V-Dem, Freedom House, and EUI is already in the public domain. They arrive at their final country rankings after looking at several components comprising multiple indicators. Some of these elements can be gauzed by using publicly available survey data, and in other cases, they take the help of experts to rate a country on a particular indicator. The only thing these agencies do not share, and for obvious reasons, is the details of the respondents (or country experts). In any case, these exercises are largely academic in nature and I’m not sure what the government intends to gain by engagement with these agencies,” said Rahul Verma, fellow at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), New Delhi.

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Tuesday, December 07, 2021