At mercy of god: from a golden bird to a failed state

At mercy of god: from a golden bird to a failed state

At mercy of god: from a golden bird to a failed state

Abhinav Krishna
June 12, 2021

Jordan’s health minister, Nathir Obeidat, as a gesture of accountability and responsibility, resigned on 13th March 2021 after few patients suffering from Covid-19 lost their life due to oxygen deficiency at a local hospital. Accountability is the backbone of any democracy as it binds the government to inform its people of the policies of the government, especially in times of crisis. India has faced a huge oxygen crisis in the past few months as the medical infrastructure crumbled, just like the opposition’s fragile unity, due to the sharp rise in Covid-19 cases. To date, approximately 2.83 lakhs of people have died due to the Covid-19 disease and there’s no denying that half of them died due to the government’s inefficiency and lack of good governance. 

The government’s insufficiency in arranging the basic medical and healthcare facilities is a violation of people’s right to health and the right to life. Recently, the Delhi High Court has expressed strong resentment over the state’s inadequacy in providing oxygen and deaths due to oxygen shortage. It further said that incapacity in providing basic healthcare facilities to the citizens by the government, especially in a pandemic, is a violation of the citizen’s right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Judicial interpretations

It was in the case of Rakesh Chandra Narayan v State of Bihar (1988) when the jurisprudence around the right to health started developing in the Indian legal system. The apex court in this very case recognized a government’s obligation to provide for its people the basic medical and healthcare facilities. The right to health got its basis from the Directive Principles of State Policy contained in Part IV of the Constitution of India. 

Article 47, as a part of the Directive Principles of State Policy, states that “The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, the State shall endeavor to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of drugs which are injurious to health.”

In another leading case of Bandhua Mukti Morcha v Union of India & Others, the apex court stated that the right to live with human dignity, defined in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, derives its basis from the Directive Principles of State Policy which makes it mandatory to incorporate protection of health. The only difference with Directive Principles of State Policy is that they cannot be enforced by any court as mentioned in Article 37 of the Indian Constitution. 

With reference to the non-enforceability of the DPSP, the Supreme Court in the case of Akhil Bharatiya Soshit Karamchari Sangh v Union of India & Others held that although the Directive Principles of State Policy are non-enforceable, that does not imply that they are not of much importance in comparison to Fundamental Rights or are not binding on the state.

In yet another landmark case of Navtej Singh Johar v Union of India Ministry of Law and Justice which dealt with decriminalization of homosexual intercourse, the court observed that the court, under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, does not only have the power to impose negative obligations but also the positive obligations upon the state to take appropriate steps for dispensing sufficient healthcare facilities to ensure the fulfillment of the citizen’s right to health.

Also, Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, 1996 recognized the human right to health for the first time. India is also a party to it. Four preeminent steps were stated by the Covenant that should be applied by the parties to realize the enjoyment of the right to health effectively. The steps incorporated were prevention, treatment, epidemic control, assurance of essential medical services, and medical attention to sick people.

The election fiasco and the system nature of central government

From Bihar to West Bengal the priority of the government was inclined towards elections. By organizing political rallies on a mass scale without following necessary Covid-19 guidelines, the ministers and the Prime Minister reflected that controlling the pandemic wasn’t their main agenda. On 17th April 2021 when the daily cases in India surpassed more than two lakhs, the Indian Prime Minister was addressing a rally in West Bengal without following any Covid-19 guidelines, for the state assembly elections which they lost by a huge margin. The BJP requested the Election Commission to stick to its pre-decided schedule for conducting elections despite the sudden surge in the daily cases. Referring to the decisions made by the Election Commission regarding the Bengal elections, the Madras High Court said that the Election Commission is solely responsible for the sudden increase in the Covid-19 cases. The court further described the Election Commission as a ‘murderer’.

Chief Minister of one of the largest states in an attempt to defend his failed policies stated that there is no shortage of oxygen in the state while the state saw more than 200 covid patient’s dead bodies floating in the Ganga river. Also, the people asking for oxygen cylinders and Remdesivir on social media were being charged with the National Security Act for spreading rumors and their property was to be seized by the state. Also, with the deaths of almost 1600 teachers due to covid in the UP Panchayat Election duty, the state authorities should have been more cautious.

Every warning, every suggestion, and every solution falls on deaf ears. There should be no greater priority for a nation than to protect its citizens. India will remember that when dead bodies were clogging river Ganga, a new parliament ‘Central Vista’, worth Rs. 20,000 crore was being constructed in a sheer disregard to the crumbling health infrastructure in the country. Priorities have been made clear, and the nation will remember.

Abhinav Krishna is a first-year undergraduate student of law at Dr. B.R. Ambedkar National Law University. (The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Policy Observer or our members.)

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