India Remained ‘Partly Free’ in 2022, Says US Government-Funded Think-Tank (The Wire)

New Delhi: India’s status remained ‘partly free’ in 2022, with no change in overall scores as compared to the previous year, in an assessment done by Freedom House, a US government-funded think-tank.

The 2023 edition of ‘Freedom in the World’ is the 50th in this series of annual comparative reports, the organisation said. The report ranked 195 countries on the same parameters – and India got 66 marks out of 100.

Some of the assessed parameters were ‘electoral processes’, ‘political pluralism and participation’, ‘functioning of government’, ‘freedom of expression and belief’, ‘associational and organisational rights’, ‘rule of law’ and ‘personal autonomy and individual rights’.

India did well in terms of electoral processes, achieving 4/4 marks. This included the conduct of free and fair elections and implementation of electoral laws, among other factors.

For some factors under the parameter ‘political pluralism’, India was found wanting. For example, while the participation of women voters has increased over time and quotas have ensured reservation of seats for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in elections, the report said the political rights of Indian Muslims continues to be threatened. It talked about Citizenship Amendment Act (the rules for which are not yet framed) and possible disenfranchisement of Muslim voters, quoting “many observers”.

The report goes on to add:

“Marginalised segments of the population continue to face practical obstacles to full political representation. Muslim candidates notably won 27 of 545 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, up from 22 previously. However, this amounted to just 5 percent of the seats in the chamber, whereas Muslims made up some 14.2 percent of the population according to the 2011 census. By the end of 2022, no national legislator belonging to the BJP identified as Muslim.”

As far as functioning of the government is concerned, the report mentions ineffective institutionalisation of Lokayuktas even if they exist – and thus the absence of strong safeguards against official corruption. “…These agencies have been slow to begin operations. Only 7 of the country’s 29 state-level Lokayuktas had publicly accessible annual reports as of October 2022. Few complaints were submitted through these bodies.”

About the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the report says though it has been used to expose corruption, it has lost its sheen for various reasons. RTI applicants receiving no answers on vital questions of governance, no action being taken against RTI officials for not giving answers, murder and harassment of RTI activists and the recent change in the RTI Act that made information commissioners “potentially exposed to political pressure” were some of the reasons listed…

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