The public health challenge confronting novel Covid-19 has triggered a massive
and widespread humanitarian crisis in the country. It's been 125 days that
Covid-19 first hit Wuhan and today no country seems to be left unaffected by
this deadly virus. In reference to India, from a constitutional perspective, the
response to Covid-19 has affected or to some extent abrogated basic fundamental
rights guaranteed by the constitution of India.
These rights are basic minimum for thriving life with dignity and integrity. But
due to an unprecedented attack of virus, vulnerability of these rights has been
exposed. With the expanding horizons of right to life, the fundamental rights
that are affected by Covid-19 are right to health, shelter, food, dignity,
speedy trial. Right to trade, form assembly, movement, religion and education
are also impaired. Covid-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges to these
Uncertainties in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic outbreak have the most
obvious and immediate effect on the Right to health. What sets the current
crisis apart is that Public health is not only hit by novel coronavirus but is
also in danger due to the immediate effect of quarantine life. One of the
disconcerting outcomes of the lockdown life is that people are not able to
resort to the doctors in the regular course of their life which jeopardizes
their Right to Health. What concerns here is that people suffering from diseases
like cancer and tuberculosis had to discontinue their sessions. Indeed,
Coronavirus has led to complexities in building a society less vulnerable to
disease and devastation.
Migrant workers are the most affected and vulnerable community, constantly
bearing inhumane wrath of Covid-19. Miseries and distress of migrant workers
worsened by Covid-19, compelled them to abandon their place of abode and leave
for their hometown, rupturing their right to shelter. The catastrophic impact of
Covid-19 does not stop here. Due to the reasonable restriction imposed on the
right to movement within the country during the lockdown, these migrant workers
in absence of paid work, had become inept in meeting necessary expenses of
accommodation. The situation obligated them to walk miles, hungry and thirsty to
reach their places. The recent accident of Aurangabad railways whereby 15
migrant workers were ran over by the goods train highlights the vulnerable
attribute of non execution of right to shelter. It also affects their Right to
Statistically, India is already lagging in terms of nutrition and nourishment.
Right to food is another fundamental right grossly affected by the pandemic. Its
barbaric and non-discriminatory attack on people of the country has exacerbated
the situation of malnutrition and deficiency of food. Imposition of lockdown
prevents timely availability of food to the needy, thereby depriving them of
food and compelling poor sections to beseech. However, the Central and the State
governments have collaborated with each other to prevent the situation of
Famine. The Non Profit organizations are also intermittently working within
their capabilities to ensure that no person sleeps empty stomach.
Following the closure of all education institutions, the right to education has
also been affected severely. There is a momentary loss of learning and
developmental opportunities for millions of children across the country. Webinar
as an alternative has become a powerful tool to deal with the situation.
However, the implications of the lockdown are leading to disparity in imparting
education through webinar whereby the marginalized children are at greater risks
due to their non access to the internet and non availability of smartphones or
Covid-19 crises imposed wholesale restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly
and association. Right to assemble peacefully is a fundamental pre-requisite for
any open and self governing society. To incentivize economic activities, the
State of Uttar Pradesh, Gujrat and Madhya Pradesh suspended operation of Labor
These labor laws provide potent weapons in the hands of the labor class to
demonstrate their grievances by protesting under the garb of the trade union.
However, with suspension of labor laws, trade unions are no more in existence.
Owing to pandemic, their right to peaceful protest which forms an essential
attribute of right to freedom of speech and expression and right to assemble
will also be hampered and eventually, labor grievances will go unredressed. In
addition to that, guidelines issued to maintain social distancing by the
government allowing not more than 50 people at wedding and not more than 20
people in the last rites of deceased persons. Thus, restrictions on peaceful
gatherings in order to tame Covid-19 affects the very freedom to assemble.
One of the important legal issues all through the lockdown is Fundamental right
to religion enshrined in the Constitution of India. All forms of social
gatherings are forbidden including restrictions on religious gatherings in
temples, churches and mosques leading to infringement of the right. Expedition
to holy places such hajj to Mecca Medina and yatra to Amarnath and kailash
Mansarovar are also forbidden. However, such restrictions are reasonable as the
right is not absolute and subject to Public order, morality and health and to
other provisions of Part III of the Constitution.
Right to Speedy trial is another fundamental right guaranteed by the
Constitution of India which is a foundational norm to realize justice within
time. However, our response to Covid-19 has put this right under imminent threat
as justice delayed is justice denied. Due to Covid-19, courts are not working
with full efficiency resulting in piling of pending cases and thereby increasing
burden upon already overburdened courts.
However, hon'ble Supreme Court and different High Courts of India have adopted
Video conferencing to hear the petition but this facility has been restricted to
the cases of urgent nature. Similarly, the district courts are also taking up
only urgent matters during the lockdown. Therefore, the need of the hour would
be to bring about appropriate changes and modifications in judicial mechanism to
ensure speedy trial at every level in the hierarchy of courts with the
combination of knowledge and digitalization i.e., artificial intelligence.
The economic cost of shutting down the entire nation under lockdown is going to
be steep. The right to trade is one more fundamental right which is not in force
during lockdown. As estimated by IMF, the aggressive lockdown imposed in order
to inhibit the impact of pandemic could bring the country's growth down to 1.9%
from 4.8% as it had earlier estimated.
While the country is facing an unprecedented crisis, the public health emergency
requires the response with saving lives at its priority. Under these exceptional
circumstances, there's no other way out but to take up extraordinary measures
such as extensive lockdown in the country whereby it becomes significant to
restrict the basic fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution and deduced
by judicial activism, to mitigate the unintended consequences of pandemic. Truth
we are experiencing today is way more startling than a fiction. The fundamental
rights are the basic human rights, the existence of which is only confirmed by
The Supreme Court accords them protection to do good to the people of India.
However, the public health crisis caused by the pandemic is turning into an
economic and social crisis with fundamental rights crisis rolled into one. As
the going gets tougher, everyone will need to hold onto a silver lining. When
the pandemic is over and the Corona virus is tamed, lessons from this human
crisis will be learned for a peaceful and more inclusive future, anticipating
the basic fundamental rights will be addressed.