THE LOCKDOWN MUST NOT UNDERMINE THE RIGHTS OF THE CITIZENS

The COVID-19 crisis has suspended the world. It has left everyone scared and many bereaved. It
has damaged economies, weakened health systems, and hampered progress towards all the
Sustainable Development Goals. It has hit the most vulnerable the hardest. Worldwide,
decision-makers have found themselves in hugely challenging situations, under-prepared and
under-resourced, and have had the responsibility to move fast on the basis of uncertain
information. Many exemplary actions have been taken, saving lives and protecting livelihoods as
governments have worked with communities to provide free emergency medical transport,
extend water supplies or cash benefits, implement community delivery or multi-month
dispensing of medicines, institute prisoner release programmes to reduce overcrowding and
lessen pandemic risk, and spend millions to mitigate lost wages. Ensuring an effective response
to this unfolding crisis, however, will also require learning from what has not gone right.

On the midnight of March 24, 2020, the Union government invoked the National Disaster Management Act (NDMA) to impose a nationwide “lockdown” in the struggle against the coronavirus pandemic. The lockdown entailed closure of establishments excluding the essential services and recommendations were given about social distancing. The state governments have invoked the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897, to impose restrictions on the movement of the people.

The lockdown has already disproportionately hurt marginalized communities due to loss of
livelihood and lack of food, shelter, health, and other basic needs. The government does have a
responsibility to protect the health and well-being of the population, but some of these steps have left tens and thousands of out-of-work migrant workers stranded, with rail and bus services shut down. The blanket closing of state borders have caused disruption in the supply of essential
goods, leading to inflation and fear of shortages.

The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown crisis have had an untold impact on migrant labourers
and informal workers and highlighted the lack of compassion from the Union government and its
overall laxity in providing relief to the poor. Few months back, a dozen of workers were crushed
under a goods train in Aurangabad, and the Uttar Pradesh Government brought an ordinance
rescinding almost all the rights of labour.


The pandemic has created a socio-economic condition fortuitous for regimes ready to crop
hard-earned rights of workers and the vulnerable. This ruthless attack on democratic and
constitutional rights is ominous. It is the beginning of an economic emergency, of which there
may be many interpretations. But what emerges clearly is the regression to the days when the
Bastille was formed, where worker’s rights are concerned.


The first lockdown came all of a sudden with any prior information and the Government of India
failed to organize anything for the labor migrants who have come far away from home to work
in different states. Migrant workers are the most affected section. Most of them are daily wage
workers, who cannot arrange food even for the next day; today they are denied shelter also. They are forced to move their hometowns, hungry and without any public transport. This jeopardizes their right to shelter.

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However, in the Prime Minister’s fourth address to the nation he organized schemes such as
“One Nation, One Ration” for providing shelter to these migrant workers under PM Awaas
Yojana.

The South Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, Minakshi Ganguly said that, “The Indian
government is facing an extraordinary challenge to protect over a billion densely packed people,
but ramped-up efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in India need to include rights
protections”.

On March 26, the central government announced a relief package of 1.7 trillion rupees (US$22.5
billion) to provide free food and cash transfers to the poor and vulnerable populations, and health insurance for healthcare workers, among other things. The government should ensure that those at heightened risk, including sanitation workers (Safai karamcharis), community health staff (ASHA workers), early childhood caregivers (anganwadi workers), and people such as midday meal workers – often poorly paid public service officials – who are at the front lines during this crisis, are provided protective equipment, medical benefits, and timely wages.

With more than 80 percent of India’s workforce employed in the informal sector, and one-third
working as casual labourers, it is crucial that the authorities make use of maximum available
resources to ensure the delivery of services. The government should take urgent steps to get
stranded migrant workers to safety. State governments across the country should immediately set up shelters and community kitchens for those in need, taking measures to ensure social
distancing.


The spread of COVID-19 has mostly affected the fundamental right of Right to Health and is still
continuous creating danger especially to the people who are being kept in quarantine centers.
One of the disturbing results of this lockdown is people who are in need of regular medical
check-ups such as cancer patients are not able to go to hospital which violates their right to
health. Although, the government is trying to provide medical help to every needy but it is very
difficult in this time of pandemic.

The Supreme Court in many judgements have said that the right to life under the Constitution is
not limited to a “bare animal existence”, but also includes the right to a dignified livelihood.
There can be little doubt that an imposed curfew adversely affects the livelihoods of vast
numbers of people, especially daily-wage workers. Indeed, the distress suffered by this class has
already been visible in reports from across the country. Consequently, it is the obligation of the
State authorities to mitigate the effects of the lockdown.

During this period, many people don’t have access to food which violates their Right to Food.
India already legs behind in terms of food and nourishment and due to this lockdown there is a
shortage of food delivery. Although the Central Government and the State Government is trying
their best so that no one sleeps without having food.

Right to Assemble is a fundamental right but there is restriction on this during the time of
pandemic. States like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have suspended their labor
laws, which is directly violating the rights of the labor forces. This is in violation of their
fundamental right.

From the last 8 months the schools and the colleges are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic,
the schools and colleges are providing them online study material but not everyone has the
capacity to afford internet and smartphones which is in violation of Right to Education.
Under the constitution, it is during the period of emergency that the niceties of separation of
powers between the three wings of government, as well as the division of powers between the

Centre and the states are legally permitted to be blurred. The constitution, upon promulgation of
emergency, permits the Centre not only to give executive directions to the states but also to the
legislature in matters such as public health, law and order and police, which are otherwise state
subjects with only a limited role for the Centre.

While indisputably the ‘coronavirus pandemic’ would qualify as a situation of ‘internal
disturbance’, it certainly cannot be covered by any of the three existing grounds in Article 352
which would permit the Central government to declare an emergency, suspend fundamental
rights, including Article 19 which protects the basic freedoms of citizens, and control the
executive and legislative functions of the states.

The imposition of a nationwide lockdown, raises a number of questions especially regarding the
fundamental rights of the citizens. Although, these rights are available to every individual
without any grounds of discrimination. Most of the people are able to work from home but in a
recent study it came into the light that the ability of a person is linked from his/her
socio-economic class.

Although the social distancing measures implemented by the Government of India were partly
effective in preventing the spread of the disease, large sections of the population have been
adversely affected in the process. Many have been rendered homeless and left stranded in the
cities, and the economy has also taken a setback. People who avoided COVID-19, in many
instances, succumbed to starvation and the indignity of begging. Ethical implementation of these
measures could have made them more effective. Furthermore, social distancing measures have
only bought time. COVID-19 is here to stay. An important issue to consider is whether at the end
of the lockdown period, our healthcare system will be able to bear the onslaught of COVID-19
victims.

In the last, I would like to conclude that it was rightly said by our Hon’ble Prime Minister that if
you have life, you have the world. To remain safe and uninfected the government is trying their
best to control the deadly coronavirus. But in this unprecedented crisis, the vulnerability of our
fundamental rights are exposed and also imposes a great challenge on the Government to
guarantee the rights of the citizens enshrined in the Constitution.

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

Do follow me on FacebookTwitter  Youtube and Instagram.

The copyright of this Article belongs exclusively to Ms. Aishwarya Sandeep. Reproduction of the same, without permission will amount to Copyright Infringement. Appropriate Legal Action under the Indian Laws will be taken.

If you would also like to contribute to my website, then do share your articles or poems at adv.aishwaryasandeep@gmail.com

We also have a Facebook Group Restarter Moms for Mothers or Women who would like to rejoin their careers post a career break or women who are enterpreneurs.

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