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.
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
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.
- Article 21 in The Constitution Of India (1949)
- C.E.S.C. Ltd. Etc vs Subhash Chandra Bose And Ors (1992) AIR 573, 1991
SCR Supl. (2) 267
- BandhuaMuktiMorcha vs Union Of India & Others (1984) AIR 802, 1984 SCR
- Article 246 in The Constitution Of India (1949)
- Vincent Panikurlangara vs Union Of India &Ors (1987) AIR 990, 1987 SCR
- Article 39 in The Constitution Of India (1949)
- Article 41 in The Constitution Of India (1949)
- Article 42 in The Constitution Of India (1949)
- Article 47 in The Constitution Of India (1949)
- Article 25(1) of The Universal Declaration of Human Right
- Universal Health Coverage https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5395012/
- 2019 Global Health Security Indexhttps://www.ghsindex.org/
- UAE sends aid for Indian health workershttps://www.thehindu.com/news/national/uae-sends-aid-for-indian-health-workers/article31491220.ece
- Epidemic Disease Act (1987)
- Section 188 of IPC