Constitutional Obligation of Citizens & Welfare State amid Corona Outbreak: Legal Analysis

By Deepika Sangwan and Gunsimran Sethi

The entire globe is walking through unchartered territory while containing the Covid19 pandemic but for a country like India with high population density, limited resources and illiteracy, the fight against the virus is certainly going to be more challenging and demanding. The country is going through the testing times where the cooperation between citizens and welfare state is needed more than ever. The huge umbrella of right to life comprising of right of health, livelihood, family, movement etc is under threat and needs some balancing actions on the part of state and its citizens. This article endeavours to remind the State as well as its citizenry of their constitutional obligation and to preserve the sanctity of this legal document that we Indians hold so dearly.

As per the social contract theory, individuals collectively surrendered some of their rights to an abstract identity called State; which in return, of the legitimisation, undertook to identify these individuals as citizens and protect their life, liberty and property. In modern polity, the essence of this abstract theory has been embodied in a concrete and more sophisticated form with the help of a legal document called Constitution.

During stable times, Constitution of India guarantees certain fundamental rights to the citizens with reasonable restrictions. Thus, no fundamental right is absolute. But, during emergency, article 19 is automatically suspended and other fundamental rights can be suspended via Presidential order except articles 20 and 21. In the light of present situation caused by corona outbreak, no emergency has been declared under the constitution but the situation is indeed critical.

The outbreak of COVID-19 can squarely be called as disaster and thus, resort has been taken to the National Disaster Management Act, 2005 to enforce necessary provisions for effective lockdown. In such critical time, with no transport, livelihood, education and work, people have no complaints in surrendering their cherished rights. However, with more restrictions and less rights to citizens, the obligation imposed upon the welfare State by the Indian Constitution becomes more imperative and if compromised to any extent, will surely prove fatal.

The present lockdown has brought various hardships for each section of the society. But, those who are already battling with the virus of abject poverty become altogether vulnerable. Daily wagers, factory workers, house helps and migrant workers need special protection in order to secure their right to life. Article 43 provides that State shall endeavour to secure living wage and decent standard of life to all workers, agricultural, industrial or otherwise. Amid pan India lockdown and no work left for workers, it becomes crucial for the state to arrange pension or other suitable relief for those in need.

Covid19 outbreak can be termed as an internal disturbance also. As per article 355, Union is duty bound to protect every State against internal disturbance and article 256 obligates every State to ensure compliance with the laws made by the Parliament. Under concurrent list, laws can be imposed for prevention of spreading of infectious or contagious disease from one State to another. Under union list, centre can regulate inter-State migration and inter-State quarantine. Public health, sanitation, hospitals and dispensaries forms the subject matter of State list and thus makes the role of State government pivotal. Thus, the effective inter- State coordination as well as coordination between Union and States government becomes vital.

In some States, schools are being turned into night shelters for the stranded migrant labourers and those who have been commuted to their home States are being quarantined after screening. Arrangements are being made but feeble health infrastructure, large population, lack of resources in States, become a major barrier in implementation of required guidelines. Constant guidelines and relief is being directed against the crises by Centre as well as State governments. Some advisory guidelines have also been issued by the RBI to all commercial and subsidiary banks to provide some relaxation in order to make relief more substantial.

Efficient legal remedy is an essential facet of right to life. Thousands of litigants are expected to wait for the requisite justice under the law of necessity. Agony of the under trials who are languishing in jails is beyond measures. Required relaxation under law of limitation has been granted and other necessary provisions have also been made. No doubt, administration is doing everything to minimise the damage but it is the high time when we realise that upgradation of legal infrastructure shall also be a priority with changing times. 

Fight against the pandemic is not the sole responsibility of the State but also of its citizen. Article 51A casts a duty on each citizen to defend the country and render national service when called to do so. Following the lockdown guidelines and respecting the required protocols, is no less than a national service. It also obligates the citizen to promote harmony and the spirit of brotherhood. Developing scientific temper, humanism, spirit of inquiry and reform are some of the constitutional duties that need to be emphasised more than ever.

Humanism and spirit of brotherhood demands solidarity and lending a helping hand to the needful. Employers are expected not to deduct salary of their workers, landlord to delay the receipt of rent from the tenant, students to not compromise with their studies.

Spirit of inquiry and reform can prevent unnecessary panic and disorder due to fake   news. Fear while cremating a covid19 deceased can be minimised by taking necessary precautions and required knowledge about do’s and don’ts. Reforms can be brought up by resorting to proper hygiene standards. 

When cases of violating lockdown norms, section 144, Covid19 patients and the stereotype around them, xenophobia, running away from quarantine stations, wilfully misrepresenting health status, hoarding, black marketing and spreading of fake news come, it is not a failure on the part of governing body but a failure on the part of citizenry of not doing their share of work. There are several of legal sanctions available to punish the violators. But, it’s a high time when citizenry takes responsibility in their own hands and aids the administration to fight the battle rather than catalyst of trouble.

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