Freedom House, a US-based human rights watchdog, had downgraded India's status from "free" to "partly free" under Narendra Modi, accusing the government of "continuing to crack down on critics during the year” and of “tragically driving India...toward authoritarianism".
In response, the ministry described India as a "vibrant democracy which gives space to those who hold varying views".
On Freedom House pointing out police inaction in the 2019 Delhi riots that left "over 50 people, mostly Muslims, dead", the ministry claimed that "the law enforcement machinery acted swiftly in an impartial and fair manner".
Defending what Freedom House described as "a ham-fisted lockdown that resulted in the dangerous and unplanned displacement of millions of internal migrant workers", the statement detailed how the government had announced relief packages and distributed rations.
It said: "Any mass movement of people would have spread the disease rapidly throughout the country. Taking into consideration these facts, the global experience and need for consistency in the approach and implementation of various containment measures across the country, a nationwide lockdown was announced.
Freedom House had also pulled up the Modi government for its "rising intimidation of academics and journalists". In its statement, the ministry claimed that the government "attaches highest importance to the safety and security of all residents of the country, including journalists".
The statement also said that the "temporary suspension of telecom/internet services" in the country was done "with the over-arching objective of maintaining law and order under strict safeguards". This after digital rights group Access Now reported this week that out of 155 internet shutdowns imposed globally in 2020, India accounted for 109.