Who is Responsible for Health of citizens/residents of India

(Covid-19)

The horror and terror of the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic started deepening across India from second week of April-2021 and by the end of the second week different states started raising alarms regarding scarcity of resources (availability of beds in hospitals, medicines and medical Oxygen) to deal with the worsening situation.

Whole nation witnessed deteriorating ground realities with respect to such scarcities of resources across the country during entire third week of April, before Central Government swang into action.

By the end of the third week, thousands of our fellow citizens swiftly and pathetically lost their lives due to unavailability of such resources. Central Government, State Government and political parties were engaged in passing the buck to each other, and SADLY it continues.

The only respite was witnessed when Honourable Supreme Court and Honourable High Courts of some states started intervening and pulling-up the Central Government and State Governments for their insensitivities, inactions and insufficient actions towards the health emergency situation.

As a citizen/resident of India we must know about our right to health, and also who is responsible for providing the necessary resources, conditions/environment and systems to ensure it.

Established in 1946, World Health Organization (WHO) was the first international organization to formulate the health terms as human right. As per International Human Rights Law, Health is basic & fundamental human right. Right to health includes adequate protection by the state, providing equal healthcare facilities to each individual and imposing most important obligation upon the state to create such favourable conditions which render fulfillment of the right to health. The right to health creates an obligation upon the states to ensure the right to health is respected, protected and fulfilled, and is duely entitled to all citizens. Health means a state of absolute mental, physical and social well being of citizens, and is not restricted to merely absence of diseases. Every member state (country) of WHO ought to be committed and obliged to ensure the right to health to its citizens.

As per the Directive Principles of State Policy (covered under Part-4 of the Constitution of India), it is responsibility of the State to ensure social & economic justice to its citizens. Part-4 of the constitution directly or indirectly relates to the public policy in terms of health, these relations are as follows:

Article-38 lays down the responsibility of the State to secure the social order for the in promotion of the welfare of public health.

Article-39 Clause (e) pertains to the protection of health of workers.

Article-41 relates to providing public assistance by the State in special circumstances such as sickness, disability, old age etc.

Article-42 protects the health of infants and mothers (maternity benefits).

Article-47 imposes a primary duty of the State in improvement – of public health, in securing justice, in providing humane conditions of work for the workers, in maternity benefits and in public assistance.

Article-48A states the duties of State towards providing of good & healthy pollution free environment.

These Directive Principles of State Policy hold merely persuasive value and are not justice able i.e. they are not enforceable in Court of Law.

Role of Judiciary

Since Directive Principles holding only persuasive value, the State uses this as a weapon to escape its duty, responsibility and liabilities in providing and protecting health of common people. Therefore, Honourable Supreme Court brought the right under the purview of Article-21 (covered under Part-3 of the Constitution of India). Article-21 ensures the Right to Life and Liberty to each individual, citizens or non-citizens. The concept of personal liberty is meant to include the rights that may or may not be directly linked to the life and liberty of a person, which now includes right to health as well.

Article-21 deals with the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India. There have been several examples when Supreme Court as well as High Courts have utilized their powers under Article-32 and Article-226 respectively by reading Right to Health in Article-21 of the constitution.

The ambiguity

So, in India there exist constitutional provisions to Right to Health for everyone. Now, ambiguity starts with the term State, as it is used in different parts of the constitution with different meanings as below:

Part-III (Article-12) State means first of all Government of India, secondly Government of States (meaning all the states, provinces, Indian states, Chief Commissioner`s Provinces and Local and other authorities).

Part-IV   State means Indian States

Part-VI & XII  State means Provinces

Part-VII  State means Chief Commissioner`s Province

Conclusion

So in ordinary circumstances, Constitution of India provides guarantee of Right to Health to each individual mainly through Article-21 (and others) but does not clearly make anyone responsible, accountable, answerable, and liable for the obligation to deliver it. It is like we have a SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) in place but the Ownership of the SOP is not defined. That is why we are witnessing such a situation in which Right to Health is not delivered/made available to a large section of public and responsibility for such violation/failure cannot be fixed upon anyone, for which otherwise legal action could have been taken.

Raghavendra Chaturvedi

About the Author

Raghavendra Chaturvedi, born in Kanpur, hails from a small town called Etawah (Uttar Pradesh). He received his education from Etawah and Agra. Coming from a family of academicians, he carries strong values of humanity and religion.
Armed with Master’s degree in Sociology and Organic Chemistry, Raghavendra has worked in a variety of fields ranging from Fine Chemicals, Genetic Intermediate, Active Pharmaceuticals (Bulk Drugs), Polymer Coatings and Fashion Technology.

Raghavendra’s professional journey has been very dynamic. On one hand, his profession entailed working on the ‘tricky’ chemistry of highly sensitive molecules like genetic intermediates of DNA, RNA and Proteins, and highly reactive & explosive chemicals and intermediates. On the other hand, he also worked in the areas of lifesaving drugs like Penicillin and Cephalosporin Antibiotics.
His post voluntary retirement engagement includes freelancing as a technocrat-consultant to business houses.
He may be reached at : [email protected]

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