Ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, a number of civil society members have raised 19 demands, including doing away with draconian laws that have been misused to intimidate political activists, electoral reforms aimed at reducing the influence of money power and allocation of an additional one per cent of GDP for public universities. The group includes former Justice AP Shah, lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan and Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav.
"The India that we live in today has several disturbing traits -- every aspect that has anything to with personal identity is being challenged, food habits are being curtailed, whom we select as our partners is also being dictated, any kind of dissent, especially in places where it is needed to be encouraged, like universities and places of learning is being curbed," said Shah. Claiming that the society is filled with hate and violence, he expressed concerns about alleged attacks on national institutions and incidents of lynching.
They released a document which demanded the repeal of Sections 124A (sedition) and 499 (criminal defamation) of the Indian Penal Code, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the National Security Act, and said there should be amendments to the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Foreign Contributions (Regulation) Act as well as the existing laws on blasphemy and criminal contempt of legislature and judiciary. "Reverse the Electoral Bond scheme and other recent regressive changes to the laws on electoral funding, bring a comprehensive law for election financing reforms and set up a National Election Fund for state funding of election," the document said.
They also demanded a piece of legislation on media freedom, along the lines of the First Amendment in the US that guarantees freedom of expression, and removal of all arbitrary restrictions such as pre-censorship on broadcast of news. It also demanded an independent statutory licensing and regulatory authority for media, independent statutory complaints authority and making Prasar Bharati truly independent public service broadcaster.
The document also demanded universal basic services and social security for all citizens in food security, healthcare and education. "Allocate an additional one per cent of GDP for public universities with a special programme to revive and support state universities and affiliated colleges and 10-fold increase in fellowships for all social and economically deprived students," the document added.
The civil society members said the additional expenditure on these could be met by active fiscal strategy for raising resources -- 20 per cent inheritance tax, wealth tax in rising slabs for wealth above Rs 10 crore, corporate social tax linked to turnover and not profits, and green taxes to encourage less carbon emissions, pollution tax, etc. "These would generate anywhere between three per cent to five per cent of the GDP as additional revenue," the document said.
The document also proposed the setting up of an independent and empowered Environment Commission to lay down environmental standards and regulations and ensure their compliance, an autonomous agency to conserve and protect the rivers, increase the number of air quality monitoring stations in highly polluted areas. The members also demanded the setting up of the Lokpal in a transparent manner, operationalising the Whistle Blowers Protection Act and enacting the Grievance Redressal Bill.
It also pitched for independent judicial appointment commissions to select judges, an independent judicial complaints commission, professional court management team and video-recording of court proceedings.