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The COVID -19 Pandemic- “A Human Tragedy”

About the article

The situation brought to life by this organism called SARS-COV2 saw the lives of the Homo – Sapiens around the globe coming to a standstill, the places which for other times have been manned by thousands and thousands of people a day suddenly witnessed the quietest and the unusual tranquillity hauling its grounds all at once. With countries across the Globe reacting to this pandemic with Lockdowns, in the wake of the scientists all over the world still working on making the Virus’ antidote, it soon explicated to the people at large that this isn’t just a  Health Crisis.
The article would be dealing in detail how for India The COVID Crisis emerged as a web of quandaries and the problems it surfaces in India during this hour of peril and about India’s impotence about dealing with many of those problems.
 
‘ Ultimately, the greatest lesson that COVID – 19 can teach humanity is that we are all in this together.’ – Kiran Mazumdar Shaw
The pandemic all around the globe not just saw lakhs and lakhs of people getting infected with this contagious disease but also it witnessed how the countries having one of the best healthcare systems in the world as Italy, Spain completely knelt down in front of the novel coronavirus. Not only just that it also proved cogent in showing how India in the world emerged not just as a Torchbearer in setting a model how to effectively deal with the Crisis where it has come to India’s Dr Harshvardhan becoming the Chairman of the Executive Board of The World Health Organisation, but the Crisis also seemed effectual in surfacing the vulnerabilities of even one of the gigantic powers of the world like the USA in its impotence in providing for one of the basic necessities of the time to its people as masks but also was found taking aid even for the Hydroxychloroquine tablets from India. Moreover, the economies of the countries worldwide touched the lowest slab and the unemployment levels seemed touching their greatest troughs; people finding their lives in dire straits and the difficulty they found in negotiating with this Quotidian life in these hard times. India which on one side of the spectrum is trying to stand strong before this pandemic seemed to suffer on the other side with some of the abysmal quandaries arising as a concomitant from this novel coronavirus pandemic.
 

The plight of The Indian Migrants 

With India announcing a lockdown to combat coronavirus, lakhs of migrant workers were rendered jobless and homeless in several states in which they were working. Night shelters run by local authorities began overflowing and supplies started dwindling leaving before the migrants no option but to take on an arduous journey on foot. The scene of migrants walking along the national highways, police excesses on them,  thousands of them surrounding the bus stations when state governments operated special buses to ferry them Trekking home across hundreds of kilometres with their little ones, barefoot, starving, totally exhausted of not just trudging a long distance but of continuously trying to balance their schlimazel life which has seldom to offer them with some kind of positivity, their faces showcasing the ordeal they went through, with dejection arising from their dubious future and Skepticism continuously haunting them about whether they’ll be able to reach their home- states and if yes then how? where at least they can be assured of food and shelter, their eyes staring at infinity waiting for some help coming from the government and seeming it getting struck as because of the politics of the leaders finding its space amidst their struggle, again starting on with their kilometres long journeys, the thought of which seemed to exacerbate their situation further It is so unfortunate to see those upon which the businesses and companies seem to bolster, those who are the true wealth of the Nation seem to go through these tough times and what is more disheartening is to see the politicians who among all this strife, struggle and pain of these workers are still able to find ways of hurling accusations and allegations at each other, thereby trying to camouflage their inefficacy to deal with these innocent people’s quandaries through their allegations and making a complete mockery of their pitiable condition and these workers’ lives.
 
‘Where the UP Government was found accusing the Congress of a ‘ scam ‘ because of 1049 buses arranged to transport workers, and out of that only 879 of them were buses- rest were autos and horror of horrors- even school buses and ambulances.’ {1}.
While the Congress was found accusing the BJP Government of not allowing the standing buses at Agra to cross the border to come to the aid of the trudging workers.
 
The most petulant thing about all this is that at this point of time when this crisis is seeming to deject these workers to death, is it the right time on the part of these politicians or is it even justified to become ‘pochemuchkas’ for their opponents’ side, and in the end give excuses over their very own ignominious inefficacy in dealing with the problem, hurling abuses, accusation at each other while sitting in their air-conditioned offices and homes. When the need of the hour is to somehow and anyhow provide for prompt relief to already oppressed and marginalised section of the society.
 
Furthermore, to quote that just recently only, the MP Government launched ‘ The Charan Paduka Initiative ‘,  under which sleepers and shoes would be provided to the migrants walking and trudging the distance to their homes barefoot, I can sound extremely audacious but at this point of time will the ultimate problem that is of making these migrants reach home with dignity get solved by providing them with these apparells! I completely must-have applauded and appreciated the move of providing these workers with footwear only when it would have come as a complementary move and their ultimate issue of returning back to their homes must have been addressed and resolved because it’s only when they are stopped from trudging those hundred kilometres distance with their little ones.
 
Sometimes out of exhaustion falling asleep on the suitcases, their mothers seemed to drag on their way to their native states And they are facilitated in some manner to make them reach their native states with dignity. After-all though help and aid seemed coming from the plebeian population and even from those having a very modest background who somehow were managing to tailor out their needs from their meagre means, and also some Bollywood Celebrities like Sonu Sood, Salman Khan and many more people, Who worked for arranging conveyance and food at their own costs for several workers trudging their homes, which is highly praiseworthy and applaudable but at this time the help which is required at such a huge level can be efficiently dealt with and provided only by the Governments at this time.
 
Moreover, the Central Government announced  Rs. 20 Lakh Crore package as a relief package in the time of this crisis,  but at this time when the Economy is already in peril, arranging for such a huge amount is going to be an errand, where India has already gone for the second tranche of  Rs. 1 billion dollar loan from the World Bank, the move can further push the country’s already dwindling economy towards a fall. 
As if this all wasn’t’ enough, now came the hammer of the abrogation of the labour laws which were meant to protect them.
‘Staring at starvation, lakhs of workers started walking back home. Many died on the way. More than a month later, the Centre issued cryptic orders permitting their return to their home States. Immediately employer organisations lobbied to prevent the workers from leaving. Governments responded by delaying travel facilities for the workers to ensure uninterrupted supply of labour for employers.
 
Employers now want labour laws to be relaxed. The Uttar Pradesh government has issued an ordinance keeping in abeyance almost all labour statutes including laws on maternity benefits and gratuity; the Factories Act, 1948; the Minimum Wages Act, 1948; the Industrial Establishments (Standing Orders) Act, 1946; and the Trade Unions Act, 1926. The several States have exempted industries from complying with various provisions of laws. The Confederation of Indian Industry has suggested 12-hour work shifts and that governments issue directions to make workers join duty failing which the workers would face penal actions.
Thus, after an organised abandonment of the unorganised workforce, the employers want the state to reintroduce laissez-faire and a system of indenture for the organised workforce too. This will take away the protection conferred on organised labour by Parliament.
 
The move is reminiscent of the barbaric system of indentured labour introduced through the Bengal Regulations VII, 1819 for the British planters in Assam tea estates. Workers had to work under a five-year contract and desertion was made punishable. Later, the Transport of Native Labourers’ Act, 1863 was passed in Bengal which strengthened control of the employers and even enabled them to detain labourers in the district of employment and imprison them for six months. Bengal Act VI of 1865 was later passed to deploy Special Emigration Police to prevent labourers from leaving and return them to the plantation after detention. What we are witnessing today bears a horrifying resemblance to what happened over 150 years ago in British India.’{ 2}.
 
The labour laws in India have emerged out of workers’ struggles, which were very much part of the freedom movement against oppressive colonial industrialists
The Supreme Court, in ‘Glaxo Laboratories v. The Presiding Officer, Labour (1983) ‘, said this about the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946: “In the days of laissez-faire when industrial relations were governed by the harsh weighted law of hire and fire, the management was the supreme master, the relationship being referable to a contract between unequal.
The developing notions of social justice and the expanding horizon of socio-economic justice necessitated statutory protection to the unequal partner in the industry namely, those who invest blood and flesh against those who bring in the capital.  The movement was from status to contract, the contract is not left to be negotiated by two unequal persons but statutorily imposed.”
Any move to undo these laws will push the workers a century backwards. 
 
Similarly in ‘ Life Insurance Corporation v. DJ Bahadur and Ors. (1980) ‘ {4}, the Supreme Court highlighted that any changes in the conditions of service can be only through a democratic process of negotiations and legislations. In these tough times, it shouldn’ t be forgotten that the Global Corporations have originated in the instrument of Colonialism and if that colonial mindset will be traced now then it is going to put the life, health and safety of not just the workmen at risk but also of their families; and that according to me shouldn’ t be put at a sacrifice giving the reason of financial necessity, and so Labour Laws can’t get trumped on the excuse of this prevailing pandemic.’ {5}
 
However, a PIL has been filed before the Supreme Court challenging the dilution of labour laws not just by Uttar Pradesh, but also Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. The petition filed by one Pankaj Kumar Yadav through Advocate Nirmal Kumar Ambastha seeks directions to quash these notifications issued by these states. Now that Uttar Pradesh has already withdrawn this impugned notification, it means that part of this PIL is already infructuous. It, however, does not mean that the entire PIL will be dismissed in toto since the Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat notifications are still in operation.
 
The PIL states that the poor labourers cannot be exclusively burdened to bear the detrimental effects of economic growth of the economically ruined country. It states that the welfare of the labourers cannot be overridden in the interest of boosting economic activity. 
Another PIL has reached the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of the notifications issued by Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Punjab, and Goa.
The petition filed by a law student Nandini Praveen, through Advocate Nishe Rajen Shanker, contends that central laws cannot be abridged by the state government by way of executive orders.
The notifications that have been issued by these states are under the power to exempt in case of public emergency as provided under section 5 of the Factories Act. The petitioner contends that the current situation does not qualify as a public emergency as per the Factories Act. The petitioner states that “public emergency” means “a grave emergency whereby the security of India or of any part of the territory thereof is threatened, whether by war or external aggression or internal disturbance.” The petitioner states that inconvenience caused to the public at large and the administration due to the strict lockdown guidelines imposed by the Central and state government cannot be termed as an internal disturbance. There is no situation of ‘domestic chaos’ as well.
 
The petitioner states that these notifications and ordinances are arbitrary, unjust and illegal and are liable to be quashed for infringing upon the fundamental rights of the workers. The petitioner also stated that by suspending welfare and health measures of workers and by increasing work hours constitute forced labour and asked the court to view the term in a broader sense as subscribed to by the apex Court in ‘People’s Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India ‘ { 6}.

Already encumbered India

In India if we talk about then nearly ‘5.8 million people( WHO Report, 2015) die from NCDs ( heart, lung diseases, stroke, Diabetes and so on ) every year, or can say about 61% of all deaths in India every year are because of the Non – Communicable Diseases says the recently released WHO Report.’ [7]
India has failed in achieving healthcare goals badly lagging behind China, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh in terms of accessibility and quality as per the new ‘ Global Burden of Disease Study’ published in the Medical Journal- The Lancet. India was ranked 154th in the ranking of the healthcare quality among  195 countries. According to the United Nations, approximately 40-80 million people with disabilities live in India and another disheartening fact to note is that  India is home to 194.6 million undernourished people, which is three times the population of France, so what can be said about the millions of deaths taking place every year, a large number of people dying every year due to starvation or maybe their impotence to access healthcare facilities. 
 
I wonder how many more viruses and deaths will take the authorities, the government to realise the need for prioritising healthcare, the need for Prevention before the Problem goes out of control. In the wake of this pandemic, the government realised the indispensability of Sanitisation, maintaining hygiene and clean surroundings, for many, it appears an unusual activity because they never saw that happening in the recent past and were so used to the scenarios of the pan- stained roads, garbage getting dumped in the open and mosquitoes breeding over it, stinking government hospitals where though people went to get cured of diseases usually got transmitted with some new one on account of egregious surrounding conditions, and so I don’t actually blame them for finding the Sanitisation activities happening today across the country unusual. Because not just to the people but perhaps I believe for the Government too, it took this  unexpected relative named SARS- COV2 to realise  that Cleanliness and Sanitisation are crucial matters which have to be taken up seriously, it took this relative to make them realise how crucial is the profession of the health workers, and it must be a widely accepted fact these days that the health workers who actually are keeping their lives at stake and courageously rendering their service must be getting a decent place to say, and all such facilities like food and so on, its time to come out of this utopian thinking and see what’s happening on the ground level, if I am to say about the government hospitals across the country, its completely flabbergasting to see that the people who are literally playing the game of their lives at present – the conditions they are living in, pathetically ignominious, god forbid but the conditions are so abysmal that it seems that they don’t lose life because of some other disease, such filthy and squalid.
 
Furthermore, the private hospitals of the country have taken the words of our Prime Minister for converting this catastrophic situation into an opportunity very seriously, the rate – sheets that they have drawn up for the treatment of Covid-19 patients is a satire on the already deteriorating conditions of the country amidst this pandemic, and for the people who amidst these tough times are finding it difficult to keep their bone and flesh together somehow, but whose conditions are made further dubious by the high charges of these private hospitals to which they’re being referred if they’re ill-starred enough to get infected with the contagion. recently there was this case of a lady lamenting the death of her family member outside the L.N.J.P Hospital, Delhi in which the person was admitted, the person had died at the night only and the hospital authorities only informed the fact to the family in the morning constantly saying  – ‘ The patient was critical ‘and hiding the fact maybe just to add on just a day’ s charge of keeping a person in the I.C.U which nearly touched a lakh! It’s really disheartening to see the avaricious nature of humans to step so low so as to even make them forget even the basic tenets of Humanity, and the government still lacking behind the time to take appropriate measures timely to stop this plundering of the hard-earned money of the section of the society who even at this time have been the worst sufferers on account of this pandemic.
 
It’s really high time that the Government stop taking the health workers, the doctors for granted, that it realises the need of a bolstered health sector, the need of spreading awareness about prevention of various diseases before its too late, that they realise the crucial time that the country and the each and every citizen is going through and keeping their politics, and power – hustle and hostilities aside come together to fight in this tragic situation. Let’s hope that our India comes out of this pandemic soon emerging victorious but also enlightened and illuminated about how it has to fight the other viruses that have been persisting in the country camouflaged in the garb of filthy, unhealthy conditions, deteriorating health sector and lots more.
 

Sources

    1.Vaishna Roy, ‘ Journeys in India, COVID Class ‘, The Hindu ( 22 May 2020)(https://www.thehindu.com/society/on-how-the-indian-government-is-dealing-with-migrant-labourers/article31649693.ece )
      2.    R. Vaigai and  Anna  Mathew, ‘ Stop the return to Laissez-faire’, The Hindu ( 15 May 2020) (https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/stop-the-return-to-laissez-faire/article31585646.ece )
      3.   A.I.R 1975 SC2125
      4.  A.I.R 2181,1981 SCR (1) 1083
       5. R.Vaigai and  Anna  Mathew, ‘ Stop the return to Laissez-faire’, The Hindu ( 15 May 2020) ( https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/stop-the-return-to-laissez-faire/article31585646.ece )
       6. 1982 AIR SC 1473
       7. WHO REPORT, 2015
BY- Tanya Pandey
Aligarh Muslim University

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