COVID-19 crisis in India has become deplorable with scores of people losing lives. It stands unabated due to abject failure on the part of government in handling the situation. Countries all across the world have flagged concern as prevailing spike in the transmission suggests the nearing towards threshold of destruction because nobody is safe until everybody is safe. This pandemic has not only accentuated the crippling medical infrastructure and its unpreparedness for such unprecedented pandemic but also divulged how callous attitude by the government has exacerbated the whole situation as it has important proactive role to play. There has been a gross violation of right to life under Article 21 of the Indian constitution as right to timely medical treatment in government hospitals is part of Article 21. The expeditious rise in covid-19 cases with the advent of second wave has swamped the medical healthcare system, with people gasping for oxygen and timely medical treatment.
Amidst the lethal second wave, the demand for oxygen has been exponentially on rise and failure on the part of the government in supplying the oxygen has resulted in deteriorating the situation. Patna High court, acknowledging the seriousness, directs state Human Rights Commission to inspect COVID hospitals as any inactivity by states, within the meaning of Article 21 of the constitution of India, in rendering adequate health care to its citizens, particularly during prevailing pandemic, would be a brazen transgression of right to life under Article 21 of the constitution as per the court. Deaths taking place of covid positive patients due to lack of oxygen is a gross violation of Article 21 which is right to life and hence authorities should ensure sufficient oxygen.
The Supreme Court in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, said that the ‘right to life’ as embodied in Article 21 means something more, than mere animal existence and includes within its ambit the right to life consistently with human dignity and all those aspects through which a man’s life could be made meaningful, complete and worth living. The Supreme Court has held in a number of cases that the Right to health and medical care is a fundamental right protected under Article 21 because health is essential for making workmen’s lives meaningful and purposeful, as well as consistent with personal dignity.
Shortage of Oxygen, bed availability and other healthcare facilities directly violates Article 21 of the Constitution of India as, Supreme Court in the case of Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity & Others v/s State of West Bengal & Others held that
“Article 21 imposes an obligation on the State to safeguard the right to life of every person. As a result, the preservation of human life is of utmost importance. The State-run hospitals and the medical officers who work there are obligated to provide medical assistance in order to save lives. A Government hospital’s failure to provide timely medical care to a person in need of such treatment constitutes a violation of his right to life as guaranteed by Article 21.” And the court also issued certain direction in the serious medical cases which need to be follow by state.
It has been further emphasized by the Supreme Court, in the case of State of Punjab v/s Ram Lubhaya Bagga, (1998) that providing healthcare is a constitutional duty of the state, which is the foremost responsibility under Article 21 read with Article 47 of the Constitution.
Recently, Allahabad high court elicited a strong reaction by terming the death of COVID patient due to shortage of oxygen, a criminal act not less than a genocide by those who have been endowed the task to certify continuous acquirement and supply chain of the liquid medical oxygen. Since India is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Supreme Court in People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India held that Article 21 of the Constitution of India in relation to human rights has to be interpreted in conformity with international law.
Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights contains the right to life, which includes an obligation on the State to make regulations impelling public and private hospitals to embrace fitting measures for the protection of their patients’ lives.
Since the right to timely medical treatment in government hospitals is a part of right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution, failure on the part of government to provide adequate treatment is a flagrant violation of Article 21, a sacred fundamental right of citizens.
This article has been written by Jyoti Gautam and Sadhna Diwakar, both are Second-year law student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University.