The Status of Online Petitions in India: Concept, Effectiveness and Legal Validity

By Pritha Ghosh, 2nd Year Law Student, Ajeenkya DY Patil University of Pune

“The ongoing violence in Yemen has been ceased and the forces of the world have joined hands to restore the years of injustice after an online petition secured over 13,00, 000 signatures. ” Read a news headline in an alternate universe where one can drive change through the click of a button while sitting on a couch drinking freshly brewed imported coffee.

A little like WikiHow’s database for DIY-ing purposes, you can find an online petition on Change.org for practically everything. In the recent weeks, the world has seen a surge in activism through online petitions. The Black Lives Matter Movement has increasingly gained momentum sprouting from the United States. The petition demanding Justice for George Floyd has nearly 18 million signatures. The petition seeking justice for Breonna Taylor has 11, 82, 883 signatures. After the launch of the petition for Breonna Taylor, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was put to task to investigate the matter, the Police Chief of the state announced his retirement and the movement is still ongoing.

In other news, there is a petition that seeks a ban on journalists like Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai and Sagarika Ghose who have allegedly reported on activities of those deemed anti-nationals with a sympathetic tone. The petition puts a proposal to the Government of India to exile these persons from India since they pose a national threat.

While “online activism is flying on the wings of change” as claimed by the popular website for starting online petitions, Change.org , there is a need to examine the effectiveness of the petitions flooding our social media feeds.

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF ONLINE PETITIONS?

Online petitions are created for the purpose of raising awareness towards issues that affect the public at large and need effective policy change to implement the solutions and drive change.

So, what does a successful petition look like?

The bone structure of a successful petition has the following labels:

  1. It must be addressed to a specific decision maker

A petition addressing child abuse law reform was started aimed at Maneka Gandhi, who held the position of Union Minister of Women & Child Development in 2014. The petition successfully gained attention and significant changes were made in the law.

  1. It must have clearly stated and attainable goals

A petition to end violence in Yemen is as ineffective as starting a petition to abolish atheism in the world. It is both ludicrous and nebulous.

  1. It must affect the public at large

A great example of this is the petition created to restore essential goods supply chain amid lockdown caused due to the worldwide pandemic. The petition garnered over 71,000 signatures and the media’s attention. Since then, the Ministry of Home Affairs released a list of services that will be functional across the country and grocery supply was made active with the administration’s support.

On an anecdotal note, one can witness the existence of a petition that seeks a ban on a classic Bollywood song because it has bothered them to such extent.

HOW CAN PETITIONS BE USED EFFECTIVELY?

Online petitions must be primarily concentrated on generating large scale awareness on issues. After it gathers significant attention, there comes the stage to advocate for real change. This is done by organizing campaigns and rallying with mass support. The goal of such actions is to take concrete actions rather than being an armchair activist.

Below are some of the petitions that worked:

  1. Child Abuse law reform
  2. Security measures introduced in schools in Karnataka
  3. Green Mumbai Marathon to reduce plastic waste in Mumbai

LEGALITY OF ONLINE PETITIONS

In India, online petitions hold no legal validity. Therefore, the only way to implement a reform is to approach government representatives seeking for a mandate to execute concrete steps towards a goal. Online petitions come to the aid where the support of masses becomes a substantial factor while advocating for a greater cause. Therefore, such petitions can be put forward in any jurisdiction to the relevant parliamentarian as a document that expresses mass assent.

In the United Kingdom, if an online petition secures 100, 000 signatures, the petition can be considered in the Parliament for debate. Online activists have successfully abolished the tampon tax and stopped the sale of eggs from caged in hens in supermarkets across the country. However, it must be noted that 4 of the 10 top campaigns in the UK which went up to the Parliament for debate came out as unsuccessful.

ONLINE PETITIONS: MOVING FORWARD

In an ideal world we would never have to raise petitions seeking reforms because the decision makers would recognize the pressing issues themselves. However, in a world where the news media fails to deliver its purpose and Kanye West runs for presidential candidacy, the internet is a crucial weapon of our arsenal. Online platforms like Change.org have made a way for policy makers to directly engage in issues. The internet while increasing transparency, has created the “biggest citizen megaphones ever” has revolutionized the way that people engage in politics. These petitions are a step towards civic engagement, inclusive of the people who cannot necessarily enter the discourse by rallying and campaigning on the streets.

Amidst a pandemic that has greatly clogged our Supreme Courts and High Courts due to which citizens are unable to file Public Interest Litigation (PIL) suits in the court, online petitions are a tool which can prove victorious. As with every tool, we must remember to use it sensibly and in a way that drives real change and adds to the momentum for reform towards a greater cause.

Disclaimer : All rights reserved to Legally Layman and Lexstructor

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