The numerous challenges and the health crisis faced by the citizens in the current pandemic are heartbreaking. As rightly said by Thomas Jefferson, “the only legitimate object of good governance is to care for human life and happiness and not their destruction.”
The inadequate health facilities in the country have resulted in a massive humanitarian crisis, challenging the constitutional rights guaranteed to the citizens. The meaning of the ‘RightRight to life guaranteed under Article 21 has time and again expanded, and the fundamental rights affected by covid-19 are the RightRight to health, food, and the Right to Freedom of speech and expression.
The fundamental Right to Health guarantees citizens the RightRight to have proper medical treatment. The medical frontline workers and the covid infected people are the ones in need of these rights. However, the failure of the government to provide an adequate number of medical equipment like PPE kits, oxygen cylinders, lack of ICU beds, and the testing kit is the main reason for the spread of infection among the health workers and death of patients. There are numerous judgments, the most important one being the Consumer Education and Research Centre and others vs. Union of India. The court held that one should not be compelled to work in a hazardous industry and one should not be dependent on the work at the cost of his health. Therefore, it becomes the responsibility of the government to provide medical facilities and necessary equipment. The failure to do so violates the fundamental Right to the health of the citizens, and the very fact that the government’s current focus is on the central vista project shows that people’s lives in this nation are not more important than a new parliament building.
In this pandemic, the government has suspended students’ regular classes, and the schools have turned to online modes. It is an excellent step to curb the spread of the virus, but one cannot ignore that most of the students cannot afford to buy a smartphone or laptop. The students mainly living in rural areas suffer through this problem, and in many villages, people face regular power outages. This has led to massive loss and the violation of student’s rights to education. The fund or money allocated for the central vista project could be better utilized in providing such economically and socially backward students with the tools helpful in continuing their education online.
The Right to food has been severely affected due to the pandemic. The 2021 Global Food Policy Report says that many households stopped consuming expensive nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables and moved towards cheaper staple foods, which affected people’s health and resulted in malnourishment. Around 80% of students benefited from the mid-day meal scheme, but due to the closure of schools, the students of impoverished economic and social backgrounds suffered.
The Freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of India’s Constitution. The current scenario in which people are being warned against fake news releases has become a matter of concern as many people with correct information are also categorized under the same category. Moreover, no provision deals explicitly with “fake news.” However, section 54 of the disaster management Act is used to categorize the same. As per the Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RAG) reports, just in the first four months of the pandemic, around 55 journalists faced arrest, registration of FIRs, or show cause notice or harassment for exercising their Freedom of expression. The highest number of arrests is reported from the state of Uttar Pradesh. The free speech activists have claimed that these arrests were made to hide the faults in the healthcare system or curb the criticism against the authorities in the name of health care emergencies.
The pandemic has also affected the Right to privacy under Article 21 of the constitution of India. There are many instances where the names of the covid patient have been made public, resulting in discrimination and unnecessary harassment to the patients. In March 2020, the Rajasthan government revealed the names and addresses of the covid parents public via newspapers and social media platforms claiming it will help in the containment of covid transmission. However, the government didn’t realize that it directly violated the Right to privacy under Article 21. The government should avoid such acts and be held accountable for them. It is also alleged that the arogya setu app poses a threat to people’s privacy as it tracks the movement and health details of personal data users.
The covid 19 has affected the existing fundamental rights of the citizens and showed the loopholes of the system and its ability to handle such situations.
Author: Purnima Sharma from CHRIST (DEEMED TO BE UNIVERSITY) LAVASA, PUNE.