How COVID-19 is challenging the constitutional framework of India
Author By Sonika Khandelwal
Abstract- This article deals with the impact of COVID-19 on the constitutional framework of India. In the process, it highlights the violations of rights of the people provided by the constitution. It also, details about the efforts of the government and applauds these efforts. Finally, it concludes by suggesting some reforms to prevent havoc due to such disasters in the future.
Recent COVID-19 outbreak has upset the global order. When the countries like USA and China were busy in the race for an economic superpower and developing countries like India were busy in achieving the economic target of $3.0 trillion, COVID-19 has brought it to a standstill. Countries are grappling with two situations where on the one hand they have to contain the spread of the COVID-19 and on the other hand to upheld and protect the constitutional, fundamental and humanitarian rights.
This global pandemic is testing the strengths and weaknesses of all the countries alike. Considering its unpredictability the governments and its constitutions were unprepared to deal with the crisis and so was India. In this global pandemic, the government of India is compelled to tilt towards saving precious lives than to protect personal liberty. So, come, take a look on how this pandemic has striked our constitutional framework.
Fundamental rights and DPSP are called the conscience of the constitution. Fundamental Rights are the bedrock of a democratic country. The mass exodus of migrant workers indicates that the Right to Food & Shelter under Article 21 has been denied. Right to Movement under Article 19(1)(d) was curtailed by the government by cancelling the means of transportations. One of the negative impacts of COVID-19 is visible in furloughs, terminations, pink slips by the employer resulting in the loss of livelihoods of not only blue-collar employees but white-collar employees were also severely hit resulting in harassment by the landlords on the non-payment of the rent. The future of the children is at stake. Schools & colleges are closed since the outbreak which inhibits the Right to Education under Article 21A. Although online platforms have been adopted as an alternative but it has only widened the disparities between the rich and the poor in terms of accessibility. Domestic violence has been aggravated due to COVID-19. Thus, the fundamental right of women to have a dignified life has been severely affected. Moreover, Right to Privacy which is a fundamental right was put into the backyard after the launch of Aarogya Setu App which tracks movement and personal health details. The better health system is what we expect from our government to provide but this COVID-19 has brought in the forefront the pathetic conditions of health infrastructure of India. This resulted in the denial of Right to Health. Poor infrastructure, corruption, lack of hygienic facilities in hospitals, poor R&D has added to the grim situation and left people in the imbroglio.
But to every dark cloud, there is a silver lining. Despite being unprepared government efforts need to be applauded such as relief package of 1.7 lakhs crore by the central government to provide free food and cash transfer; facilitating the movement of the needy particularly migrant workers by running Shramik special trains and buses; maintenance of regular supplies of essential commodities by invoking the provisions of Essential Commodities Act; the effort of containing the spread by imposing Epidemic Disease Act; applying the provisions of NDMA government has provided relief in terms of loan repayment, compensation etc and many more.
Another democratic feature which was violated during COVID-19 is Single citizenship. Single citizenship means all the people irrespective of the states or territories in which they reside are the citizens of the country. But the question arises does it exist in India? Deprivation of Right to Food resulted in mass exodus of migrant workers. Migrant workers were denied rations from PDS for not having the ration-card of the state in which they are working. This itself signifies that they were made to believe that they were not a citizen of India but rather a citizen of a particular state. But now the government has come up with one nation one ration-card which is definitely a positive outcome of the COVID-19.
Covid-19 has jeopardized the functioning of the legislative and executive organs of the government. The maximum time gap between the two sessions is six months. But the inability of the government to conduct parliamentary session has violated this rule too. Conducting sessions digitally is not possible due to the limited space in social media apps. Thus, COVID-19 has impaired the functioning of democratic institutions.
Now, let us consider the other side of the coin. Covid-19 has re-ignited the lost notion of the spirit of brotherhood. The biggest yardstick to tackle this pandemic is human compassion and sympathy. This is the essence of India’s achievement in the fight against COVID-19 where a number of fatalities per million populations is one of the lowest in the world. The fact that a number of recovered cases has outstripped the active cases needs to be glorified. Even at the time of crisis, the humanitarian efforts of individuals such as Sonu Sood, big companies like Asian Paints, TCS, big hotels converting their premises into COVID-19 quarantine centres need to be admired and appraised.
The biggest weapon to fight against the COVID-19 is the co-operation and co-ordination between different levels of government and that’s where the federalism comes into the picture. The way in which state governments have supported the central government in imposing lockdown and following the guidelines and protocols related to health prepared by the central government itself depicts that COVID-19 has strengthened the co-operative federalism
The current crisis demands the transformation from “inter arma enim silent legis (in times of war law falls silent)” to “peremptory jus cogens (a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character)”. We need to realize that if we had complied with international treaties, we would have avoided such a disaster. It’s high time to strengthen the international enforcement agencies like UNSC and bring reforms conducive to the changing times. Reforms such as veto power of UNSC needs to be replaced by 2/3rd majority or elections to the permanent member should be conducted at regular intervals. Rule of law should be the basis of the charter of every international organisation. Then only we can prevent such kind of disasters in future.