A Loophole In Our Laws Has Left A Grey Area For Blatant Corruption In The Government

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The Disclosure of Lobbying Activities Bill 2015 (DLA) was introduced before the Parliament to regulate the practice of lobbying in India and to increase transparency in governance. To understand the significance of this Bill, it is necessary to first examine what is meant by lobbying and the current state of its regulation across India. Lobbying refers to a broad range of activities that attempt to influence policymaking. It is often used to influence the way a legislator votes on a matter before the House. Organisations that engage in such practices exist on a spectrum. They can range from think tanks, non-governmental organisations and citizens’ groups, to corporations, wealthy individuals, and special interest/ industrial groups. This means that it is a misconception to have a homogeneous view on the value of lobbying, especially one that presumes that the term only has a negative connotation.

There is a legitimate discussion that can be had about the excessive influence of certain organisations, especially corporate lobbying. However, lobbying also has positive impacts. It allows ordinary citizens to voice their concerns and provide information that is otherwise unavailable to legislators. In this form, lobbying serves as an additional measure to secure representation at the point of policy formulation.

To ensure that the ‘right’ kind of lobbying occurs, there needs to be effective regulation, which provides clear information about the nature of lobbying done by different groups. Through this, a norm can be created about how lobbying must function in our country. In the past, this has been difficult because it is often hard to differentiate between ‘lobbying’ and ‘advocacy’. This has meant that lobbying is currently an unregulated practice. The only statutory regulation is the Prevention of Corruption Act, 2015. However, there is a gap between lobbying and the behaviour prohibited under the 2015 Act, leaving most forms of lobbying in a ‘grey area’.

The DLA Bill 2015 attempts to fill this lacuna by creating the Lobbyists Registration Authority (LRA). Any person or organisation which intends to undertake any lobbying activity would have to register itself with the LRA. In addition to mandatory registrations, each registrant would have to submit a half-yearly report. This report would outline the nature of lobbying done by the registrant, the client (if any) that the registrant represented, the funds used in this lobbying activity, the list of public servants the registrants interacted with, and the result of the lobbying activity. There are penalties, which include suspension and cancellation of registration to ensure compliance. Finally, the 2015 Bill makes the information provided by a registrant publicly available on an online platform. This would allow interested parties to be able to examine the nature of lobbying activity done by any registrant.

The significance of the DLA Bill 2015 can be divided into two broad categories: direct impact and norm creation. The first category is of those benefits that are solely based on the provisions of the bill. The biggest impact of this nature is reducing the asymmetry of information that currently exists. This is especially true with respect to ordinary citizens. The primary stakeholders in policy making are legislators, industry/ corporate actors, and the citizenry. However, all too often, ordinary citizens are left voiceless because they do not have reliable information, and thereby are unable to influence the decisions that are made.

Second, this bill creates greater transparency. It helps voters and the media know which organisations are attempting to lobby public servants, as well as which public servant or legislator has been approached by lobbyists. This is a direct consequence of making information freely available. Transparency can help hold legislators and public servants accountable, because their interactions are now recorded.

Currently, there is scope for lobbyists to misuse the ‘grey area’ between advocacy and outright corruption, to their advantage. Therefore, the final benefit under this category is that the very existence of a regulatory system prevents actors from being able to ‘fly under the radar’.

The second category refers to positive trends that can be expected as a result of the enactment of the DLA Bill 2015. The largest impact under this category would be that the overwhelmingly negative perception of ‘lobbying’ is mitigated. This is because the formalisation of the activity will make its use more widespread and well-known. The consequence of this would be two-fold. First, actors that were not aware of this instrument, like local level citizens’ groups, would now be able to use this tool to their own benefit. Second, groups like non-governmental organisations and think tanks that might have decided not to engage in ‘lobbying’ because of public perception, would now use this as a tool to help further their causes.

Enabling a trend of greater participation by a diverse set of actors would allow lobbying to play a positive role in policy making, because it would help meaningfully provide representation. Additionally, the setting up of the LRA would allow for more specific regulation to emerge in the future. This helps create certainty about what kinds of activities are acceptable Given that certainty helps actors who wish to engage in lobbying, but are afraid of accidentally breaching regulations. A paradigm built on certainty and clear information allows such actors to confidently engage in lobbying.

At this stage, what is critical is that this issue be debated in the Parliament, and eventually enacted. An unregulated and unclear lobbying sector only worsens the perception of lobbying. Such a situation only benefits those who are willing to operate in a ‘grey area’, and puts the ordinary citizen at a disadvantage. Additionally, it fails to allow lobbying to become a beneficial aspect of policy making, through which multiple points of view can emerge. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that this issue gains traction because of the long-term positive impact that lobbying can have on a nation.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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