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Right to Health and India's preparedness to deal with health emergency

The Article talks about Right to Health and India's preparedness to deal with health emergencies. Right to Health is a fundamental of every citizen under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The article also talks about the State and Centre's obligation towards maintenance of public health, India's expenditure on health in comparison to different countries ,whether India was prepared to deal with the Global Pandemic COVID-19 which has taken the life of lakhs of people. The article also talks about the need of uniform public health law for the country.

On 11th Feburary,2020 World Health Organization, World Organization for Animal Health, FAO has named this deadly virus which has taken the lives of many people as COVID-19. The Global Pandemic COVID-19 has caused huge destruction all over the world. The worst affected counties are Italy, China ,US , India and many more. Thousands of people lost their life because of this communicable disease. It has raised a huge concern on the health of the public.

The major concern is for the doctors, police officers, nurses, workers, migrant labors etc. Right to health which is a fundamental right of every citizen is enshrined under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution [i]. In the case of C.E.S.C. Ltd. Etc vs Subhash Chandra Bose And Ors[ii], the term Health has been defined. It is the state of mental, physical and social well being and not merely there should be absence of disease. Article 21 in addition to Right to Health also includes good working conditions and maintenance of workers.

Right To Health And Relevant Case Laws

Article 21 talks about Right to Life and Personal Liberty. Health being one of the most important aspects to live is included under Right to life. In the case of BandhuaMuktiMorcha v. Union of India [iii], it was held that Right to live with human dignity also includes protection of health which has been derived from the Directive Principle of State Policy.

It is the duty of the State and Centre to provide good public health. However Article 246 of the Constitution [iv] that includes Union list, State list and Concurrent list mentions the Union and State's responsibilities and duties. However there is no mention of Public health in the Union list but it is listed in the List II and III i.e. State List and Concurrent list under entry 6 (list II), 16 (list III), 26 (list III) which laid down a primary responsibility on States to maintain proper health standards and conditions for public, workers, legal , medical and other profession.

In the case of Vincent Panikurlangara v. Union of India[v], the Court stated that public health should be considered the top most priority, as it is necessary for the Physical existence of the society. It should be ranked high. Under Article 39[vi],41[vii],42[viii] and 47[ix], the Constitution lays down a responsibility on the State to ensure public health, standard of living, protection of workers, basic nutrition and other health standards.

Therefore, It lays down an obligation on the State to maintain Public health as Right to heath is a fundamental right enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights ensures right to a standard of living adequate for health and well being of an individual under Article 25(1)[x] of it. The International Covenant on Social , Economic and Social Justice says that everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of mental and physical health[xi]. India being a member of it , should recognize it.

India's Expenditure And Preparedness For Health

According to the data revealed by the 2019 Global Health Security Index [xii] which measures a countries' preparedness to deal with pandemic and score them 1-100 depending on their ability to deal with diseases, India has been ranked 57 out of 195 counties, China ( at 51) and Italy (at 31). Italy and China has the highest number of corona virus cases as compared to India, then also India has been ranked low.

India's total expenditure on health has been less as compared to other countries. India spend approximately 1% of its total GDP on health whereas US spend 17.7% of its total GDP on health[xiii]. India needs to expand its expenditure on public health in order to deal with pandemics like COVID-19.

Approximately 52% households in urban areas and 42% in rural prefer Private Hospitals. If we analyze, India's preparedness to deal with COVID-19, it was quite late. The country became serious only in February. We don't have so many doctors, patients, masks etc deal with the rising corona virus patients but the Ministry of Health has taken all possible measures to control the situation.

Ministry of Health Affairs has been in regular touch with the World Health Organization and has asked all the State Government to take necessary precautionary measure.Even after taking all the measures, the government hospitals don't have much medical kits in comparison to COVID-19 infected patients. India has received 7 metric tonnes of medicalsupplies from UAE to assist the medical professionals to treat the COVID-19 patients. India is doing it's best to deal with the situation.

Government is obligated to take all the measures to prevent and control the epidemic, pandemic and other diseases. The citizens should be provided with up to date information on the number of cases, the spread of virus, essential services available. While revealing the information , the government should carefully handle the Personal health data of the person which may lead to infringe of Right to Privacy.

The restrictions imposed to maintain public health should not be arbitrary, they should be proportionate, necessary and must be lawful. They shall not cause harm to human dignity. The government should spend more on public health, provide necessary benefits, reduce prices of medicines so that poor people can also afford it.

In order to maintain good public health not only hospitals, medical equipments, nurses etc are required but also a legal framework is required by a country which creates obligation on the government to take necessary actions to deal with health emergency like COVID-19.The Government has to see that the human rights are not protected by an outbreak. Therefore a public health care law is required in order to prevent, control and treat such health emergency taking into consideration the rights of an individual.

Invocation Of Act During Covid-19

The Epidemic Disease Act, 1987[xiv]has been invoked in order to control the widespread corona virus in the country. It empowers the State and Central government to prevent the outbreak of epidemics for which they can undertake all measures. The act also tall about the punishment of person who disobeyed the authorities will be punished under Section 188 of IPC[xv].
However the Act has certain limitations, it does not give the definition of Epidemic disease.

It only talks about the powers of the government but does not lay down their duties. Moreover it does not focus on public health and does not talk about the rights of the citizens in such situation. Whenever any law is enforced an individual's liberty, his rights, privacy should be taken into consideration as these are fundamental for survival.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare also invoked the Disaster Management Act 2005[xvi] which laid down the guidelines to deal with Novel Corona Virus, to implement plans and monitor them continuously. Directions to be given by the different Ministries and Government at all levels regarding preparedness measures against COVID-19 to mitigate it. But these laws are not sufficient to deal with public health emergency.

A Public Health Bill of 2017 is still pending. There is need for proper laws to deal not with the health of an individual but public at large. Different States follow different Public Health Act, as there is neither consistency in them nor uniformity. In the State of Kerala , the southern and northern regions follow different Public Health Acts. Even though different states needs different ways to deal with situations, but there is a need of a common law that every state needs to follow to combat such infectious diseases.

There is need for laws to deal with health emergency and maintain health of the public. If the legislature has framed the laws earlier , then India doesn't has to face such problems to control the epidemics like COVID-19.

Thus it can be concluded that Right to Health is a Fundamental Right of every citizen and there is need for the formation of Public Health law in the country to deal with situation like COVID-19. The government should increase its expenditure on Public Health in order to boost the life of the people and the economy. Moreover it is the duty of the State and Centre to frame proper health laws. The Bill which is pending needs to be properly framed so that the situations like COVID-19 can be dealt.

  1. Article 21 in The Constitution Of India (1949)
  2. C.E.S.C. Ltd. Etc vs Subhash Chandra Bose And Ors (1992) AIR 573, 1991 SCR Supl. (2) 267
  3. BandhuaMuktiMorcha vs Union Of India & Others (1984) AIR 802, 1984 SCR (2) 67
  4. Article 246 in The Constitution Of India (1949)
  5. Vincent Panikurlangara vs Union Of India &Ors (1987) AIR 990, 1987 SCR (2) 468
  6. Article 39 in The Constitution Of India (1949)
  7. Article 41 in The Constitution Of India (1949)
  8. Article 42 in The Constitution Of India (1949)
  9. Article 47 in The Constitution Of India (1949)
  10. Article 25(1) of The Universal Declaration of Human Right
  11. Universal Health Coverage
  12. 2019 Global Health Security Index
  13. UAE sends aid for Indian health workers
  14. Epidemic Disease Act (1987)
  15. Section 188 of IPC

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