HEALTH AND EDUCATION AMID COVID- 19 PANDEMIC IN INDIA

Reading time : 8 minutes

Introduction

Covid- 19 Pandemic has created a sort of chaos across the globe. People have suffered from this pandemic in a way that they could have ever predicted. It has caused irreparable damages to almost all the sectors in India. This pandemic has affected virtually people of all age groups in different ways. It has been a difficult time since 2020 for the question is about the survival. This pandemic has claimed lakhs of life alone in India. And, it has left children, women and elderly people all abandoned.

It will not be out of place to mention that the students have actually suffered a lot with their academic curriculum either being stalled for some time due to this pandemic or being altered in a way that may not be acceptable to every individual and of which they never thought of. But, of course, one thing is commendable that the trend of improvisation has come into practice due to this pandemic and the students, being smart enough, have got into this new system easily. This pandemic has led the world to an unprecedented health crisis.

Importance of health

There is a very famous saying that, ‘Health is wealth”. And it is true indeed. Health is of utmost importance and it must be given due care by a person. A man is capable of doing everything provided that he is healthy. The significance of health cannot be just explained in words rather it can only be experienced with time.

Healthy mind resides in a healthy body is a widely accepted phenomenon. It is important to take care of an individual’s health because it actually helps an individual perform in the best possible way. It is about the efficiency that gets affected with health. Moreover, it must be accepted that nothing is above health. Health can basically be of two types, physical health and mental health. Generally, people are conscious about only the physical health while they leave the mental wellness and health of an individual unaddressed. This mindset must be changed. Mental wellness and health should not be taken for granted. The frivolous content in this regard shall lead to undesirable consequences later. For a person to prosper in the best possible way, it is important that physical health as well as mental health are taken care adequately. It is very much possible that a person at some point in his/her life needs mental health care which if not provided shall have a long lasting effect on his/her mental health leaving a scar.

So, it must be borne in mind that good health is not only about good physical health but also about good mental health.

Right to Health under Constitution of India

Right to health is a fundamental right under the provisions of the Constitution of India. Though, it has not been mentioned specifically but Right to Health comes under the purview of Article 21 of the Constitution. Right to good health is a pre requisite to Right to Life.

Article 21 talks about protection of life and personal liberty. It says that, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”[1] 

Right to life is a very basic right guaranteed to an individual that cannot be taken away by any political majority government, howsoever powerful. These fundamental rights are given to people so that the government do not assume an unbridled authority. The word life in article 21 means a life of dignity and not just an animal life.[2] Moreover, life of an individual must be provided with required medical care. To ensure that the life of an individual is not an animal life, proper medical care must be provided. With time, the dimensions of Article 21 has grown extensively and still continues to do so. And, it will not be out of place to mention that Right to Medical Care is enshrined in Article 21.

In Parmanand Katara v. UOI[3], the Supreme Court of India has considered right to medical care as a fundamental right of citizens. And, it is the duty of the state to protect this right. Moreover, it is observed that preservation of human life is of paramount importance as per Article 21. The Court in this case has also observed that, “Article 21 of the Constitution casts the obligation on the State to preserve life. A doctor at the Government hospital positioned to meet this State obligation is, therefore, duty bound to extend medical assistance for preserving life. Every doctor whether at a Government hospital or otherwise has the professional obligation to extend his services with due expertise for protecting life. No law or State action can intervene to avoid/delay the discharge of the paramount obligation cast upon members of the medical profession. The obligation being total, absolute and paramount, laws of procedure whether in statutes or otherwise which would interfere with the discharge of this obligation cannot be sustained and must, therefore, give way.”

During this time of pandemic, the government has all the responsibility to save the lives of people and it has worked accordingly. It has actually worked in consonance with the principle that preservation of human life is of paramount importance. It is the time to understand that nothing is above one’s life and so the people should abide by the pandemic rules and regulations seriously rather than taking it in a frivolous content. If the people do not abide by the rules and take it lightly then even hundreds of plans of government would remain ineffective and of no use. Moreover, by not abiding by the pandemic and lockdown rules people shall end up incurring liability for which they might be prosecuted pursuant thereto.

New trend of education

People from almost every walk of life have been impacted adversely with the emergence of this Covid- 19 Pandemic. This pandemic has devastated this planet and students are no exception to this. At the very outset, it will not be out of place to mention that students have experienced an unprecedented vicissitude in their life. But, on the other hand, they have got themselves adapted very easily to the new trend of online education. It is because of this age of technology, students have been able to continue their studies and prove their mettle at various platforms.

This pandemic has resulted in closure of schools, colleges and universities which shall impact learning of young minds. The modus operandi of teaching and learning has suddenly got changed. It is to be ensured that these changes do not affect the productivity and employability of a student. It must be taken in note that this new trend of online education has its own advantages and disadvantages.

The biggest advantage of online education is that a student sitting at his/ her home can learn by attending classes online by a teacher who might be sitting miles apart. There is, of course, an ease of access to learning. On the contrary, in some rural areas there are technical issues because of which a student might not be able to access his/ her online classes and remains bereft of learning. It must be herein noted that there are some educational institutions which are unable to conduct online classes. Furthermore, if we delve into the issue, we get to know that online education is quite feasible as well, a proper technical infrastructure is required. With smartphones in almost every hand, it is easy to connect in less resources and expenses. Apparently, with these online classes students are exposed to increased screen time, that may hamper their health and well being if due care is not taken.

Right to Education

For the all round development of any particular society, access to quality education to the children is a pre requisite. The development of a society sans education is nothing but a myth. Education helps in shaping the society and moulding the thought process of the people in the best possible way. It helps in becoming rational and logical and helps in comprehending reasonableness. Education is a tool to decipher the vicissitudes of life. It is a tool that shall subserve the cause of justice. It is a tool that shall eradicate injustice and arbitrariness. There is no straight jacket formula to live life and education helps us at this point of life to analyse situation and then act accordingly.

Article 21A of the Constitution of India talks about Right to Education. Article 21A says that, “The State shall Provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine.”[4]  

Initially, this article did not exist. Right to education was read within the meaning of Article 21 itself. Later, the 86th Amendment of the Constitution of India provided for Right to Education as a fundamental right. This amendment led to the insertion of Article 21A. Right to education is not just a fundamental right but also the obligation of the state to fulfil as it comes under Directive Principle of State Policy. Article 39(f) and Article 45 of the Constitution of India talks about right to education. It is supposed to be addressed well under the aegis of DPSP as well.

In the leading case of Unnikrishnan, JP v. State of AP[5], that came prior to the insertion of Article 21A in 1993, held that every citizen has a right to free education up to the age of 14 years and thereafter it is subject to limits of economic capacity and development of the state. The questions that were raised in this case were as follows:

  • Whether a citizen has fundamental right to education for a medical, engineering or other professional degree?
  • Whether right to education is implied under the Article 21 of the Constitution?
  • Whether fundamental rights and directive principles are complementary to each other?
  • Whether private unaided recognized affiliated educational institutions running professional courses like engineering and medical courses are entitled to charge a fee higher than that charged by Government institutions?

It must be taken in note that commercialisation of education is not permissible. Even if higher fee is charged by private unaided recognised affiliated educational institutions running professional courses such as engineering and medical courses, it must be reasonable in nature.

Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE Act), 2009  

Basically, this act is to ensure that the children get free and compulsory education. And, in accordance with the provisions of this act, the state is supposed to endeavour to provide education to the children. Through the provisions of this act, it is tried to create a just and humane society so that the children prosper in the best possible way. The fundamental principal is that the best interest of the children is to be primarily considered.

The salient features of RTE Act, 2009[6] are as follows:

  • Every child of the age of six to fourteen years shall have the right to free and compulsory education till the completion of his/ her elementary education. (Section 3)
  • In case a child above six years of age has not been admitted and even if admitted, could not complete his/ her elementary education, then he/ she must be admitted in the class in accordance with his/ her age. It is the duty of the state to provide special training to such child as may be required. Moreover, the concerned child shall be entitled to free education till the completion of elementary education even after fourteen years of age. (Section 4)
  • The act prohibits capitation fee and screening procedure for admission. Collecting capitation fee by any school or person shall be punishable with fine which may extend to ten times the capitation fee charged. And, subjecting a child to screening procedure shall be punishable with fine which may extend to twenty five thousand rupees for the first contravention and fifty thousand rupees for each subsequent contraventions. (Section 13)
  • No child shall be denied admission in a school. (Section 15)
  • In accordance with the act, no child shall be subjected to physical punishment or mental harassment. Whoever contravenes this provision shall be liable to disciplinary action under the service rules applicable to such person. (Section 17)
  • This act talks about the Pupil Teacher Ratio. It is the cardinal task of the appropriate government and local authority to ensure that the Pupil Teacher Ratio is maintained in each school as specified in the schedule. (Section 25)
  • The act ensures monitoring of child’s right to education and take necessary steps pursuant thereto.
  • It aims at imparting quality education.

Steps taken by government to mitigate this health crisis

This health crisis has caused enormous loss to all sectors. But, it must be taken into consideration that the flow of education must not stop. And, the government has tried to mitigate this crisis by taking some important steps. This pandemic has caused the delay in conducting the competitive exams which led to huge distress amongst youth. The youth feel like jeopardized for an offence which they never committed.

There is a very famous legal maxim, ‘Salus Populi Suprema Lex’ meaning ‘Welfare of people is paramount’. The Supreme Court of India has cancelled the Class 10th and 12th Board Exams to protect the students in this health crisis. Moreover, to promote online learning during this pandemic, we have DIKSHA online learning platform that was launched in 2017. DIKSHA (Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing) is a national platform for school education. It is an initiative of NCERT, Ministry of Education, Government of India. It has helped the students in an extraordinary way to connect and continue their education through this initiative even during this pandemic.

Furthermore, if we peruse the National Education Policy, 2020[7], we come to know that online education has been highly encouraged so that the learning process is in no way hampered or adversely affected. It is a fundamental principle to serve in the best interest of the youth and children and so endeavours have been made towards uninterrupted learning. Use of technology in education system shall have great advantages. The present pandemic situation actually requires an alternative method of learning, and in that case nothing could be better than online education. In case, we do not adapt to the new trend of online education then it would create a void which shall be regressive in nature. It is high time for us to look forward towards digital transformation.

For mitigating this health crisis, the government imposed lockdown nationwide. The lockdown helped in tackling with the crisis. And, it is herein important to know about the Disaster Management Act, 2005. This act is basically to tackle disasters and talks about the efficient management of disasters. Some of the key features of the Disaster Management Act, 2005[8] are as follows:

  • The Act has established institutions at national, state and district levels to combat disaster and to manage it efficiently.
  • National Disaster Management Authority is constituted under section 3(1) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. Powers and functions of the National Authority is given in section 6 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. The National Authority is basically responsible for laying down the plans and guidelines for disaster management for the purpose of ensuring timely and effective response to such disaster.
  • The National Executive Committee is constituted under section 8(1) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. It is supposed to assist the National Authority to perform its functions as given in this act. Section 10 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 talks about the powers and functions of the National Executive Committee. Basically, the National Executive Committee is responsible for the implementation of the policies and plans of the National Authority.
  • The Act constitutes National Institute of Disaster Management under section 42(1). It is an institute for promoting training and research in the area of disaster management.
  • Section 44(1) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 constitutes a National Disaster Response Force. It is actually a specialist response to a threatening disaster situation or disaster.
  • The act also talks about State Disaster Management Authority and District Disaster Management Authority for managing the disaster at state and district level respectively.
  • The act talks about punishing people those who do not comply with the provisions of this act. The punishment for refusal to comply with the directions of the central government, state government or the district authority is given in Section 51 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. The person can be liable for punishment with imprisonment up to one year, or fine or both. In case, such act or omission causes the death of people, the punishment shall be imprisonment up to two years. 

Conclusion

As a measure to protect our health, the traditional classes have been replaced with online education during this pandemic. It is imperative to understand that we live in a digital age. Even in this tough time of pandemic, if the use of technology is made properly we can actually continue the learning process in an efficient way. The people should make the most from online education that shall ultimately contribute towards their capacity building.

Reference:

[1] Article 21, Constitution of India.

[2] Budhadev Karmaskar v. State of West Bengal, AIR 2011 SC 2636: (2011) (10) SCC 277: JT 2011 (8) SC 289: (2011) 8 SCALE 155.

[3] Parmanand Katara v. UOI, AIR 1989 SC 2039 : (1989) 4 SCC 248.

[4] Article 21A, Constitution of India.

[5] Unnikrishnan, JP v. State of Andhra Pradesh, AIR 1993 SC 2178, 2231 : (1993) 1 SCC 645.

[6]  Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009.

[7] National Education Policy, 2020.

[8] Disaster Management Act, 2005.

Author: SHASHANK KUMAR KASHYAP, UNIVERSITY LAW COLLEGE, VINOBA BHAVE UNIVERSITY, HAZARIBAG

Editor: Kanishka VaishSenior Editor, LexLife India.

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