In a “Parliamentary Democracy” a functional and healthy Parliament, is the fulcrum of its institutional structure. It is the central pillar of a ‘democratic’ policy making framework, and along with public monitoring, it is the platform through which the countervailing balance of power between the different wings of government can be maintained. This is particularly important for ensuring the accountability of the executive to the people. To not have a functional Parliament at this time, is to lose the contribution of one of the most important institutions of democracy, in ensuring the better involvement of citizens, and different institutions of the state, in facing a crisis like the current pandemic.
The non-convening of the monsoon session of the Indian Parliament in 2020 in critical times of a national pandemic, assumed gigantic proportions of lack of transparency, accountability, and public monitoring. The entire process of decision making in Covid times has been cloaked in secrecy and where decisions have been taken top down in a centralized manner. The public health and lockdown policies have barely been subject to scrutiny even by the highest courts.
Under such circumstances, people and their organizations have no choice but to attempt to convene an alternative platform that involves citizens, civil society organizations, independent experts and political parties in a deliberative framework to discuss the status of each area of importance in COVID times, the challenges being faced and the range of potential policy alternatives to overcome these challenges. Given the lack of parliamentary oversight, such a platform would atleast allow in their groups to place on record what they have been through over the last 5 months, how much Government policies benefitted them, what they have suffered and what their thoughts are about the future. It is clear that in such a period face to face interactions are very limited. While online communication is an incomplete form of deliberation and it is by its nature exclusive. Many civil society organizations have attempted at hybrid means of communication and deliberation so that the views of people without access to digital mediums can have their views reflected on online platforms as well.
Many civil society organizations and social movements have come together in the past, under the banner of Jan Sarokar to hold Jan Sansads where political party leaders have been invited to listen to peoples’ concerns and carry those views to Parliament. The Jan Sarokar platform brought together social movements across a range of issues to critique Government Policy as well as present practical alternatives, and communicate them to elected representatives to build and promote participatory democratic dialogue in the sphere of social justice and rights.
Today more than 50 civil society organizations, peoples’ campaigns, social movements and issue based networks, including Jan Sarokar have come together to present to the Parliament, the Executive, the Judiciary and most importantly to the people of the country the true status of governance in India over the past 5 months. This report which has been collectively drawn up by civil society, lays down the manner in which key rights have been undermined in the midst of a pandemic over a range of sectors such as health and nutrition, education, employment, discrimination, civil liberties, agriculture, banking, disability rights, women’s rights, judicial accountability, environment, social security amongst others. While clearly laying out the failures of the Government in meeting its constitutional duty to protect and promote the rights of its citizens during the pandemic, the report also lays out specific demands for reform in each sector that will enable the building of our lives and livelihoods in a holistic, sustainable and dignified manner.
The proposal is presented in three parts – positive demands of increased entitlements, allocation and new laws. The second is improving and strengthening existing laws and systems and the third are policies that need to be stopped without delay.