Today, the country is facing an unprecedented crisis. Seeing our people
waiting in queues and dying while waiting for oxygen is very painful. The
Supreme Court has termed this crisis as one of 'national emergency'. Whether an
emergency be imposed in such crisis when people are dying consequential to the
shortage of oxygen?
The Constitution of India, 1950 provides for three types of emergencies:
- National Emergency
- Constitutional Emergency/President’s Rule
- Financial Emergency
National emergency can be declared on the basis of war, external aggression or
armed rebellion as per Article 352.
Constitutional Emergency/President's RuleArticle 356 empowers the President to issue a proclamation if he is satisfied
that a situation has arisen in which the government of a state cannot be carried
on in accordance with the provisions of the constitution.
Financial Emergency Article 360 empowers the president to proclaim a Financial Emergency if he is
satisfied that a situation has arisen due to which the financial stability or
credit of India or any part of its territory is threatened.
Considering the present situation, be it Delhi’s AAP led Government or NDA led
Central Government, the scarcity of oxygen and oxygen cylinders kept the
citizens on their toes. The Delhi High Court rebuked the Aam Aadmi Party
government on the distribution of medical oxygen supply and handling of the
coronavirus pandemic in the national Capital. The Central Government was also
criticized by the Constitutional Courts for failing to ensure sufficient oxygen
supply across the country. Several hundreds of patients succumbed as several
hospitals ran out of oxygen. This clearly shows how the coronavirus pandemic was
As far as right to life as enshrined under Article 21 is concerned, it is the
heart of all the Fundamental Rights. Any Fundamental Right can be brought into
operation or is meaningful only when the lives are saved. It should be available
to all and be exercisable by all at all the times everywhere. It is considered
as an inalienable facet of the basic human life.
The Fundamental Rights are
enforceable which implies that the State has the primary duty to uphold and
safeguard them. It further clarifies the very purpose of bringing States into
existence. State cannot evade from its duty of upholding ‘Right to Life’ by
simply blaming the system which otherwise is the State itself. No doubt it is
true that the citizens too have Fundamental Duties but it’s the State which has
the primary responsibility vis-à-vis Fundamental Rights.
It is also to be noted that not only the current Central Government but the
previous Governments had spent a very small proportion of their GDP. How can the
Government forget that protection of sanctity of ‘Right to life’ is it’s
foremost duty. Human life is impossible without ‘Right to Life’. Today, human
beings are running from pillar to post in search of oxygen in order to save
lives as its this oxygen without which this ‘Right to Life’ will be meaningless
as lack of oxygen even for few minutes will end human life.
Now, coming to the wide interpretations of this right as enshrined under Article
21 by the Supreme Court, it is crystal clear that human life doesn’t means a
bare animal existence but a dignified human life. The Right to live with dignity
includes adequate nutrition, clothing, shelter over the head with facilities of
reading, writing and to express one-self as held in variety of cases such as Maneka
Gandhi v. Union of India
(AIR 1978 SC 597), Francis Coralie v. Union
Territory of Delhi
(AIR 1981 SC 746) and Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India
(AIR 1984 SC 802). But, in present scenario, life itself is under danger, lest
Given no explicit recognition of the right to health or healthcare under the
Constitution, the Supreme Court of India in Bandhua Mukti Morcha v Union of
India & Ors(supra) interpreted the right to health under Article 21 which
guarantees the Right to Life
. In State of Punjab & Ors v Mohinder Singh
(AIR 1997 SC 1225), the Apex Court reaffirmed that the right to health is
fundamental to the Right to Life
and should be put on record that the
government had a constitutional obligation to provide health services. In State
of Punjab & Ors. v. Ram Lubhaya Bagga
(1998) 1 SCR 1120, the Court went on
to endorse the State’s responsibility to maintain health services.
In M.C. Mehta v. Union of India
(1991 SCR (1) 866), the Supreme Court
held that air pollution in Delhi caused by vehicular emissions violates the
right to life under Art. 21 and directed all commercial vehicles operating in
Delhi to switch to CNG fuel mode for safeguarding the health of the people. In
the Church of God (Full Gospel) in India v. KKR Majestic Colony Welfare
Association (AIR 2000 SC 2773), the Supreme Court observed that noise pollution
amounts to a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution.
In the landmark case, Vellore Citizens Welfare Forum v. Union of India
(AIR 1996 SC 2715), the Supreme Court allowed standing to a public-spirited
social organization for protecting the health of residents of Vellore. In this
case, the tanneries situated around the river Palar in Vellore (T.N.) were found
discharging toxic chemicals in the river, thereby jeopardising the health of the
citizens. The Court asked the tanneries to close their business.
Not restricting itself, the Supreme Court further held that right to sound sleep
falls within the ambit of ‘Right to Life’ in the case of Kharak Singh v. State
of Uttar Pradesh (AIR 1963 SC 1295). Economy! Economy! Economy! What would be
done with GDP when the life itself cannot be protected. A person is able to
sleep only when there’s life, but this right to sound sleep is also meaningless
when Right to Life
is explicitly violated.
The Supreme court in the case of Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka
1992 SC 1858) ruled that the right to education is a fundamental right that
flows from the ‘Right to Life’ in Article 21 of the Constitution. Even Right to
Reputation was also held to be a part of Right to Life
In the case of Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration
(AIR 1978 SC
1675), the Apex Court held that the fact that a person is legally in prison does
not prevent the use of Habeas Corpus to protect his other inherent rights. Also,
in Prem Shankar Shukla v. Delhi Administration
(AIR 1980 SC 1535), it was
held that no prisoner shall be hand-cuffed, fettered routinely for convince of
the custodian’s escort.
When Right to speedy trial has also been declared as an inseparable facet of
Article 21 in Hussainara Khatoon & Ors.v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar (1979
AIR SC 1369), then why can’t Right to speedy supply of oxygen
To my understanding, when we have reached so far so as to declare ‘Right to
electricity’ and ‘Right to pollution-free water’ as parts of Article 21, then
‘Right to oxygen’ ought to top the list. The importance of ‘Right to Life’ under
Article 21 can be understood from this fact that even during emergency, even
when India is at war, still this right can’t be taken away. Even when the
security of India is threatened, still this right is a non-derogable right.
Why we couldn’t made preparations for making ventilators, make-shift hospitals
and other medical equipment during the past year? No doubt, along with this
‘system’, we as citizens have also failed in upholding this right. At this
sensitive point of time, by criticizing each other won’t solve such problems. It
is the need of the hour for us to come together and fight this pandemic.
Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Anurag Agarwal
Authentication No: MA34191727312-29-0521