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The protection of rights in the course of COVID-19 pandemic

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The four month old COVID 19 pandemic has disrupted various sectors of the world and has led to the creation of a new world order. Crashing of the crude oil prices[1]and fall of GDP rate in all the major economies[2] are some of them. To control this ‘Invisible enemy’ governments across the globe have implemented strict lockdowns, pumped large amounts of funds for the improvement of public health care systems, and restricted their citizens movement in their own countries. But in some places, citizens have not welcomed these policies and have come out protesting against them[3]. All these policies of the governments raise one common question, “whether individual rights can be sidelined for the common good of the community?”

For instance in India, private data of citizens like their travel history and contact tracing are carried out by the government[4]. Now can this be considered as a violation of Right to Privacy guaranteed under article 21 of the Indian Constitution? Does restriction on non essential economic activities be considered as a violation of Right to livelihood? In some states migrant workers are not being allowed to travel back to their home states. Will this amount to Article 19 violation? But all these rights come with reasonable restriction and especially in view of public interest these rights can definitely be restricted.

But for how long can we sustain these restrictions? Undermining of the rights can also lead to other problems. For example in some parts of the country the travel history of foreign returnees are shared with the local people and this can lead to the creation of stigma around that person. Families of daily wage workers are suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Instances of excessive policing by the governments has also created problems. So its time to strike a balance between the rights of the citizens and the public interest.

Some states in India have already stood as examples for this balanced model of rights and public interest. In the state of Uttar Pradesh the government deposited Rs 1000 into the accounts of 21 lakh construction workers[5] and has already provided one and half lakh people with jobs in the state. The state is already working on a model to provide jobs to half a million migrant workers who have come back under One District One Product(ODOP) programme[6]. This is a clear cut example of protecting Right to Livelihood. It maybe the migrant workers from Delhi or students in Kota, the Yogi Adityanath Government has ensured that the people of their state stuck in other parts of the country are provided safe passage to return home[7].

In Karnataka the state government released two month Social Security Pension in advance for the poor and also additional working days amount was released in advance for the poor[8]. Misinformation and fake news are serious hurdles to Right to information(legal right). To combat the menance of misinformation the state government notified Karnataka Epidemic Diseases, COVID 19 Regulations,2020 under which it prohibits people and institutions from spreading misinformation[9].

In the state of Andhra Pradesh the government has planned to distribute 16 crore masks for free to their 5.3 crore citizens[10] with the help of Self Help Groups through which women are making Rs 500 per day[11]. The government is also regularly supplying sanitizers to the citizens through Public Distribution System(Right to Health under Art 21).

The Supreme Court in the case of Chameli Singh vs State Of UP[12] observed that in an organized society right to live as human being is not insured by meeting animal need of man. It is secured when he is assured of all the facilities to develop himself and is free from restrictions which enable his growth.

Justice K.G. BalaKrishnan while delivering a lecture at National Seminar on the Human Right to Health said that, “The responsibility to protect, respect and fulfill the right to health lies not only with the medical profession but also with public functionaries such as administrators….”[13].

In this hour hardship the Indian states have showed the path for a balanced administration and the rich competition among the states in their fight against COVID-19 pandemic has shown the true spirit of Indian Federalism.


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/20/oil-prices-sink-to-20-year-low-as-un-sounds-alarm-on-to-covid-19-relief-fund

[2] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/indicators/imf-projects-indias-growth-rate-at-1-9-in-2020-forecasts-global-recession-due-to-covid-19/articleshow/75142792.cms

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/apr/20/us-protests-lockdown-coronavirus-cases-surge-warning

[4] https://www.indiatoday.in/technology/features/story/coronavirus-pandemic-aarogya-setu-app-can-help-in-contact-tracing-but-privacy-issues-need-to-be-addressed-1667604-2020-04-16

[5] https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/coronavirus-we-are-taking-care-that-nobody-in-the-state-goes-hungry-says-yogi-adityanath/article31366593.ece

[6] https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/covid-19-crisis-up-govt-to-provide-employment-to-500-000-migrants-120041900622_1.html

[7] http://www.newsonair.com/Main-News-Details.aspx?id=386011

[8] https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/karnataka/2020/mar/24/karnataka-government-announces-initiatives-for-poor-affected-by-coronavirus-lockdown-2121026.html

[9] https://karnataka.gov.in/storage/pdf-files/covid_rules/probhitionary_orders_circular.pdf

[10] https://www.deccanherald.com/national/south/andhra-pradesh-to-provide-each-of-its-53-crore-people-with-three-covid-19-masks-824456.html

[11] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/andhras-16-cr-masks-programme-helping-women-earn-rs-500-a-day/articleshow/75245482.cms

[12] AIR 1996 SC 1051.

[13] Address by Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Chief Justice of India, at “National Seminar on the Human Right to Health”, Organized by the Madhya Pradesh State Human Rights Commission at Bhopal, supremecourtofindia.nic.in/speeches/speech2008.htm

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