Janta Parliament raises crucial questions for Indian democracy

Online session sees human rights defenders demand answers for dilution of laws related to labour, environment and education by the regime

janta parliament

On August 16, a Janta Parliament was organised online by a group of civil society organisations to address how there is a greater need for public accountability and monitoring of people in power to ensure they do use the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to subvert laws and further their own political agenda. Speakers included stalwarts like Justice A.P Shah, Aruna Roy, Jignesh Mevani, Soni Sori and Syeda Hameed.

In his inaugural address, Justice A.P. Shah, former Chief Justice of High Court of Delhi, noted how the Budget Session of the Parliament began just a day after the World Health Organisation had announced Covid-19 pandemic to be a “public health emergency of international concern”. This session was scheduled to go on till 2 April but was suddenly adjourned sine die on 23rd March, “with no signs of activation since.” This, he said, is in contrast with how other countries around the world responded to the pandemic by “holding hybrid or complete virtual sessions of parliament.” He went on to add that what was most worrisome was the lack of executive accountability. Jystice Shah further questioned, “What happens when Parliament itself stops working? He responded by stating that apart from “failing to provide leadership to the people in a time of crisis, like the pandemic, it compounds the problem of representation and accountability by granting the executive a free rein to do as it pleases.”

Activist Aruna Roy noted how with the Parliament had not met for the last five months, alleging how the executive has not only been opaque in the manner it has addressed the pandemic but has also used the opportunity to push through policies in the most undemocratic way. This includes diluting or distorting labour laws, waiving all environmental impact assessment and forcing a new education policy upon the nation with no vetting by Parliament and no serious attempt to confer with the state legislature and governments and with absolutely no wider consultation with communities and people most affected by these policy changes.

Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani said, “Many life and death questions were and are emerging due to the spread of the pandemic and we have no forum to demand timely explanations from the government or seek answers that the people we are representing are clamouring for.”

Soni Sori, who has been at the forefront of the struggle for rights of Adivasis or indigenous tribal communities in Bastar said that apart from continued state repression Covid-19 had also affected indigenous communities in other far reaching ways, “One of the worst fallouts of the pandemic and lockdown has been the breakdown of education as tribal children are not able to access online education.”

Syeda Hameed pointed out that in the past as a member of the Planning Commission and Women’s Commission they ensured that no decision was taken without hearing the people or consulting affected communities. Such processes are essential to restore a sense of confidence among Muslims, Dalits and Tribal population. 

The inaugural session ended with the reading of the Preamble of Indian constitution in English and Hindi.


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