The Freedom House report claiming India’s status as a free country has declined to “partly free” is “misleading, incorrect and misplaced”, the government today said in a sharp rebuttal to the assessment of the US-based think tank.
That this was incorrect was evident from the fact that many states in India are 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, said the government.
“This reflects the working of a vibrant democracy, which gives space to those who hold varying views,” the statement said.
In its annual report, the democracy research institute referred to the Delhi riots, the use of sedition laws against critics and the migrants’ crisis after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a sudden lockdown to control the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Government of India treats all its citizens with equality as enshrined under the constitution of the country and all laws are applied without discrimination. Due process of law is followed in matters relating to law and order, irrespective of the identity of the alleged instigator,” the centre said.
“With specific reference to the North East Delhi riots in January 2019, the law enforcement machinery acted swiftly in an impartial and fair manner. Proportionate and appropriate actions were taken to control the situation. Necessary legal and preventive actions were taken by the law enforcement machinery on all complaints/calls received, as per law and procedures.”
On the use of the sedition law, the government said “public order’ and ‘police’ were state subjects and the responsibility of maintaining law and order and investigating crimes was upto the state governments. “Therefore, measures as deemed fit are taken by law enforcement authorities to preserve public order,” it said.
Responding to the criticism of the lockdown, the government said any mass movement of people would have spread the disease rapidly throughout the country. “Taking into consideration these facts, the global experience and need for consistency in the approach and implementation of various containment measures across the country, a nationwide lockdown was announced,” the centre said.
The government also said it had taken various steps to check any distress to people by allowing states to use disaster funds for providing food, healthcare, shelter to the homeless and migrant workers and by announcing a relief package of Rs. 1.7 lakh crore.
Citing various schemes to alleviate those worst-hit by the lockdown, the government said India had registered “one of the lowest rates of active Covid cases and deaths globally”.
In response to criticism of what the Freedom House report called “Intimidation of academics and journalists and crackdown on expressions of dissent by media”, the government said the constitution provided for freedom of expression under Article 19. “Discussion, debate and dissent is part of Indian democracy. The Government of India attaches highest importance to the safety and security of all residents of the country, including journalists. The Government of India has issued a special advisory to States and Union Territories on safety of journalists requesting them to strictly enforce the law to ensure safety and security of media persons.”
On Internet shutdowns, the centre’s statement said temporary suspending of phone or internet services was done with the “over-arching objective of maintaining law and order under strict safeguards.”
The government also defended its crackdown on Amnesty International, saying it had poured in large amounts of money to four entities registered in India, by misclassifying it as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
India was among 73 nations downgraded for declines in political rights and civil liberties. The report, which ranked 210 nations, found that states designated “Not Free” have reached the highest since 2006.
“The changes in India since Modi took charge in 2014 form part of a broader shift in the international balance between democracy and authoritarianism, with authoritarians generally enjoying impunity for their abuses and seizing new opportunities to consolidate power or crush dissent,” the report said.