Sunday, February 25, 2024

“Govt schemes resulted in systematic exclusion of marginalised communities”: WNTA report on second NDA govt

Wada Na Todo Abhiyan, a campaign of 3000+ Civil Society Organisations to promote governance accountability and highlight the needs and voices of marginalised communities, on Monday released a report reviewing the governance of second NDA government from 2019- 2023.

The report focuses on economic and social rights, while also expanding to review the status of civil rights – such as freedom of expression, freedom of life, and freedom of liberty – in the face of the shrinking civic space and the nature of challenges across sectors and communities. 

Speaking at the launch of the report “Promises & Reality 2019-2023” at the Constitution Club on November 27, Hon’ble Justice Madan Lokur said that bulldozer justice is taking over natural justice.

“Bulldozer justice refers to laws being implemented with a very heavy hand. There have been many cases where people’s houses have been demolished without giving notice to them. Sedition laws are being used on university students, school children and people on social media. When the Supreme Court directed not to use the sedition laws, the executive started using UAPA to charge people,” he said.

The launch of the report was also marked by a panel discussion among contributors to the report and experts in their field.

Dr Tanweer Fazal, a professor at the University of Hyderabad specialising in the sociology of nationalism(s), community formation and identifications, spoke about the status of marginalised communities in the last 4 years. “Marginality can be segregated into systemic marginality and marginality which is deliberately produced through the actions and inactions of the state. The latter has been particularly true after 2014 in India, even more so after 2019,” he said.

The report is structured around four broad themes looking at the status of democracy, development, governance, and marginalised communities.

In the chapter of democracy many pressing concerns, such as the hurried passage of Bills without debate, limited engagement of parliamentary committees, reduced sitting days, limited budgetary deliberations, restricted access to data for Members of Parliament, and the growing presence of elected representatives with criminal records are discussed. 

Many students, activists, academics, journalists, artists, actors, comedians, fact-checkers, publishers, and a range of other citizens have been charged under draconian laws for exercising their fundamental freedoms. There is a stark decline of people in the media and publishing industry from 10.3 lakhs in 2016 to 2.3 lakhs in 2021, as highlighted in the chapter. 

Despite the need to direct public resources towards healthcare, a diversion of government funds to the private sector is happening with 75% of PM-JAY payments made to private entities. Despite economic progress, India’s workforce is moving toward agriculture, with the sector’s share in GDP increasing, yet farmers not being able to access fair prices, the report claims while analysing figures on development.

The real wages of male agricultural labourers grew by less than 1% between 2014-15 and 2021-22; the number of persons engaged in the farming sector to have committed suicide was nearly 53,000 between 2017 and 2022. Struck by a lack of housing and necessities like access to water and sanitation, health services, education infrastructure and social security, multidimensional poverty continues to rise in urban areas, where over 30% population resides. 

Only 25.5% of schools across the country are compliant with the Right to Education Act infrastructure norms. Higher Education Institutes are also experiencing intellectual impoverishment alongside a consistent reduction in state financial support resulting in prominent universities witnessing the appointment of teachers with subpar academic records

While the government continues to make lofty claims on women empowerment, there is an imminent need to define empowerment in terms of wage parity, autonomy in decision-making, and addressing structural barriers for women across identities. That is the only way to move towards combating challenges such as the steady incline in crimes against women in the past 4 years, with over 30,000 complaints made in just the last year, the report added.

The consistent social exclusion of Indian Muslims causes constant economic backwardness – with 31% below the poverty line, and questions the lack of any government policies directed to bring them out of this morass. Compounding this impact, is the diminished sense of safety and security in the community, as evidenced by 204 incidents of cow vigilantism since 2014 and 539 incidents of violence against Christians in just nine months of 2023. 

The only effective way to fight corruption in a democracy as vast as India is to empower citizens with appropriate tools and institutions to hold the government and its functionaries accountable. However, unfortunately, the track record of the current dispensation has been marked by a consistent undermining of legislations and institutions of transparency and accountability, the report stressed.

The report is a collaborative work representative of a people-centric view of governance and the challenges faced, prepared by a collective body of civil society organisations, rights-based campaigns and coalitions, academics, and activists. Major contributors include  Anjali Bharadwaj, John Dayal, Prof Apoorvanand, Ingrid Srinath, RightToFood Campaign, Right To Education Forum, National Campaign for Dalit and Human Rights, Internet Freedom Foundation, Jagori and Nazariya, and others.

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