The Indian Constitution guarantees basic rights to all the citizens of the country irrespective of their caste, race, birthplace, religion, or gender. These basic rights are known as Fundamental Rights. One such Fundamental Right is Right to Freedom which is mentioned under Article 19 to 22 of the Constitution of India. But due to the recent outbreak of a pandemic, there is a significant impact on a spectrum of Fundamental Rights of the people. To save the country from Covid-19, the government has to put some restrictions on the Fundamental Rights which are guaranteed by the Constitution. So here arises the conflict between the Fundamental Rights of the citizens and the safety of citizens as discussed under this piece.
Keywords: Fundamental Rights, Covid-19, Restrictions, Safety of citizens.
Fundamental Rights are essential and important to each and every citizen of India. These rights are essential for the overall development of the individual hence they are called ‘Fundamental Rights’. These Rights are enshrined in part III of the Constitution of India. The Covid-19 Pandemic had a significant impact on the Fundamental Rights of the people. As the virus continues to spread across the world, the Government has decided to act by taking drastic preventative measures to contain the pandemic. These measures are challenging several fundamental rights, such as the right to health, right to free movement, Right to life, Right to food, etc. Nonetheless,these restrictions are not without any legitimate grounds.
Perspective under Indian Scenario
India is an underdeveloped country having about 18% of its population living below poverty line (BPL). The fall out Covid-19 Pandemic has been the massive unemployment. The pandemic had a life changing impact on people around the world.
It has already has been discussed above that due to the pandemic and to contain the spread of it, the government has decided to frame some rules and measures that challenge certain Fundamental Rights of the people. Some of these Rights which have a great impact due to the Covid-19 are Freedom of movement [Art.19(d)], Freedom of assembly [Art. 19(b)], Right of life (Art.21),etc. These Rights are not absolute in nature. Absolute individual rights cannot be guaranteed by any modern state. If people were given complete and absolute liberty without any social control the result would be ruined. Liberty has got to be limited in order to be effectively possessed. State has a power to impose by law reasonable restrictions as may be necessary in the larger interest of community. The restrictions on these freedoms are provided in clause 2 to 6 of Article 19 of the constitution. So the restrictions imposed by the government was not without any legitimate ground as it was necessary to put restrictions in the interest of general public.
Critical Analysis- Right of Life (Art.21)
Article 21 of the Constitution not only includes Right to Life and Personal Liberty but has a much wider scope which includes the right to livelihood,shelter,health,pollution- free environment, etc. It is the only article in the Constitution which has received the widest possible interpretation. Right to Life under this Article includes all the basic necessities like food, shelter, etc. which are essential and unavoidable to a person.
In the case of Chameli Singh v. State of U.P., [(1996) 2 SCC 549].
Court held that the right to shelter is a fundamental right under Article-21 of the Constitution. In any organised society, the right to live as a human being is not ensured by meeting only the animal needs of man. It is secured only when he is assured all the facilities to benefit himself. It is right of a human being to have all the basic necessities which will benefit him likehe has right to food, right to shelter, right to water, etc. and the state is under the duty to make sure that no one is deprived of these rights.
But the above right has also been significantly affected due to the pandemic. The sudden shutdown of businesses has upended the lives of millions of migrant laborers in Indian cities. Lockdown in India has impacted millions of migrant’s workers. Lack of food and basic amenities, loss of employment, fear of unknown and lack of social support were major reasons for struggle in this huge part of population. Due to the shutdown of transport facilities throughout the country, migrant workers were forced to walk hundreds of kilometers to reach their homes. Many issues like transport facilities, quality of food served, not being able to cross the borders etc. had raised by the workers but the government was failed to address all these issues. Government was also failed to fulfill the basic requirements of food, shelter, medical assistance, etc. of all the migrant workers. The government has violated their rights by not taking sufficient measures to fulfill the basic requirement of the migrant workers. There were no proper steps taken by the government to face this situation. The prior measures should have been taken by the government to face this challenge. The government should have deliberated and decided upon measures for migrant workers prior to such lockdown policy. They should have come up with some strategy before implementing the lockdown throughout the country.
Other rights which have been affected
Apart from Right to Life (Art.21), other Fundamental Rights like Freedom of assembly (Art.19 cl.b), Freedom of movement (Art.19 cl.d), etc. have also been affected. Before Covid-19 every citizen had the right to move freely throughout the territory of India. But to restrict the spread of virus the government had put a restriction on the movement of the citizen within the country. People are not even allowed to travel from one state to another. Similarly, there was also a restriction on the Right of Assembly which includes the right to hold meetings and to take out processions.
Conclusion and Suggestions
No one can try to violate the Fundamental Rights provided by the Constitution.Even the government cannot abridge any Fundamental Right and cannot put any restriction which is not provided by law. Fundamental Rights are not absolute in nature, they always carry some sought of reasonable restriction with them. So in the interest of the public, the government has full authority to put some restrictions on these rights. So in the case of pandemic government can put restrictions on the Fundamental Rights if it is in the interest of the public. But this does not mean that there is no responsibility left on the shoulders of the government. The government should try to maintain a balance between these Rights and the Safety of the citizens. To secure the rights and to prevent them and their families from hunger and starvation the government can support the workers by supplying free food until the normalcy is restored. The government should come up with more effective schemes which will also support the workers financially.
In this current situation, the government cannot assure all the Fundamental Rights without restrictions but it can assure and help the citizen to secure all the basic necessities of life which are unavoidable to a person.
Sylvine,Substantive Rights That Flow From Article 21, https://blog.ipleaders.in/substantive-rights-flow-article-21/#:~:text=Right%20to%20Personal%20Liberty,-The%20expression%20%E2%80%9Cpersonal&text=It%20does%20not%20merely%20mean,means%20much%20more%20than%20that. (Last Visited July 15, 2020 1:54 AM)
Chitranjali Negi Advocate, Human Rights Violations of Migrants Workers in India During COVID-19 Pandemic, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3629773, (Last Visited July 18, 2020 12:48 AM)