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International Day of Democracy: Covid-19 Challenges (15 September 2020)

International Day of Democracy: Covid-19 Challenges (15 September 2020)

Why in News:

International Day of Democracy being observed by all UN member states on 15th September, 2020.


International Day of Democracy is celebrated every year on 15th September as an opportunity to review the state of Democracy in the world. This year's theme for this day is 'Covid-19: A Spotlight on Democracy'. Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in various social, political and legal challenges accross the world.


On 8 November, 2007, the UN General Assembly decided to make 15 September to observe the International Day of Democracy annually.

On this day the assembly incites people and organisations from government and non-government, to commemorate the International Day of Democracy. In 2008, the International Day of Democracy was fist time celebrated.

Summary of the Debate



Challenges thrown by the pandemic to Indian Democracy:

  • It is quite difficult to be a democracy and more so federal structure and be tackling something like a pandemic because India is not able to adopt a lot of the means that some other countries which have been praised in a way for their handling of the pandemic, be at Vietnam, be at Thailand.
  • These are very unitary form of government; they have used a lot of command and controlled approaches, Vietnam brought in the military to run its quarantine centre, for instance.
  • There are other set of countries which has done quite well or relatively well so far, have been countries like Japan for instance, where wearing masks, following certain norms in public place is actually very much part of the culture. In India this might not be the case, because India is a very diverse country, with a very different levels of literacy, culture and religious belief, it’s definitely much more complex for the India. 
  • There are elements in the society who are misusing the communication channel and facilities for fake news and social media is playing havoc.
  • In last 6 months, India has witnessed two sort of misinformation campaign:
    • Inside the country: by individual, to post about unverified treatment of covid, unverified information and creating about homemade remedies.
    • Across the border: mischievous disinformation campaign originating from state actors sitting in Pakistan, for example; Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) of the Pakistan Armed Forces was running a massive propaganda campaign in India to influence Indian Muslims using Tiktok, Facebook and Twitter not to follow covid-19 lockdown guidelines.

Utilization of technology in the pandemic:

  • Innovation have got lots of push in last few months. In house companies, researchers, Scientists have come up with lot of innovative solution to the problems which has been caused by covid-19.
  • Innovation has certainly help India, for instance, BHEL and Maruti have been manufacturing ventilators during this pandemic.
  • Technology seems to have been put in good use to ensure that the communication with the common man of this country is proper and misinformation and fake news is tackled at an equal pace.
  • Technology has been used in the pandemic time for the three primary reasons:
    • Contact tracing: It created lots of controversy, not only in India but in many other countries. There were allegations that the government across the world might use this opportunity to further curtail free speech or surveil upon citizens or curb dissenting views. But that massive amount of contact tracing across India using technology, by using CDR (call detail record) location in certain states, by using GPS and Wifi location in Arogya Setu app, we have been able to delay our peak and save many lives in the initial 3-4 months.
    • Covid test: There has been use of technology and innovation to conduct all sort of covid test, 3 IITs introduced X-ray based identification of covid infection in the people.
    • Delivery and supply: There are many kinds of innovation happening in delivery and supply of the commodities and various services.

Response of Indian democratic Institutions in dealing Covid crisis:

  • A couple of approaches that government is trying to use here are:
    • Being to work with the different levels of the government such as centre and states and within the states, mobilize the district administration, the municipality.
    • To really engage the local communities. There has been a concerted effort by the government to involve people to go along with people to engage them in this whole process.
  • Civil society in India during pandemic has done a fantastic job in reaching out to groups that the government might have otherwise found difficult to pay as much attention to them, be at women, be at people in disability, be at senior citizen.
  • The country has witnessed a close cooperation at all levels of the government and outside the government working whether with startups, with civil society, etc.
  • The aspirational districts are some least developed stakes and yet the government has been able to keep the number of covid cases fairly low and this would not have been possible if the government would not had truly engaged with a diverse range of stakeholders, with community based organisations, with Self Help Groups, with the District Magistrates and District Collectors.
  • India is partner in vaccine development and exporting medicines to more than 150 countries.
  • There was only one testing lab in India, now there are 1600 testing labs.
  • So, it’s truly been a collaborative effort which has allowed the country to keep covid in check in some of the most least developed districts.

Way Forward:

  • In such a diverse country where different parties ruling different states and the centre, but during pandemic, through the cooperative federalism equation, India has shown to the world that how a country can work.
  • This pandemic has very rightly challenged and gave an opportunity to the country to not only streamlined Indian system but also show to the world how a democracy function in India, where all the 130 million are rising to the occasion and cooperating.
  • Technology did play a crucial role for the survival of this democracy during pandemic. Whatever we are seeing in terms of education sector, be it digital schooling, zoom classes or webinar or work from home. But there have been challenges of disinformation.
  • Technology can be used at the large scale and if there any challenges of potential misuse, the government can bring new laws, there are existing mechanism within the National Disaster Management Act to take care of the miscreants who spread fake news.

Important points made by the Guests

Urvashi Prasad, Public Policy Specialist, Niti Aayog

  • There are certain tradeoff during this pandemic and these are very important because in a pandemic your individual rights and freedom can be at loggerheads with what is collectively required. So, it is a fine balance and there is tremendous tradeoff in a situation like this.
  • The Epidemic Act which was created in 1897 and it would really benefit us if we use the lesson that we learned from this pandemic and we come up with Comprehensive Public Health Act, which can define the powers of different authorities as well as limit to those powers, for instance; we have seen Resident welfare Association have been very powerful partners in managing containment zone, etc. but in some cases we have instances like RWA (resident welfare association) might have overstepped their brief.
  • Technology have been a very empowering factor, but there is need to make people understand their individual responsibility and accountability in a pandemic.
  • In a pandemic situation you have to think of a collective responsibility as well, because if someone is not wearing a mask, he/she is not just damaging himself/herself but damaging people around.

Ashok Tandon, Senior Journalist

  • Democracy is not only a way of life. It’s a goal also. The world community has to achieve the goal of a transparent democracy and India is a shining example of that because in the last more than 70 years Indian democracy has come up age.
  • India can take pride in being one of the largest democracies in the world and also a very successful democracy. We have a system of checks and balances, we have an independent judiciary, we have free press. Therefore, any factor which is coming in the way of democracy, whether it relates to human rights or freedom of press, any infringement of that is taken care by inbuilt system of independent judiciary and free press.
  • As far as Indian democracy is concerned, worldwide recognition is there. There has been certain attempt by some of our adversaries to highlight the human right violation or by some infringement of the freedom of press at the international fora, but nobody has come in support of those allegations. Indian democracy has been in fact welcome.
    When we talk of the pandemic, one the most transparent democracy is India. Our Parliament is functioning, we are holding elections and we are exchanging information regarding pandemic with rest of the world. Exchanging information not only about the pandemic but also remedial measures.

Jiten Jain, Data & Cyber Expert

  • A democracy survives and shine as long as fundamental rights of people are protected and it is the fundamental duty of any government to ensure that they protect the right of life of every citizen in society.
  •  In the times of pandemic, if the government is given a choice that to save the life of thousands and thousands of citizens, then it might have to do little tradeoff for the time being as a temporary measure to curb a bit of free speech and take away little bit of privacy to ensure that we collectively as a society stay safe, secure and survive this pandemic.
  • So, that choice was there in front of many democracies and including India almost every democracy has made that choice that the duty to protect many lives of society prevail over all other rights.
  • In the last 25 years, India have made a transaction from an agriculture sector-based economy to a technology and industrial sector-based economy. If it was not for technology, the whole IT sector of India in the last 7 months could have collapsed. 85 percent workforce working from work from home using technology and secure communication.


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