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Equality in lockdown

By Virag Gupta

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Corona is the first crisis in world history, which has demolished all the walls of the poor-rich, village-city, country and abroad, and has taken the entire humanity in its grip. The centre and all state governments are fighting this epidemic in India with full force. There are doctors, nurses and police on the front of this great war against the epidemic, while the rest of the people are living in homes and performing their responsibilities. Government covers of limited resources are getting smaller to provide relief to the vast population. Due to this, many cases of discrimination and classification are coming up. If such cases are not banned in time, then a new type of constitutional disaster may occur in the country. The guidelines issued by the Central Government under the Disaster Management Act, rather than the constitutional provisions, are not binding on the states. Therefore, due to its arbitrary interpretation by the states and arbitrary implementation of the police in many places, there is increasing anger among the people. Several states have also issued several orders under the epidemic disease law. The strict implementation of these contradictory and complicated rules by the state police is adding to the suffering of the people suffering from Corona. Being the capital and prosperous state of the country, the free ration-water system can be provided for half the population in Delhi for a long time. But due to the long lockdown in rural areas of other states, crores of people have faced a huge hunger crisis. Due to resource constraints, patients of cancer, kidney, TB, and millions of non-corona patients who are suffering from many diseases, their crisis of death has started. Everyone has the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution and equality under Article 14. The Madras High Court has said in a recent judgment that people have the right to a dignified funeral after death, but the rule of equality has become hollow because of the violation of the constitutional rights of the survivors during the lockdown. After the sudden lockdown, crores of people got trapped in foreign cities away from their homes due to the closure of train-bus and all types of traffic. In Rajasthan’s Kota, the Yogi government arranged for special buses on the request of the students. The Bhupesh Baghel government of Chhattisgarh has also decided to bring students from Kota. At the same time, there is increasing pressure on the governments of states like Madhya Pradesh and Bihar to make arrangements for the homecoming of students.

The Yogi government of Uttar Pradesh has now decided to bring migrant labourers from different states to their states. In fact, after bringing the students from Kota, questions are arising as to why efforts like Kota cannot be done to return the migrant labourers trapped in Mumbai, Surat and other metros. Migrant labourers repatriated from Delhi-Ghaziabad have been kept in quarantine away from their homes, while special quarantine arrangements have been made for the students of Kota.

With this ‘new quota system’, new questions are arising rather than a solution to the Corona crisis. If all the states have started taking decisions on their own and students or migrant labourers, there will not be a uniform policy on bringing them back and keeping them in quarantine, then the justification and compulsion of the Centre’s guideline is also questioned. It may be okay to allow e-commerce companies to supply essential goods to the millions of families imprisoned in the lockdown.

But it was wrong to allow them to sell goods like electronics, which the government later had to cancel. Milk, fruits, vegetables and cakes are being arranged by the police on the request of elderly citizens and needy people in the social media in the cities. On the other hand, the fear of police poles has increased on the common people who go out for two days’ bread and sporadic work in remote areas.

In Karnataka, the wedding of the grandson of former Prime Minister Deve Gowda had seen social distancing and wearing masks being ignored by several guests. Police are registering FIRs against thousands of people in the country. Constitutional and judicial questions are being raised on such FIRs in cases of lockdown violations in 17,000 police stations in the states. Increasing class discrimination due to arbitrary interpretation of rules and laws can be a cause of the constitutional crisis after lockdown.

The growth of the Internet, social media and e-commerce companies during lockdown can be seen in the agreement between Facebook and WhatsApp with Reliance Jio. But the growing digital divide is increasing the risk of mass unemployment in the unorganized sector. There is a perception among the general public that due to the nearly 1.5 million persons who came to India in two months from January to March from abroad with  Coronavirus  crores of ration card holders became a victim of the crisis.

 If this social and economic disparity is not prevented from increasing after the lockdown, then the resolution of We the People i.e. ‘We the People’ written in the Preamble of the Constitution will further shrink. Social or physical distancing, i.e. physical distance, is being described as a great weapon to deal with the corona crisis. About eight lakh people live in the two square kilometre area of Dharavi affected by the infection in Mumbai.

 The rules of social distancing are becoming meaningless due to rampage and anarchy in several states due to heavy congestion and lack of facilities. The rules of social distancing of rich and limited population countries like Europe and America need to be re-defined to suit the Indian population and society. With this, the bus, auto and tempo will not have to be a victim of unnecessary police action after the lockdown opens.

—The author is Advocate, Supreme Court of India. The article first appeared in Amar Ujala. This is the English translation

Lead Picture: UNI

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