India considering universal basic income, NHRC ‚ÄČtells UN

The UN has been informed that the Indian government is examining and “actively considering” the possibility of a universal basic income to reduce poverty. Universal basic income (UBI) refers to periodic cash transfers to every citizen.

June 10, 2020

(Hindustan Times)

India is considering a universal basic income and will not consider a repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers ) Act or a moratorium on the death penalty, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has told the United Nations.

In a first, NHRC, submitted a mid-term report to the United Nations on the human rights situation in the country , highlighting the government’s policies on climate change, rights of women, children, disabled, and the elderly, and the right to food, work and health.

In the report, Universal Periodic Review (UPR)-III, the UN has been informed that the Indian government is examining and “actively considering” the possibility of a universal basic income to reduce poverty. Universal basic income (UBI) refers to periodic cash transfers to every citizen.

The government has focused cash transfer schemes aimed at farmers, especially, but no universal cash transfer programme.

As part of UPR-III, the Indian government accepted 152 recommendations out of 250 by 112 UN member states in September 2017 pertaining to poverty alleviation, rights of women, children, persons with disabilities, elderly, marginalized populations and right to education etc. However, it refused to accept 98 recommendations including repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers ) Act, a moratorium on the death penalty, violence against marginalized groups and concerns over the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), a law regulating foreign funding to non-governmental organizations etc.

UPR is an international peer review mechanism based on a periodic self-assessment by each country of its human rights record, achievements and challenges, which is supplemented by reports from UN human rights experts, entities, treaty bodies, national human rights institutions, and civil society organizations. India was one of the first countries to be reviewed under the UPR mechanism.

In the mid-term report submitted last month, accessed by Hindustan Times, NHRC has listed passing of Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act, 2019, which criminalizes instant Triple Talaq, as a key step in eliminating discrimination against women.

It has also listed government flagship schemes such as the PM Awas Yojana affordable housing initiative , the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation, the Swachh Bharat Mission, and the Ujjwala scheme of free cooking gas connections for the poor.

Civil society organizations, which are part of the Working Group of Human Rights (WGHR), say NHRC has done the bidding of the government of India rather than giving an independent view on the human rights conditions in India.

Henri Tiphagne, executive director of the People’s Watch, said: “We are quite surprised because this NHRC UPR report reads like a government of India report. Many events have taken place (since India accepted the recommendations of UN member countries) but nothing has been mentioned in the report. The report doesn’t show the independent view of NHRC”.

Sanjoy Hazarika, director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, welcomed NHRC submitting a mid-term report but added that the non-government organisation was meeting in couple of days to brainstorm on the findings.

A 12-member Working Group of Human Rights (WGHR) for India, which includes CHRI, will prepare its own report and send it to the UN.

NHRC chairperson, justice (retd) H L Dattu, said, “This (mid-term) report addresses all the recommendations given by the UN members for the central government during last review meeting (in September 2017 in Geneva). The UPR is significant because it takes into account issues pertaining to human rights including poverty, religious issues, women rights etc.”

Asked about NHRC’s role in the whole process, Dattu said, “The Commission has the role of an onlooker as these recommendations are for the central government (to address).”

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW) said: “The NHRC, to meet standards set out under the Paris Principles, should act as an independent authority to ensure human rights protections, recommend reforms, call for accountability when there are violations. It should act as a constitutional body to provide independent checks and balances. The commission should also be speaking out about violations linked to a crackdown on freedom of speech and peaceful protest. It is not supposed to report government achievements. That is for the state party to do." Read More