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Unveiling a 'People's Manifesto' Towards Restoration of Constitutional Justice

With elections around the corner, there is a need to re-introduce public conversation around what development actually means, and also to present to the political class the imminent needs of people towards ensuring constitutional justice.
Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

With the elections due to commence in just about a fortnight and almost all the equations and arithmetic worked out with institutionalised eco chambers parroting their own narratives, it is imperative to underline a few basic principles for a thriving electoral democracy, i.e. if we truly want to preserve its spirit.

First and foremost, to evaluate a government’s performance report card on the fundamental parameters of constitutional values (guaranteeing fundamental rights like freedom of expression and association, right to equality and non-discrimination and an equal playing field for all, just to name a few); second, holding the outgoing government accountable to its own promises of developmental policies and eventually deepening the established principle of electoral democracy that the idea of winning numbers in a democracy is always variable and cannot be decided on the basis of ascriptive identities. And precisely here we run into problem, because if we analyse the current government’s performance on these three principles, we realise that they are simply running into a severe conflict with each other.

Also read: Ahead of Landmark Elections, Union Government Silences Dissent

If you want to uphold constitutional principles, under whose oath you have formed the government, you wouldn’t jail political dissenters indefinitely, you won’t publicly privilege one religion at the expense of all others, you won’t muzzle independent institutions like media, judiciary and other arms of governance and most importantly you won’t try to fossilise a majority on the basis of primordial identities.

The paradox evident is that the current government did exactly the latter which ran afoul of all the basic constitutional principles during the last decade by publicly proclaiming key promises as part of their successive electoral manifestoes. All its promises which it claims to have met e.g. making of a Ram Temple, abrogation of Article 370 and breaking up of Jammu and Kashmir (the only Muslim majority state) into Union territories, abrogation of Triple Talaq and enactment of Citizenship Amendment Act putting the Muslim citizens of this country under a clear jeopardy, completely destroy the basic values as proclaimed in the Preamble of the constitution and beyond. In such a scenario, how do you hold a government accountable and how do you bring a sense of sanity to the entire discussion?

National and international media is also gung-ho about the 7% growth rate and a booming stock market backed by a so-called successful social services delivery to the poor including ration to the 80 crore people with bank accounts, gas cylinders and toilets. This rhetoric does demand a closer look at the reality which envelops us. This also puts an onus on us to re-initiate a public conversation around the Constitution and re-vitalising the meaning of ‘Achhe Din’ through a renewed battle over the meaning of word ‘development’. Let’s look at some of the doings of the current government in detail from this spirit so that then we can go about asking for what we should be asking for.

Status of democracy

Let’s begin with a quick review of some of the institutions of electoral democracy. The procedural democracy has witnessed hurried passage of Bills without debate, limited engagement of parliamentary committees, reduced sitting days, expulsion of an unprecedented number of opposition parliamentarians, limited budgetary deliberations, restricted access to data for Members of Parliament, and the growing presence of elected representatives with criminal records. For example, in the last parliamentary session, over 25 Bills were passed in just 10 days, leaving little time for thorough examination and debate.

Some of the 141 suspended MPs sit in protest outside parliament. Photo: Video screengrab/X/@KBanerjee_AITC

The state of media today reflects how this pillar of democracy is struggling to stay up, in light of increased capital investment from those with business-oriented interests, rising communalism, diminishing space to critique the establishment, and rising attacks on journalists/media organisations not towing ‘the line’. The stark decline of people in the media and publishing industry from 10.3 lakh in 2016 to 2.3 lakh in 2021 clearly evidences the unhealthy trends discussed.

The civic space in India presents a ‘chilling effect’ that has encompassed not just traditional civil society groups but businesses, philanthropy, media, academia, and ordinary citizens alike. This has arisen after 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.

Civil society organisations (CSOs) in India have found themselves scrambling to cope with new, onerous regulatory compliance requirements, cancellation of FCRA licenses of over 20,000 NGOs (continuing relentlessly till date) whereas governments worldwide provided fiscal support and/or tax incentives to their non-profit sectors through the pandemic. Along with this, the battle for authentic data has also been hindering the ability of CSOs to analyse policy, design programmes, advocate for the excluded or evaluate impact as the decadal census that was due in 2021 shows no sign of being conducted any time soon and other datasets being suppressed or discredited.

Status of development

India has lacked official poverty data for over a decade, but various studies indicate a significant increase in the number who have come under the bracket since the pandemic, especially among marginalised groups. Structural shifts in the labour market have led to income collapse, savings erosion, and mounting household debt – particularly affecting rural poverty and food insecurity.

Despite robust GDP growth, India remains highly unequal, with the top 10% holding 57% of national income, out of which the top 1% accounts for 22% of it. Conversely, the bottom 50% share has gone down to 13%. 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 closure of 70% of MSMEs in recent years, which are key contributors to India’s growth, also highlights the need for policy support.

The increasing poverty and inequality also create an emergent need for robust social security measures, but what currently exists is a patchwork of national and state schemes with a wide range of eligibility criteria (inclusions and exclusions), operational procedures and target groups administered by a labyrinth of departments, welfare boards and parastatals. The income inequality is also leading to a state of hunger and poor nutritional status with 70% population unable to afford a nutritious and healthy diet.

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. Among a few silver linings, while only 46% population reported access to safely managed sanitation services in 2020, the Jal Jeevan Mission flagship programme has positively resulted in household tap connection in more than 60% of rural households to date as compared to merely 17% in 2019.

Coming to education, in elementary education, only 25.5% of schools across the country are compliant with the Right to Education Act infrastructure norms with 11 lakh vacant teaching positions (69% in rural) and around 1.2 lakh schools with just 1 teacher. There are overall 27000 less schools than there were in 2014-15 and nearly 85000 government schools have closed since. (See table below) 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.

There has been no systematic assessment of the National Action Plan on Climate Change even after almost 15 years since it was launched, while recently passed laws and notifications are set to remove protection from 28% of forest cover, among other changes that put the environment and marginalised communities at risk.

Similarly, the table on Railways despite all the ongoing rhetoric of Vande Bharat Expresses and Bullet trains, tells us a story of how it is increasingly being snatched away from the common people, with a sharp reduction in sleeper berths, a relentless increase in train fares and skyrocketing instances of train cancellations.Status of marginalised communities

While there is a strong increase in the overall rhetoric on “women’s empowerment”, there is an imminent need to define this 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 four years, with over 30,000 complaints made in just the last year.

The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data shows higher rates of malnutrition and infant mortality among Dalits and Tribals compared to the general population. Similarly, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data reveals disproportionate rates of violence and discrimination against religious minorities and LGBTQ individuals. Data from the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) highlights the prevalence of caste-based discrimination in access to education, employment, and healthcare. Despite government assurances, empowerment status for Dalits and Tribals remains unchanged, with 347 deaths related to manual scavenging recorded in five years.

Religious minorities face social exclusion, with 31% of Muslims below the poverty line, facing violence and neglect. The National Minorities Development and Finance Corporation (NMDFC), the primary agency for minority economic development saw a 75% reduction in funding in 2023-24. 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.

Despite passing some progressive laws in recent years, India abstained from voting on the resolution that renewed the mandate for an independent expert to monitor the protection of LGBTQ rights at the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2019 and 2022, casting doubts on the government’s commitment to welfare and empowerment of the community. The government’s commitment to the inclusion of people with disabilities is also under scrutiny with the recent decision to omit the collection of disability-related data from the sixth round of the National Family Health Survey.

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 2017-2022.

Status of governance

While the last five Union budgets were presented in the wake of rising unemployment, high inflation, low consumption demand and growing inequality in the country, specific emphasis has been on major infrastructure projects and education, health, and investments for marginalised groups like scheduled castes, tribal communities, religious minorities, women, children, and persons with disabilities have been neglected.

People protest the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in Delhi. Photo: Naomi Barton/The Wire

Even as India pioneers e-governance initiatives like UPI, it still leads the world in internet shutdowns, with 44 suspensions of internet services in 2023 impacting 4.32 crore people and causing economic losses worth over Rs. 2000 crores. Balancing technological progress with preserving democratic principles and individual rights in the evolving data governance landscape is a challenge seeing very slow progress. Concerns about increased surveillance and hollow protection for data users loomed large in the new Data Protection Bill 2023 and the Digital India Act, while India’s Freedom House rating also changed from ‘free’ to ‘partly free’ due to government authoritarian actions in 2021.

Twelve CAG reports tabled in the parliament in August 2023 revealed corruption and irregularities in the functioning of several Union government ministries and departments. 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.

With continued multi-pronged attacks on basic human rights for all, especially for the most marginalised, the last five years stand out for an intentional redefinition and abuse of human rights on the ground and obscurantist chicanery. This gesture in no way expands the scope of peoples’ power to seek accountability from the state to uphold their fundamental rights – which should ideally be the core premise for a democratically elected government.

Also read: Modi Government Extending Its Repression of Activists to Diaspora Critics: Human Rights Watch


It is in this context that there is a need to re-introduce a public conversation around what ‘development’ means and for whom? Is the status of India being the fifth largest economy (based on a very narrow economic base) more important than the fact that the country is witnessing some of the highest rates of unemployment and hunger hitherto unseen? Is the significant middle class more critical than the significantly larger number of impoverished informalised labour and farmers?

There is an urgent need to re-introduce certain principles of Constitutional rights within which the idea of development could be re-defined. The following demands reflect the imminent need for re-establishing values of the Constitution of India while upholding a rights-based language across sectors and broadly make calls across the following political parties and the future government to:

  • Ensure Inclusion of the marginalised communities in political and policy-making spaces
  • Ensure State and business accountability through an independent and transparent mechanism
  • Ensure protection from human rights violations of all
  • Ensure independence and autonomy of other pillars of democracy: judiciary, media and other allied institutions

Below are a set of detailed sector-wise demands based on a large-scale deliberation with civil society groups and communities across India which could hopefully provide a pathway for a renewed social contract between people and the state.


  • Make adequate allocation for education by ensuring that it does not fall below 6% of the GDP
  • Extend the purview of the RTE Act from birth to 18 years in line with the internationally recognized definition of childhood by including ECCE, pre-primary and higher secondary education as a legal entitlement.
  • Stop the increase of commercialization and privatisation of education and enforce accountability of private schools and ECCE Centres by drafting, implementing and enforcing a national regulatory framework including regulation of fees, compliance with quality norms and addressing social segregation through the growth of private provision
  • Review and revise the National Education Policy to realise the right to education
  • Increase budgets for direct benefit schemes like Post-Matric Scholarships, National Overseas Scheme, Hostels, and Skill Development schemes, and timely disbursal of cash to the recipients.

Food Security and Nutrition

  •  Quotas under the National Food Security Act should be immediately expanded on the basis of the population projections for 2023 to cover 67% of population
  • Truly universalise the Public Distribution System to include all vulnerable persons
  • Ensure decentralized grievance redressal mechanisms under NFSA
  • Reinstate eggs/equally protein-packed substitutes in meals, incorporating dal etc. instead of just cereals to combat undernutrition and malnutrition


  • Immediately initiate legislation on “Right to Health and Healthcare” in larger context of major expansion and strengthening of Public health services.
  • Increase public allocations on health care to at least 3% of GDP
  • Scrap schemes like PM-JAY that are directing government funds to private health systems and instead use these resources to strengthen the public health system
  • Strengthen death reporting system; ensuring rights of records and certificates; and, ensuring public dissemination of gender, caste disaggregated data on morbidity, mortality and utilisation

Agriculture and farmer welfare

  • Farmers’ incomes must be enhanced by guaranteeing MSP for all crops which gives the farmers at least 50 per cent returns after covering all input costs of capital and the rent on the land.
  • Address farm debt by regulating input prices, strengthening state support and curbing extortionary private moneylending practices
  • Land reforms must be re-initiated and excess of ceiling land must be given to landless farmers
  • Stagnating rural minimum wages must be raised and employment opportunities must expand


  • Combat rising inequalities and income disparity at all economic and extra-economic levels for all marginalised communities
  • Substantially increase allocations to MGNREGA to increase employment opportunities in rural areas
  • Develop and build institutional mechanisms to promote entrepreneurial education along with affordable and inclusive access to financial and capacity building institutions towards promoting entrepreneurship and self-employment among youth in the growing market opportunities.
  • Horizontal reservations for transgender persons with 1% of seats from the general OBC, SC and ST categories would be reserved for trans* people coming from socially marginalised communities
  • Realise women’s empowerment in terms of wage parity, autonomy in decision-making, and addressing structural barriers for women across identities.
  • Given that sexual harassment at the workplace and the burden of unpaid care work are deterrents to women’s workforce participation, urgent implementation of preventive and protective measures such maternity benefits, creche facilities at the workplace and sensitization and awareness-raising on the POSH Act are required to ensure an increase in women’s economic participation.
  • Appropriate schemes should be adopted and implemented for the economic development of minorities for skilling their youths and providing them easy bank loans for promoting entrepreneurship.
  • Ensure rightful wages for Anganwadi workers, Sathins, Sahyoginis, etc. and their labour


  • Re-introduce wealth and inheritance tax towards a re-distributive justice
  • Raise corporate taxes to 65% by adding 1% rise in surcharges for the richest 7% of Indians and increase direct taxes to combat revenue losses and uncollected taxes and fund universal healthcare, education, social security, and welfare for all citizens.
  • Dedicate policy support towards enabling Micro, Small and Medium

Recognising the multidimensionality of urban poverty: Apart from employment and incomes, urban poverty is closely linked with various other forms of deprivation – lack of housing, basic services (water, sanitation), basic infrastructure (health, education) and social security. Thus, all these dimensions of urban poverty need to be tackled simultaneously.

Enterprises with regular and stable employment generation and formal social security given to all

  • Design and revise policies centrally focusing on the urgency to prioritise equitable and inclusive gendersensitive sustainable and sustained livelihood opportunities

Social Security

  • Strengthen existing schemes such as Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF), Employees’ State Insurance Scheme (ESI) and National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) with budgetary support and expansion of coverage
  • Ensure ‘Social Protection Floor’ including ESI benefits, EPF benefits, maternity benefits, and all other essential human wellbeing benefits
  • Revise Code on Social Security 2020 to lay down a clear map for moving towards an integrated, universal and adaptive social protection system encompassing the whole life-cycle of a citizen
  • Revise Code on Social Security, 2020 to address implementation obstacles due to overlapping authority between central and state administrative and financial structures
  • Procedural Safeguards Against Internet Shutdowns and ensuring access to social security programmes under the NREGA and Food Security Act, irrespective of internet availability


  • Rehabilitation entitlements to be provided under the 2013 scheme, including alternate livelihood options, financial assistance, housing, and education support to the children of the persons engaged in manual scavenging
  • Build incentives for usages of latrines and keeping them functional rather than construction of toilets
  • Continue to reinforce further campaigns like Community Led Total Sanitation under SBM 2.0 for ODF and ODF + and finally ODF ++ to bring in sustainable behaviour change.


  • Undertake review and repeal anti-terror laws including UAPA that restrict freedom of speech and expression.
  • Repeal the offence of sedition in Section 124A of the IPC as undemocratic and unconstitutional.
  • Laws for controlling the communal discrimination and violence should be passed by the Parliament and enacted. A separate law should be enacted against the mob lynching as advised by the Supreme Court of India.
  • Enact the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill and review and repeal the following anti-minority laws within one year: CAA 2019; All “anti-conversion” laws which target religious minorities.

Climate Change

  • Enhance the budget for climate actions under the DAPSC-DAPST proportionate to SC and ST population, Gender budget and Child budget, considering regional and socio-economic vulnerabilities and exposure to climate risks
  • Establish a strong institutional mechanism solely focused on climate action and policy
  • Update the National Action Plan on Climate Change and reconstitute the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change
  • Give proper directions and financial backing to all State Action Plans on Climate Change
  • Support for environment-based livelihoods such as fishing, forest produce, through measures to enhance production and marketing with fair pricing


  • Mandate specific timeframes and deadlines for the comprehensive discussion and review of each Bill
  • Refer complex Bills promptly to the parliamentary committees headed by opposition members for thorough scrutiny
  • Make regulatory regime easier for NGOs in terms of annual registration
  • Roll back the restrictive measures imposed on NGOs regarding sub-granting, administration expense cap and others
  • Recognise Voluntary organisations contribution to nation building
  • Have a strict political drive to implement PESA and give adequate power to the gram Sabhas through a transparent grievance redressal mechanism while also organising a large scale awareness campaigns round rights under PESA and other state level laws in forest areas.


  • Re-introduce the ‘Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011’ (GR Bill)
  • Implement the Whistle Blowers Act passed in 2014
  • Provide autonomy to the Lokpal and Lokayktas with regards to scope of operations and tenure and type of appointments
  • Reconsider Rule 22 of the RTI Act, which effectively allows the government to fix different tenures for different information commissioners.
  • Reconsider amendments to the RTI Act introduced in Parliament in 2019 that empowers the central government to decide the tenure and salaries of all commissioners in the country.
  • Meaningful Public Consultation on the Data Protection Act (DPDPA) 2023
  • Inclusion of the “public trust doctrine” in the new Digital Indian Act


  •   Utilise demographic data on human development and deprivations for the SC and ST populations from government data points to inform livelihood, climate etc. missions and schemes
  • Ensure rights of adivasi communities on ancestral land, and not displacing them for kijibg and other activities without consent
  • There needs to be strict collection of data along with focus on disaggregated data on disability for targeted policy reforms.
  • Elimination of all direct human contact with faecal matter during sanitation work.
  • Re-energisation of the redress system for gender-based violence through optimal utilization of the Nirbhaya fund. A fund to be included under Mission Shakti for gender sensitisation of all personnel who provide first-responder services.
  • Recognise violence against women as a public health issue and build synergies with the Health and Social Justice and other ministries of the government.
  • Significantly increase allocation of Union Budgets (up to 6 per cent of the total Budget) and state level public investments on children to address the impacts of COVID-19, especially on the marginalised children, improve the rate of undernourished and anaemic children in the country, implement the new NEP 2020 in its full spirit, and create safer environments and spaces for all children to grow up in a healthy manner free from crime and violence.
  • Youth should be seen as equal partners as opposed to junior partners in national building, and they should be given representation in governance structures, beginning with the third tier of government – Panchayati Raj Institutions and Urban Local Bodies.
  • The budget of scholarship schemes for minorities should be made at par with the SCs who almost match with the former in the demographic attributes.
  • The left-out recommendations of Sachar Committee should be approved for implementation such as the establishment of a databank on minorities and promotion of diversity in the country.
  • The schemes undertaken for the welfare and development of minorities should be strengthened by conducive policies and due fiscal support.

Avinash Kumar and Aditi Anand work with Wada Na Todo Abhiyan, which is a people-led campaign, formed by 3000+ Civil Society Organisations in 2004, to promote governance accountability while reflecting the needs and voices of marginalized communities.

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