LEGAL ISSUES IN A PANDEMIC

Abhiremya Raj R B

CSI Institute of Legal Studies, Parassala

INTRODUCTION 

Health is wealth but wealth stands with the people if people are healthy then public will be wealthy enough” 

 By late 2019,there was an unfamiliar outbreak known by the name “CORONA VIRUS” short named as COVID 19 and abbreviated to ‘CO’ stands for Corona, ‘VI’ stands for virus and as it was occurred in 2019 it is shown 19 . It is a respiratory disease which can even affect the whole body vulnerably and it has the ability to spread from one person to another by physical contact or any way of other contacts so that on January 2020 , World Health Organization had called a Public Health Emergency to control and prevent it’s spread . It was first found in Wuhan, China and said to be a manmade virus better known by the name bioweapon. Weapon is one which can exploit a person or a locality and give pain and fear simultaneously the same effect was carried out by this virus. Then on March 11 2020 World Health Organization called it as ‘Pandemic’. The spread of the virus is controlled by Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) through internationally. Now it came into a huge and most lengthiest predicament of every person in the world. When we think about our past lifestyle, it is now a dream to wake up1. By late February our country was also faced by this crisis and further led to nationwide lockdown and many other strict regulations. As a result of that, upto an extend we can control it’s spread and prevent it’s huge outbreak. 

SCOPE OF THE STUDY 

 The scope and object of this project is to study the challenges faced by the Judiciary during pandemic and also to detail to privacy issues with regard to contact tracing application like Jagrithi ,disha ,arogya setu etc .To examine the effectiveness of biomedical waste management system and to determine curtailment of rights guaranteed under Article 19 and 21 with reference to right to health under Article 21 of the Constitution also to look into the adequacy of Epidemic Disease Act 1897 and Disaster Management Act 2005 and other laws in favor of pandemic control, prevention and regulations. Impacts on various sectors of economy due to the Covid 19 outbreak have to be noted. Role of judiciary and changes in Judicial system over the past year have to be studied in this article. 

OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY 

  • To go in detail to the present issues on pandemic . 
  • To give an awareness to the public about the available legislations on Pandemic.
  • To know about the impacts and effects of Pandemic on common people. 
  • To maintain the precautions on prevention of spread of virus.

MAJOR ISSUES AROSE 

  • Contact tracing application like Arogya Setu affects right of privacy of individuals.
  • The Epidemic Disease Act and other laws are not sufficient to solve the problems faced by the people during Pandemic. 
  • Article 19 is curtailed event though there is reasonable restriction under article 19(2).
  • Right to life and privacy guaranteed under Article 21 is not at all protected and leads to be misused in certain ways.

FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND THE PANDEMIC 

Constitution being a fundamental Law of land and it is dealt with some of the provisions which can be used at the time of pandemic and provides with one fundamental right also. The lockdown ordered during the covid-19 pandemic-imposed restrictions upon the fundamental rights of individuals. Freedom of movement, freedom to carry out one’s profession, trade or occupation of choice and freedom to reside anywhere in India under Article 19 of Indian constitution was curtailed during the pandemic.2 

Right to Speedy Trial

 Speedy trial confers under Article 21 of part III of the Constitution and Article 39A of part IV of the Constitution is violated by the declaration of lockdown and pandemic. Many lost their justice as ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. 

Right to Education

 Right to education under Article 21A of part III was being violation upto an extend and then switched to online education style which laundered many students of different states in India by the reason of illiteracy and economic backwardness. 

Right to Assembly

 Article 19(1) (b) guaranteed right to assembly and to form association, which was curtailed at the time of lockdown the number of persons assembled reduced to 20 to 50 in public occasions, marriage ceremonies and funeral services etc. 

Right to Religion

 Religious rights of every individual was curtailed which was conferred by Article 25 to 28 of part III of the Constitution, the temples, churches, mosque, mutt etc. was closed as a result of this pandemic. 

Freedom of Movement

 Article 19(1) (d) provides for freedom of movement but the lockdown and it’s regulations curtailed the right of movement and Prime Minister ordered to stay in the home at the period of lockdown. 

Freedom of Speech and Expression

Part III of the Constitution guarantees six freedoms includes freedom of speech and expression, but this was curtailed upto a great extend in the case of media, social medias and government. In Shreya Singhal v. Union of India3, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that Article 19(1) (a) would remain the same and it was unaffected by any other provisions other than reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2). 

Right to Equality

 Article 14 guarantees right to equality and equal protection of law, but it was violated and many among us was faced inequalities in different forms, actually it was for the welfare of the nation but it led to various other issues of inequality. 

Freedom of Press

 Article 19 (1) (a) ensures freedom of press but it was curtailed of the reason of privacy and surveillance and more cases were emerged as a result of this. In the case Ramesh Thoppar v. State of Madras4, it was held that right to press includes right to privacy in all means . The same judgement was brought also in the case Brij Bhushan and Virendra v.State of Punjab5

Right to Livelihood

 Article 21 confers right to livelihood also and in pandemic times many people were faced poverty and unemployment, the migrant workers were trapped due to the regulations imposed. 

Right to Health

 Article 21 ensures right to health also, it was curtailed due to the lack of hospital services and lack of sufficient health services, which was formulated in different cases by Supreme Court. 

Freedom of Trade and Occupation

 Article 19(1) (g) confers freedom of trade and occupation and it was violated by the full closure of shops and outlets except of necessary grocery and food outlets. 

Right to Privacy

 Article 21 , right to life and personal liberty includes right to privacy, privacy being a foremost element in every individual’s life as it acts as the pillar of liberty. Everyone have their own private space in their life, to break that privacy means his rights are curtailed in a vague manner. During the period of lockdown and pandemic especially the patients affected with Covid 19 and the persons in their contact list suffered the breach of privacy in the areas of their daily life route map and also by the contact tracing applications such as Arogyasetu and disha, these surveillance issues resulted in the growth of legislations on surveillance and in Puttaswamy v. Union of India6, Hon’ble Supreme Court held that right to privacy is included in the fundamental rights under article 21 and data protection by authorities shall follow certain three fold conditions such as : the need of data must be pursuant to law, the data should be kept confidential, the need of data is adequate to the problem.  Later in 2020 Kerala Sprinkler case7, Kerala High Court stressed the term data protection and privacy and ensures the right under Article 21 and enumerated that the data collected from the citizens should be with their consent and confirmation, if the person is not willing to give consent it should not be obtained as it curtailed his personal liberty. This judgement faced a lot of criticisms so that the Government back up from the deal of Sprinkler. Like these in earlier day many cases were found as in A k Gopalan v. Union of India8, Rajagopal and another’s v. State of Tamilnadu9. These cases sought as landmark cases and decisions were quite effective in present era also. 

By this Puttaswamy case in 2017 , there had been a lot f discussions based on the topic data protection but it is most talked at n the time of Pandemic. For that General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 (PDP Bill 2019) were passed. There is some difference in these two in GDPR it does not include 

  • Non personal and anomalous information. 
  • Financial data 
  • Critical personal data, ( critical personal data means those data declared as critical by Central Government. 

But in case of PDP Bill 2019 it includes sensitive personal data (sensitive personal data includes financial data, sexually oriented data, sexual life, common livelihood etc.), should be collected only with the consent of the concerned individual. Like that we can avoid many unfair situations today. Data protection includes data privacy also if a person is affected with Covid 19 then by using contact tracing applications we can find the route map of his past weeks, but it will also broke the mental health of that person, so it accelerates the hormones thereby induce many other heath issues to him. This makes corona virus vulnerable. The isolation, panic disorders and all make the person more sensitive to diseases . So data protection needs to be held a vital role during the Pandemic. 

PANDEMIC LAWS IN COMPARISON WITH OTHER LAWS 

As we know there were various Legislations existing in India, and least are pointing to Pandemic Legislations. Some of them relating to pandemic laws are ; 

The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897(EDA, 1897) 

 This was enacted by the Central Government at the time of spread of ‘bubonic plague’ in erstwhile Bombay, but this Act did not provide much more provisions on epidemic spread and did not mention the definition of ‘dangerous epidemic diseases. So that it came to a bit failure from the part of Legislature. Section of this EDA 1897 deals with the authority to inspect and segregate the patients affected with the disease. There comes the shortcomings of the Act in present situation on ‘isolation’ or ‘quarantine ‘(section 3 of EDA 1897), these terms were not included in the Act, but the punishment for disobedience on regulations and others and is included under section 188 of Indian Penal Code 1908. So, Central Government passed The Epidemic Diseases Amendment Bill 2020 , which is temporarily applicable to the health workers as they have to face an imminent danger in the future. It is also not a suitable remedy to the Pandemic problems in India. The Public Health (Prevention and Management of Epidemic, Bioterrorism and . Disasters) Bill 2017 replaced EDA and some of its discrepancies. 

Disaster Management Act, 2005(DM Act 2005) 

 Central Government by notification in the Official Gazette enacted Disaster Management Act 2005( DMA, 2005), in order to cope with the disasters occurred in India at that time. Now as per section 6(2) (i) of the Act, The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) instructed national lockdown and was ordered on 24/03/2020, which ensures social distancing to prevent the spread of Covid 19 and the Tele Medicine Practice Guidelines also prefer to social distancing due to the spread of corona virus. This Act provides the regulations on quarantine and isolation and punishment for disobedience is given under section 269,270 and 271 of Indian Penal Code. This Act have a limited applicability on present issues of Pandemic 

but states certain reliefs and remedies to prevent the spread. Guidelines on Management of Biological Disasters, 2008 confers power to Central Government on making rules on biological disasters. 

Criminal Procedure Code, 1973(Cr.PC 1973) 

During the mid of lockdown section 144 had its essence on people and it avoids overcrowdings and assembling of 3 or 4 persons together, the power was conferred to public by District Collector also. 

Indian Penal Code, 1860

 Code provides the punishment for disobedience of quarantine rules or isolation rules under section 188 . Violation of section 188 shall lead to an imprisonment for a term which may extends to 1 month and a fine of ₹200 or with both. If this violation leads to any danger to the human life, health and safety , then the term of imprisonment may extend to 6 months and a fine of ₹1000 or with both. 

Bankig Regulation Act, 1949 

 During the mid of September 2020,Central Finance Minister had declared certain amendments on the Act on section 3 and section 56,as it includes the improvements of co- operative banks by including them in the category of commercial banks due to their grave increase in Non performing assets from 7.92 to 10 percent. Another amendment included in Banking Regulation (Amendment Bill) 2020,includes moratorium facility given to the banks of all public sectors. 

Biomedical Waste Mangement Rules, 2016 

 The rules regarding the dumbing of biomedical wastes and impacts on environment is clearly stated in the rules. Various amendments were held during the years of 2017,2018,2019 and recently on 2020 , based on the Covid 19 disease. The sanitation, hygiene, medical and pharmaceutical products and their disposal during quarantine and isolation periods of corona patients. The procedures and methods of disposal are clearly stated in the rules. It has a great relevancy during these times10

These are the main rules and regulations regarding the pandemic laws and it’s amendment.

IMPACTS ON ECONOMY AND VARIOUS SECTORS 

This pandemic created various impacts on different sectors of economy. Some of the impacts are:

Impact on judiciary 

Judicial system had changed to some extend and the number of pending cases arose. In order to avoid such increasing numbers, Judiciary heard the cases by online platforms, and it relieved the

parties and judicial officers to get down their overburden. Some landmark decisions had pointed out during these times and those decisions paved way to the concept of equality and secularism in the Nation itself. 

Impact on economic growth 

Economic growth during the past 2020 financial year was a decline. As it is due to the lockdown, many were faced unemployed, the share market tends to a lower graph, money supply had reduced, foreign exchange and investments get surrendered, money market were faced great decline, interest rates in banks both public and private sector had reduced due to Banking Amendment Bill 2020.The consequence of all these was the decline of Gross Domestic Product, GDP decreased in a low magnitude during the past year.

Impact on taxing sector 

Taxing sector had faced discrepancies due to the delay dates of filing returns. The tax is one of the important source of income for Government and a retardation of such income created more problems in money circulation. ITCR had temporarily stopped their proceedings from February 2021 and passed the pending cases to interim commissions due to the decline in growth due to pandemic. 

Impact on workers on public and private sectors, agriculture and labors. 

Unemployment and reduction in wages and salaries created poverty in many families. Central Government and State Governments had implemented various programs on poverty eradication by offering free food kits to all families and all, but still unemployment is a major problem. Government employees were somewhat safe by getting their half proportion of salary during the period of pandemic, but labors and private employees were suffering al lot. In the case of agriculture itself as there was not much imports and exports their income and livelihood also ceased. 

Impact on foreign trade and investment 

Foreign trade had retarded it’s growth due to the unavailability of flights and lockdown which restricts the international trade and commerce which was guaranteed under article 301 of the Constitution. Due to such restrictions there caused a decline in foreign investment also. 

CONCLUSION 

 From the above stated words and incidents it is clear that this pandemic had taught each and every individual some lessons, even in the case food, shelter, occupation, trade and mainly on health itself. Many lost their lives due to pandemic and more were affected by it in whole of world. The impacts on economy and other sectors indicates the crucial effects of Pandemic period. Various rules and regulations were passed by Parliament and State Legislatures for the welfare of the Nation and States. Pandemic created many problems and hardships and in the midst of that the truth is that ‘we shall overcome, this will also pass’. Let’s pray for the whole world as it sparks light on the world soon. 

CITATIONS

1 THE RIFE OF VIRUS 2020,YASH TIWARI, notion publishers, 30th May 2020 ,page number 5 to 8.
2 Law of Disaster and Pandemic Management in India , SUBBANARASIMHAIAH(SR), Thomson Reuters publishers, 1st January 2021,page number 27 to 46.
3( 2013), 12 SCC 73.
4 1950 AIR 123.
5 1950 SCR 594.
6 2017 10 SCC 1.
7 2020 April.
8 AIR 1950,SC 27.
9 1994 SCC (6) 632.
10 BIOMEDICAL WASTE MANAGEMENT RULES, SIMPLIFIED, TANMAY MEHTHA, August 2019.

Note: This work is published as a part of the Article Writing Competition organized by The Legal Boffin in 2021.

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