India on Friday rejected a report by the US government-funded NGO Freedom House that downgraded the country’s status as a democracy and free society to “partly free”, describing it as “misleading, incorrect and misplaced”.
A detailed statement from the government rebutted points raised in the report titled “Freedom in the World 2021 – Democracy under Siege”, and pointed out that “many states” in the country were ruled by parties other than the one at the national level, and that the election process is free and fair and conducted by an independent election body.
“This reflects the working of a vibrant democracy, which gives space to those who hold varying views,” the statement said.
The external affairs ministry, which too rejected Freedom House’s report, also took exception to the depiction of Jammu and Kashmir in the map used in the document.
“The political judgements of Freedom House are as inaccurate and distorted as their maps,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava told a regular news briefing.
“For example, on the Covid-19 situation, there is a widespread appreciation in the world of our response, of our high recovery rate, and our low fatality rate,” he added.
“India has robust institutions and well-established democratic practices. We do not need sermons, especially from those who cannot get their basics right,” Srivastava he said.
The report said India “appears to have abandoned its potential to serve as a global democratic leader”, and that the country’s fall “from the upper ranks of free nations could have a particularly damaging impact on global democratic standards”.
Freedom House’s reports for 2018, 2019 and 2020 rated India as “free”, though the country’s scores on a scale of 100 declined in this period from 77 to 71. In the latest report, India has a score of 67. The report mentioned last year’s Delhi riots, the country’s management of Covid, internet shutdowns, and the action under the Foreign Currency Regulation Act against Amnesty International.
On the issue of “discriminatory policies against Muslims” and last year’s riots in northeast Delhi, the government statement said all citizens are treated “with equality as enshrined under the Constitution…and all laws are applied without discrimination”. Due process is followed in law and order matters, “irrespective of the identity of the alleged instigator”.
In the case of the riots, the law enforcement machinery “acted swiftly in an impartial and fair manner” and “proportionate and appropriate actions were taken to control the situation”.
On the use of the sedition law, the statement said “public order” and “police” are state subjects and the responsibility for maintaining law and order, including investigation and prosecution of crimes, rests primarily with state governments. “Therefore, measures as deemed fit are taken by law enforcement authorities to preserve public order,” it said.
The statement, while referring to the government’s response on human rights organisations, said the Constitution provides adequate safeguards for protecting human rights, while the National Human Rights Commission and state commissions work to protect such rights. The national panel also works to investigate and make recommendations in cases of violation of rights.
The statement said the government attaches “highest importance to the safety and security of all residents…including journalists”, and has issued a special advisory to states on the safety of journalists. “Discussion, debate and dissent is part of Indian democracy,” it added.
Temporary suspension of telecom services, including the internet, are governed by the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, and such suspensions need the authorisation of the secretary in the ministry of home affairs or of the secretary in-charge of the home departments in states. The “temporary suspension of telecom/internet services is resorted to with the overarching objective of maintaining law and order under strict safeguards”, it said.
It pointed out Amnesty International received permission under the FCRA Act only once and that too 20 years ago. Since then, Amnesty International had been denied FCRA approval despite its repeated applications. “However, in order to circumvent the FCRA regulations, Amnesty UK remitted large amounts of money to four entities registered in India, by misclassifying the remittance as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI),” it said. This “malafide rerouting of money was in contravention of extant legal provisions”, it added.
The statement also defended the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, saying a nationwide lockdown was put in place across the country as any “mass movement of people would have spread the disease rapidly”. The government took various measures to ensure people didn’t face “undue distress”, such as allowing state governments to use the State Disaster Response Fund for providing food, healthcare, shelter to homeless people and migrant workers, and a relief package of ₹1.7 lakh crore that covered migrant workers.
“The lockdown period allowed the government to ramp up production capacity of masks, ventilators, Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) kits etc and thereby effectively prevent the spread of the pandemic,” the statement said.