Activists question govt’s ‘rush’ to finalise policies

Activists question govt’s ‘rush’ to finalise rules, policies amid COVID-19

Activists allege that the government is utilising the lockdown to push its policy agenda and the present circumstances are providing them an opportunity to ignore the voices from stakeholders and blunt protests. Credit: iStock Photo

The Centre's "rush" to finalise rules for contentious laws and policies during the COVID-19 lockdown has earned the wrath of activists who are questioning the timing of the move to seek feedback when it is "nearly impossible" for consultations among concerned groups.

Activists accuse the government of circumventing the mandatory consultation process by making almost impossible for stakeholders outside the official circles to intervene in the issue through creative suggestions and building legitimate pressure on the authorities.

In the past fortnight, the government has sought comments from public on draft rules for the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act as well as on the draft National Fisheries Policy while a meeting of the government-appointed Central Vista committee gave its no-objection signal for the construction of a new Parliament building.

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Activists allege that the government is utilising the lockdown to push its policy agenda and the present circumstances are providing them an opportunity to ignore the voices from stakeholders and blunt protests.

Organisations linked to transgender people and National Fishworkers' Forum have already written separately to the government questioning its motive to go ahead with the exercises when stakeholders are not in a position to raise their concerns on their issues. They said it would be highly improbable for them to have consultations among themselves and that their responses could be reflective of their needs and demands.

Both groups also felt that the draft is in English and most among the stakeholders have no command over the language to understand the formulations and wanted that it be translated into vernacular languages.

In their letter to Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thawarchand Gehlot, over 150 transgender activists said they object to the "hurried" process to finalise Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules, 2020 at a time the law is challenged in Supreme Court.

"We are pained and shocked to note the timing and manner of ‘seeking feedback’, when the entire country has been under mandatory lockdown since a month and millions of working class people including the entire transgender community has been facing a severe crisis of survival, food insecurity, lack of access to health care and livelihood  (and no supportive package has been declared for the entire community)," they said.

Also, they said the draft rules seeking comments were put on Ministry’s website on April 18 with April 30 as the deadline. This gave stakeholder just “12 days” as against the mandatory 30 days to submit their responds.

"No physical interaction between members of the community is possible for deliberations or consultations and transgender people are struggling for basic survival. Besides, the Rules have been placed only on the website and in English, while a majority of the community neither has access to web-based portals or English language. An Act which claims to be ‘inclusive’ cannot adopt a rule-making process so exclusionary," the activists said.

They also said that even if certain responses to the draft rules are received from individuals and groups, it should not be treated as representative of the entire transgender community across the country
On National Fisheries Policy, the National Fishworkers' Forum Chairman Narendra R Patil and General Secretary T Peter too raised similar concerns in a letter to Union Minister Giriraj Singh, saying it was “unfortunate” to see this move at a time of a pandemic.

"At a time when on account of the lockdown, individuals and organisations are unable physically meet and conduct consultations, it is highly improbable that the response to the draft will be reflective of the needs and demands of the stakeholders," they added.

The comments were sought on April 28 without any kind of an order and uploaded on the website. The draft was “very hurriedly” published, they said.

Patil and Peter said that the policy should be put on hold as consultation, which is the "backbone" of national policy-making, is not possible at this point in time. They also said the Forum is engaged in rescue work to help fish workers who are stranded in different states, and thus demand that the there be a hold on this policy document until there is a return to a state of normalcy.