Part III of the Indian Constitution guarantees to every citizen fundamental rights. These rights are essential for intellectual moral and spiritual development of citizens. They are: (1)Right to equality (Articles 14-18),(2) Right to Freedom (Articles 19-22, (3) Right against exploitation (Articles 23-24), (4)Right to Freedom of Religion (Articles 25-28), (5)Cultural and Educational Rights (Articles 29,30),(6)Right to Constitutional remedies (Articles 32-35).
We learn, Fundamental Rights are not absolute but they can be restricted. In A.K.Gopalan v.State of Madras the Supreme Court held that there cannot be any such thing as absolute and uncontrolled liberty. These rights are restricted mainly in the interest of sovereignty, integrity and security of India, friendly relations with foreign states, Public order, decency or morality or for contempt of court, defamation or incitement of offence.
However, in 4 phases of Lock down due to COVID-19, fundamental rights were not only restricted but lockdown. We are witnesses to it. We the present generation have witnessed something historical, unforgettable, very drastic and tragic and now we know fundamental rights can not only be restricted but be locked down.
The most important fundamental right of a citizen is “ Right to life and Personal Liberty” enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution. Presently the second part “Personal liberty” is restricted or locked down to protect the first part “Right to Life”.
‘Right to health’ is the most important component of ‘Right to Life’. But Covid-19 is a threat to our health. Health crisis is on the rise. Data of COVID patients and death is increasing. Commonly heard terms are ‘quarantine or isolation. In matter of health, the ‘Right to equality’ remains only on the page of the Constitution. Treatment for COVID-19 costs differently in Government and Private hospitals. Cost varies even among private hospitals with some charging exorbitantly. In some places Government hospitals are unable to accommodate any more and the patients are compelled to go to Private hospitals. The Tamil Nadu State health department has fixed maximum applicable rates for per day treatment of COVID-19 patients in private hospitals after classifying them under two categories- Grade A1/A2 and Grade A3/A4. Grade A1 and A2 may levy a maximum of Rs. 7,500 per day, whereas Grade A3 andA4 hospitals may levy upto Rs.5,000 per day of admission. Hospitals are also instructed not to exceed Rs.15,000 for an admission to intensive care unit. Karnataka Government also has fixed rate in the private hospitals for COVID-19 treatment. Despite a check on Delhi hospitals rate issue goes on alarming. The only remedy is every State Government should fix the rate for the Private hospitals. However many States have no sufficient Government hospitals to accommodate the COVID patients.
Health workers’ lives are at risk. Though they are at the forefront in the battle of COVID -19 pandemic, they are facing several challenges in their duties: Shortages of Personal Protective Equipments (PPE) including face masks, gloves, and respirators, shortage of Health Workers, hence long working hours ,violence against them and increased risk of infection. The matter is evident in the letter published by Dr.(Prof) Raju Vaishya, Senior Orthopedic Surgeon at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi, in a prestigious medical journal-British Medical Journal (BM). They also face social and family impact. It is pertinent, due to the negligence on the part of the Government India has lost some committed Health Workers. A big salute to them.
Another aspect is ‘Right to privacy’, an intrinsic part of Article 21. Slum dwellers, beggars, street dwellers, houseless citizens and migrants are the most affected persons in this regard. In many centres/ shelter homes, guest workers or migrants are put together, where men, women in particular pregnant women and children have to live together. Government failed to uphold their right to privacy by providing them with separate accommodation.
Other most affected fundamental right is “Right to Live with Human Dignity”. The plight of migrant workers is the grave violation to this effect. Even after two months of lockdown many were stranded on the roads, railway tracks and bus stands. The Supreme Court has taken up the matter suo moto and ordered the Centre and States to immediately provide transport, food and shelter free of cost to stranded migrant workers. The court on 19th June again ordered the governments to transport them within 15 days. However issue remains grim. Telangana High Court, a bench comprising Chief Justice Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Justice A Abhishek Reddy passed an order on a PIL asking the Government to provide the migrant workers with safety and if not to make arrangements immediately to transport them to their respective States. It is the duty of every State to bring back their citizens. Instead they are found abandoned without food and shelter.
‘Right to practice any profession and carry on any business’ is also affected. As many as 40 migrant workers staged a protest at Hirpur village in Haathras district for not getting any work under government scheme, MGNREGA, even after two months of their returning home. Same is with all the migrant workers. They are not provided with any job .Unemployment has become a common phenomenon. I have helped many migrant workers either by sending them to their respective States or with food or with food items through concerned officials in different States. However all said, they have lost their job. Many companies or work places are closed down. Now they have no means to make their both ends meet. It can lead to depression and untoward incidents. A migrant worker after returning to his house in Bihar, no means to buy provisions, sold his mobile for Rs.2000/- and then finding no means to live further committed suicide. In order to mitigate their sufferings the respective State Government should immediately provide means of livelihood. The rural unemployment rate of 25.09% is the highest since India went into a lockdown on 25th March, except for the weeks ended 19 April and 3 May when it was more than 26%. Overall unemployment inched up to 24.34% in the week ended 24 May from 24.01% in the week ended 17May, CMIE data said.
Many pravasis have become jobless too. 59% people returning to India on flights from overseas have lost jobs according to govt’s recently launched SWADES programme. 59% migrant workforce retuning to India on the Vande Bharat Mission flights from overseas have lost their jobs as per the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. The United Arab of Emirates (UAE) tops the list of countries from where Indians have headed back home. It accounts for 27.82% of the returning workforce, followed by QATAR (14.76%),Kuwait (12.73%) Saudi Arabia (11.87%) Oman (10.58%) and Bahrain with 3.88%. It is the duty of the State Government to provide employment/work to the citizens. Central Government has to play a vital role in this regard. However it is a big challenge before the Government/s.
Right to elementary education has become a myth under Covid-19. Online classes are not successful. Many students have no android mobiles. Many places have no range, no proper connectivity. Many people have no money to recharge their mobiles . Where there are more than one child, parents have to provide for each child an android mobile. It is a heavy burden on the parents especially at this time of COVID.
Chief Minister of Telangana has already banned on line classes upto 5th class yielding to the pressure of parents. Six days after the Karnataka State Minister for Primary and Secondary Education announced a ban on online classes upto class 5, the department finally issued an official government order on 15th June where schools affiliated to ICSE, CBSE, State and other international boards are not allowed to offer online classes from LKG to Class 5.
The online teaching process has left teachers overworked and also open to abusive behaviour from students. Low and irregular attendance, lack of attention by students, the fear of technology, especially among older teachers, poor internet connectivity and in most cases, the added pressure of household chores, have made online teaching a dreaded activity for many teachers. Parental reaction has been extreme. While some feel that if they hover around the child, they will interfere with learning, others have become too demanding of the teachers.
Students struggle on online classes. It is highly strenuous for the students to look at the tiny mobile although. There is no teacher –student physical interaction which is very much needed for the growth of students. Also they lack interaction and association with their friends.
The need of the hour is that the Centre and the States should do maximum to protect maximum lives of citizens.(Published on 06th July 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 28)