September 27, 2023, Pune, India: FLAME University, renowned for its commitment to fostering holistic learning, hosted the highly successful ‘Accessing Democracy’ conference on September 22nd and 23rd, 2023. The two-day conference centred around India, the world’s largest democracy, and featured diverse discussions on contemporary democracy.
Organised by the FLAME Centre for Legislative Education and Research, the conference effectively bridged the gap between academic institutions, bureaucracy, legislators, and practitioners of governance through the intricacies of Indian demography and politics. The event sparked conversations around last-mile delivery, sustainable development goals, public library policy, legislative assembly research, equitable access, public accountability, political parties, the Nyaya Sanhita, and many other ideas. The conference featured distinguished speakers from various sectors and organisations, including Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta, Principal Secretary, Panchayati Raj, Government of Karnataka; MR Madhavan, President and Co-Founder, PRS Legislative Research; Apar Gupta of the Internet Freedom Foundation; and Gaurav Godhwani, Founder of CivicDataLab.
Other notable speakers included Sandesh Sapkota and Karthik Natarajan from Fields of View; Denny George from Tattle; Subhash Tanan and Meenal Jagdale from Codemo; Avani Airan from Aapti Institute; Apula Singh from Janaagraha; Ameya Naik from eGov Foundation; T.B. Dinesh and Prasoon Joshi from Janastu; Isha Suri and Garima Agarwal from Centre for Internet & Society; Vedant Manore from Haq Darshak; Shashvat Singh from Jan Sahas; Dr Rahul Verma from Centre for Policy Research; Purnima Rao and Amit Gautam from Free Libraries Network; Sanjay Phadke from iSPIRT-Indian Software Product Industry Round Table; Arathi Ganesan from Medianama; Nupura Gawde from CivicDataLab and Srinivas Kodali.
Staying true to its objective, ‘Accessing Democracy’ provided a thought-provoking experience, offering valuable insights and perspectives on the multifaceted nature of democracy in India. Speaking at the conference, Uma Mahadevan, Additional Chief Secretary to the Government of Karnataka, Ministry of Panchayati Raj, who has also taken concurrent charge as Additional Chief Secretary, Skill Development, Entrepreneurship, and Livelihood, spoke about creches being set up in Karnataka gram panchayats for the young children of MGNREGA workers and how the CM Siddaramaiah government’s Shakti scheme is changing the landscape of women’s mobility in the state. While talking about the creches, she said, “This will take care of young kids’ safety and well-being and enable their mothers to work and earn a livelihood.”
Building on the idea of digital rights was Apar Gupta, Executive Director of Internet Freedom Foundation, who said, “It’s time that we have a National Technology Survey Report to annually gauge and trace the trajectory of digital rights in India.”
Speaking about the conference, Prof. Maya Dodd, Director, FLAME Centre for Legislative Education and Research, said, “With a focus on grassroots initiatives, we wanted to provide a platform that would help build a vibrant democracy for our nation’s future. This would help us ignite the minds and leaders of the future by empowering them to become better and more informed citizens. We are proud of this groundbreaking conference that has helped us bring together industry professionals and organisations that are committed to enhancing and upholding our country’s democratic values.”
Towards the end of the conference, it was decided that a massive open online course addressing questions of access to public data needed to be developed. A few organisations like CivicDataLab and Haqdarshak initiated conversations about building an annual welfare survey and assembly constituency reports with the help of the Centre and student community at FLAME. Also, PRS Legislative Research and FLAME University renewed the MoU to continue the work through the FLAME Centre for Legislative Education and Research.
Through engaging talks, insightful Q&A sessions, and in-depth panel discussions, the speakers delved into topics such as municipality budgets, inter-state migrations, electoral data, urban governance, digital and data protection laws, misinformation, government welfare schemes, UCC, and family law reforms. The conference aimed to empower Indian citizens to actively understand and participate in the nation’s political processes.