The Union law ministry’s legislative department wrote to several ministries and departments on April 1 seeking details on the parameters used in the rankings of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, as part of a larger exercise under the aegis of Niti Aayog to monitor parameters used in key global indices including Ease of Doing Business, World Press Freedom, Human Development, Global Innovation, and Global Climate Risk.
This, senior officials familiar with the matter said, was with the view of improving India’s rankings on global barometers, including the Democracy Index. In the latest 2020 Democracy Index global ranking released on February 3, India slipped two places to 53rd (out of 167 countries), its overall score fell from 6.9 the previous year to 6.6, and classified India as a “flawed democracy” along with countries including the US, France, Belgium and Brazil.
The government’s move to monitor indices, and work on improving rankings, however, precedes the release of index.
“…a CoS (committee of secretaries) meeting was held on 30 January, 2020, under the Chairmanship of Cabinet Secretary to discuss India’s ranking in the Global Competitive Indices decided to measure and monitor India’s performance on various important parameters through 32 internationally recognised indices to improve performance on these indices… Accordingly, the Legislative Department had been assigned to monitor India’s performance on the Democracy Index published by the Economic Intelligence Unit of United Kingdom,” the letter written by the law ministry’s legislative department on April 1 said.
HT has reviewed a copy of the letter.
EIU’s index is based on 60 indicators grouped in five different categories measuring pluralism, civil liberties and political culture. In addition to a numeric score and a ranking, the index categorises each country into one of four regime types: full democracies, flawed democracies, hybrid regimes and authoritarian regimes. The five fields that the government is monitoring for the Democracy Index are electoral process and pluralism, functioning of the government, political participation, democratic political culture, and civil liberties, officials aware of the matter said on condition of anonymity.
To be sure, the government’s policy think-tank Niti Aayog is also collecting information on other indices. For instance, in December 2020, it sought inputs from the home ministry on the Global Peace Index. “As part of the exercise to engage proactively for the various indicators in the said Global Peace Index to enable higher ranking for the country it would be necessary to check the correctness of the data in the report,” an internal MHA memorandum issued in December 2020 noted. HT has seen the memo.
HT could not immediately ascertain the status of work on monitoring the parameters involved. A detailed questionnaire sent to Niti Aayog remained unanswered.
Officials aware of the matter and government documents indicated that after the January 2020 CoS meeting chaired by the cabinet secretary – cited in the April 1 letter — Niti Aayog’s Development Monitoring & Evaluation Office (DMEO) was tasked with monitoring all the indices, and facilitating the measurement and monitoring of India’s performance on these indices through a single dashboard.
Under this, the monitoring of the Democracy Index was assigned to the law ministry’s legislative department. Niti Aayog also assigned indices to other ministries — such as the Safe Cities Index, Global Terrorism Index, Global Peace Index, and Global Climate risk Index to the home ministry; and the Global Gender Gap Index, Global Inequality Index and Global Hunger Index to the ministry of women & child development.
The move to monitor global indices goes back to last year.
In July 2020, Niti Aayog organised a virtual workshop with 47 central ministries and departments, chaired by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba in line with a decision by the Centre to monitor India’s performance in select global indices. “The 29 global indices, published by 19 international agencies, are assigned to 18 nodal ministries and departments of the Government of India,” Niti Aayog said in a statement at the time.
“It has long been felt that there is a need to measure and monitor India’s performance on various important social, economic and other parameters through internationally recognised Indices. The goal of the exercise is to use these Indices as tools for self-improvement, and bring about reforms in policies, while improving last-mile implementation of government schemes. Simultaneously, it is equally important to present an accurate image of India to the world,” the body added in the statement.
It is unclear which three indices were subsequently added to the list, to take the list from 29 to 32.
On February 26, Gauba wrote to legislative department secretary DG Narayana Raju seeking inputs for the indicators for the Democracy Index that will be monitored by DMEO. HT has reviewed the letter. Gauba also said a review meeting would be held soon.
“As you are aware, DMEO, NITI Aayog has been designated as the knowledge partner for this exercise, and is in process of developing a dashboard through NIC for monitoring activities related to these GIs. I understand that DMEO is yet to receive complete information in the templates shared, including on engagement with Publishing Agencies, MosPI ( Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation) and States/UT. I therefore request you to share the information sought for configuration of the dashboard at the earliest. I have reviewed the progress for some Gls in December 2020, and intend to review the progress in respect of all GIs,” he wrote.
On March 1, the law ministry’s legislative department issued a memo to several departments with the subject: “Monitoring Performance on Global Indices Democracy Index” as a reminder to provide inputs for the dashboard. HT has reviewed the memo, which, in light of the Cabinet Secretary’s letter, called for “information as sought for to configure the dashboard immediately without any further delay”. The memo was sent to ministries and departments including the labour ministry, department of legal affairs, DoPT, the I&B ministry, external affairs ministry, and the home ministry.
Gauba declined to comment.
“Some of these global indices have been there for a long time and they have gone through various levels of scrutiny. For example,V-DEM was established because many academics felt that Freedom House and Polity IV indices were not comprehensive. There is a section within the Indian government that believes in an inherent bias against India in the indices. While this may be true, as these are expert-based indices, but these institutes follow very rigorous protocols and their data is transparent. They provide a detailed breakdown of democracy scores of each country, and we know in the Indian case our rankings are now lower because decline in India’s score largely in the areas of civil liberty. While there is no harm in closely monitoring the indices, I’m not sure if it needs a large Niti Aayog level exercise to monitor these indicators,” said Rahul Verma, fellow at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), New Delhi.