Over the last few years, several global socio-economic and political indices have either ranked India poorly or criticised the country for its poor track record on these indicators. But on analysing the government's response in the Parliament regarding these indices, BOOM found that the responses ranged from denial to disallowing discussion on questions raised by parliamentarians.
These indices span issues like corruption, hunger and press freedom. In its disagreements, the government has either pointed out flaws in the data or the methodology of the index, saying that it does not reflect the true reality on the ground in India.
Addressing a question on the decline of India's rank on a variety of indices, Minister of State to several ministries, Rao Inderjit Singh, told Parliament, "Many international agencies are publishing global indices based on different databases and methodologies, some of which are often questionable on many grounds. Many publishing agencies are using open-source data or perception-based data which do not reflect India's position in true sense". He added that the government is engaging with such publishers and has highlighted data and quality issues to several of them.
This was asked by Sanjay Singh, a Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament on July 25, and can be found here.
Other than this overarching reply, the government has also individually addressed responses to several of these indices, either directly or indirectly. Here's five of them.
1. The Global Hunger Index
The annual Global Hunger Index is prepared by Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide, two non-profit humanitarian agencies. According to the latest index published in October 2021, India ranks 101 out of 116 countries, with a score of 27.5 (on a scale where 0 is the best score and 100 the worst).
In a Lok Sabha reply on July 22, Smriti Irani, the Minister for Women and Child Development said, "Global Hunger Index (GHI) does not reflect India's true picture as it is a flawed measure of ''Hunger''. It should not be taken at face value as it is neither appropriate nor representative of hunger prevalent in a country", calling hunger a complex interaction of various factors like sanitation, genetics, environment and utilisation of food intake.
The response also says that of the constituents of the index: child mortality, prevalence of stunting, child wasting and undernourishment; only the last factor - undernourishment - is actually related to hunger. It also mentions that child mortality is not an outcome of hunger.
An input data source by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) is also criticised by the reply. It states that it relies on telephonic interviews and polls, and does not take into account that PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana - a scheme aimed at food security announced at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic - to reportedly feed nearly 80 crore (800 million) people, adding that the poll has nothing to do with hunger. It also criticises the FAO's take on undernourishment, stating that "...the assessment made by FAO does not reflect the ground reality and is not worthy of consideration."
This is the latest, but not the first such reply that the government has made on this issue. Several other replies have been given on the Global Hunger Index with the same or similar reply before this one.
In the Global Hunger Index, while scores cannot be compared annually, they can be compared to several reference years. India has improved its score substantially from 38.8 in 2000, to 37.4 in 2006, to 28.8 in 2012 to 27.5 in 2021.
2. Press Freedom Index
Reporters Without Borders publishes the annual 'Press Freedom Index', on which India ranks 150 out of 180 countries in 2022, scoring 41 out of a possible 100, falling eight places since 2021.
The fact-file on India available with the publishers attributes a gradual decline in press freedoms to the current government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "Originally a product of the anti-colonial movement, the Indian press used to be seen as fairly progressive but things changed radically in the mid-2010s, when Narendra Modi became prime minister and engineered a spectacular rapprochement between his party, the BJP, and the big families dominating the media", it says.
"Indian journalists who are too critical of the government are subjected to all-out harassment and attack campaigns by Modi devotees known as bhakts.", it adds.
The index has five "contextual" indicators, each of them having their own set of questions, each with equal weight. These indicators are political, legal, economic, socio-cultural and safety.
In a reply to Lok Sabha on July 19, Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Anurag Thakur, has said, "The Government does not subscribe to its views and country rankings and does not agree to the conclusions drawn by this organisation for various reasons including very low sample size, little or no weightage to fundamentals of democracy, adoption of a methodology which is questionable and non-transparent, etc."
The response highlights the powers attributed to the Press Council of India.
3. Corruption Perception Index
The Corruption Perception Index serves as an indicator on how experts and business people perceive corruption, and activities like bribery, red tape, civil servant profiteering, public sector corruption, access to information etc.
In 2020, India ranked 80 of 180 countries, slipping from the 78th position. In a non-answer, the government told Lok Sabha in March 2020 that,
"No such Surveys were conducted by any agency at the behest of the Government of India. Further, the Government of India is not aware of the methodology adopted in preparation of such reports, if any".
The reply can be found here.
4. Global Pension Index 2021
This index has been launched by management consulting firm Mercer, scoring and ranking 43 countries based on their old-age and post-retirement pension systems. With a score of 43.3 out of an attainable 100, India ranks 40 out of 43, where Iceland ranks first.
India is categorised as a country with South Korea, Japan, Argentina, Mexico, Thailand, Turkey, the Phillipines, as system "with desireable features, but also has major weaknesses and/or omissions that need to be addressed. Without these improvements, its efficacy and sustainability are in doubt."
The government disagrees with this index, with the Minister of State for Labour and Employment telling Rajya Sabha in December 2021 that "This report is not based on reliable comparable international data and does not recognise every aspect of pension system prevailing in a country", highlighting various social security governmental programs.
The response can be read here.
5. Indices and reports on declines in democracy
BOOM found that two global reports highlighting the change in levels of democracy globally: V-Dem's 'Democracy Report' and the Economist Intelligence Unit's 'Democracy Index' have been actively stifled in Parliament.
V-Dem's 2021 report - by Sweden's University of Gothenburg -found that India has turned into an 'electoral autocracy', with its most pronounced fall in liberal democracy in 10 years.
"Narendra Modi led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to victory in India's 2014 elections and most of the decline occurred following BJP's victory and their promotion of a Hindu-nationalist agenda", the report says.
When a Rajya Sabha MP asked an oral question on India's ranking in March 2021, Chairman and Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu shut him down, stating that such reports are political, and had nothing to do with India, saying that, "Countries commenting on the internal affairs of India should look inward and then talk about things."
On the EIU's Democracy Index, the Indian Express reported that government - the Ministry of Law and External Affairs - have moved to block an MP's query on fall in democracy in India according to this index.
India ranked 46 out of 167 countries - and was among the top 10 countries in terms of improvement this year - but the EIU said it be viewed with caution.
This is after India reportedly tried to engage with the EIU on using government data and inputs to frame India's position on the index, but the EIU's Principal Economist Asia & Client Engagement Officer, Fung Siu, politely but firmly declined, adding that their work is independent.
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