In 7 points, India rebuts US NGO’s ‘partly free’ downgrade in democracy report
The Centre on Friday rebutted a stinging assessment of India’s democratic status by a US government-funded NGO that studies political freedom around the world, describing the conclusion that India’s status as a free country has declined to “partly free”, “is misleading, incorrect and misplaced”.
The fact that many states were ruled by parties other than the one at the national level, “through an election process which is free and fair and which is conducted by an independent election body… reflects the working of a vibrant democracy, which gives space to those who hold varying views”, the government said, its first response to Freedom House’s annual report released this week, “Freedom in the World 2021 - Democracy under Siege”.
The report downgraded India’s status as a democracy and free society to “partly free”, observing that New Delhi “appears to have abandoned its potential to serve as a global democratic leader”. It said India’s fall “from the upper ranks of free nations could have a particularly damaging impact on global democratic standards”.
India’s score in Freedom House’s reports had declined over the last three years, from 77 in 2018 to 71 in 2020. The latest report changed India’s classification from “free” to “partly free”; India’s score was also reduced to 67 out of 100. The annual report is perceived as one of the oldest quantitative measures of democracy.
Friday’s statement, issued by the ministry of information and broadcasting, focussed on seven points, responding to some concerns flagged by the democracy report that range from internet shutdowns and use of sedition law to what the report had referred to as discriminatory policies against Muslims in India and North East Delhi.
Discrimination against Muslims
The government said the Centre treats all citizens as equal as ‘enshrined’ under the Indian Constitution and all laws are applicable without any discrimination. Due process of law is followed in issues relating to law and order- irrespective of the alleged instigator’s identity. It also defended the handling of the Delhi riots that broke out last year over the controversial citizenship law, asserting that the law enforcement machinery acted quickly and in an impartial and fair manner. Appropriate actions were taken to control the situation.
Use of sedition law
The information and broadcasting ministry statement suggested that the decision to invoke the sedition law in specific cases was taken by the state government concerned as part of its mandate to maintain law and order. ‘Public Order’ and ‘Police’ are state subjects under the federal structure of governance. The state governments are primarily responsible for maintaining law and order in their respective areas which include investigation, registration and prosecution of crimes, protection of life and property. Hence, measures ‘deemed as fit’ are taken by law enforcement authorities in order to preserve public order, it added.
Covid-19 lockdown ordered by Centre
The Centre also countered the NGO’s criticism for what it had described as “a ham-fisted lockdown that resulted in the dangerous and unplanned displacement of millions of internal migrant workers”. Friday’s statement released by the government highlighted that a majority of states had already ordered full or partial lockdown between March 16 to March 23 last year on the basis of their assessment of the Covid-19 pandemic in their respective areas. The statement said that the nationwide lockdown was ordered since any mass movement of people would have led to a rapid spread of the disease across the country. The Centre, it said, was ‘fully conscious’ that no one should face undue stress during the lockdown period, and it took several measures including allowing states to use disaster response funds to provide healthcare, food, shelter to the homeless and migrants; letting migrants work outside containment zones and announced a Rs. 1.7 lakh crore.
On human rights organisations
The government said the Indian Constitution provides for adequate safeguards under various laws for protection of human rights and pointed to the presence of human rights commissions at the national and state level as rights watchdogs.
Intimidation of academics, journalists
The government pointed out that the Centre had issued a special advisory to all states and union territories regarding the safety of journalists. It said the Indian constitution provides for freedom of expression under Article 19. Discussion, debate and dissent is a part of the country’s democracy, it said, stressing that the government attached the highest importance to the safety and security of all its residents including journalists.
The statement said that temporary suspension of internet and telecom services was ordered to maintain law and order and emphasised that the orders to shut internet could only be issued by the top home ministry official at the centre and in the state governments concerned. These orders are also reviewed by a panel headed by the cabinet secretary or the chief secretary, the top civil servant in the country and the state government, respectively.
Freezing Amnesty International’s assets
Amnesty International had received permission to receive foreign funds under the foreign funding law FCRA only once and that too 20 years ago, the statement said. Since December 2000, Amnesty International, despite its repeated applications, has been denied FCRA approval by successive governments since as per law it is not eligible to get such an approval. However, in order to circumvent the FCRA regulations, Amnesty U.K. remitted large amounts of money to four entities registered in India, by misclassifying the remittance as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), the I&B ministry statement said. A significant amount of foreign funds was also remitted to Amnesty India without MHA’s approval under FCRA, which the Centre said, was a malafide rerouting of money in contravention of the law. The statement recalled that the previous UPA government had also rejected Amnesty’s applications to receive foreign funds, that at one point, also led to the international human rights body to suspend its operations once .