Q) “The deficiencies in the current laws showed the need for a comprehensive law to tackle epidemics. Is it true?” Elucidate the importance of protection of basic civil rights in the recent covid-19 posed lockdown.
Covid-19 pandemic has raised a number of challenges across the globe; practically in different spheres of administration, border crossings, health services, civic behaviour, technology’ diplomacy and so on. Country after country is struggling with the tough choice between saving lives vs saving livelihoods. In a large and diverse country such as India, the challenges are even more complicated, particularly when public health is not a central or even a concurrent subject but purely a state subject.
Importance of protection of basic civil rights amidst the present lockdown scenario:
- The post covid-19 world will not be same again.
- Further evidences show that due to increased climate change effects, epidemics and pandemics through various means like Zoonotic diseases is a reality.
- The lockdown, however, does not come without a fair share of problems of its own, the most pertinent is centered around the protection of basic civil rights in this lockdown.
- People at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid, especially migrant workers have been the worst hit by the lockdown.
- India, with its vast territory, large but extremely diverse population, and low literacy levels, poses a special kind of challenge to a government trying to develop a nationwide solution to tackle the epidemic.
- The reckless disregard to the lockdown by some people and the numerous instances of rumour mongering have been extremely problematic for the administration to maintain law and order across the country.
- This presents an extremely peculiar position where the government, on the one hand, has to ensure the basic civil rights of people, and on the other, has to curb the outbreak of the disease.
- Though it might be too early to call, but from the data available, one can easily deduce that countries which have opted for ‘slightly authoritarian measures’, like Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, despite their proximity to China have prevailed, while countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy either due to their lax or vacillated approach have succumbed to the virus.
- A cursory inference of this data easily invokes the dogma of whether “desperate times require desperate measures”, meaning whether and to what extent should the government impose restrictions on civil rights to curb the pandemic.
- In such testing times, where the entire scenario can be narrowed down to the equation of liberties vs lives, a hybrid approach that encompasses the spirit of both sides should be applied.
- Drawing the line in such cases, however, becomes an arduous task.
- This implies that while certain fundamental rights, such as the right to religion or the right to expression can be restricted, the restriction in all such cases shall be reasonable and open to judicial scrutiny.
- The recent case of T. Ganesh Kumar vs Union of India captures the essence of this quandary, where the Madras High Court rightly dismissed a petition that sought a ban on newspapers.
- The current law governing during epidemics is the colonial-era Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, which leaves much to be desired. The four-page long law is dotted with ambiguous and openended wording.
The best remedy to successfully tackle the current epidemic and prepare for the future lies in modifying or rather creating a comprehensive legislation that specializes in dealing with such cases.