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Can Indians hold Modi Govt responsible for violating their ‘Right to Life’?

Delivering basic governance right now looks like a luxury in India. Keeping this in context, in this episode, I look at something very basic this time. And, that is the right to life - a fundamental right granted to every citizen in our country under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. 
 
Now, why is this a big deal in the middle of a pandemic? Well, most of us are today experiencing the result of inefficiency & poor planning everywhere at a time when we are trying to scramble for oxygen cylinders for our loved ones at hospitals. From Delhi to Kerala, it is the same situation in every corner of the country. In some places and states, it is even worse. We are also seeing how bodies are now being dumped into rivers in North India due to high cremation charges at local crematoriums and also, due to lack of space. We are witnessing how oxygen supply shortage in hospitals is claiming lives of many patients in one go. 
 
And, to top it off, we are witnessing a huge vaccine shortage ever since the day the government came up with the “Tika Utsav” PR campaign. And, then we had a COWIN Breakdown when the vaccine officially opened for those above 18 years of age.
 
All these examples clearly reflect how lack of planning is hitting every citizen in the country. Yet, we are seeing how the New Parliament, called the Central Vista, is being constructed at break-neck speed. 
 
Now, here’s a simple analogy I would like to highlight. When there’s a wedding in a family and we have 50 guests, we ensure that all of them are served food. Even for such a small event, we take extra care in meeting people’s needs. So, it is appalling to see that, our government, after having witnessed a year of the pandemic, still couldn’t plan vaccine doses for its own population of over 100 crore. 
 
Why was there a delay by the Centre in releasing funds for vaccine production despite knowing about the massive roll-out plan and an impending threat? If not for vaccinating the whole population at once, why couldn’t the roll-out have been done in a phased manner? Where have all the government health covers or insurance schemes gone? Why aren’t they including COVID in the list of diseases? 
 
Now…that brings us to understand what these schemes rolled out by the Govt of India and states and why they are not coming to people’s rescue at such a crucial time? 
 
Here are some salient features of these insurance schemes: 
 
  • Policies are offered at a low price.
  • Encourages people below the poverty line to avail insurance.
  • Ensures poor people have some sort of insurance cover.
  • The government initiated policies help policyholders to feel assured.
  • Inclusion of Government as well as Private hospitals for better quality healthcare.
 
Now what are these insurance schemes targeted at the poor? Let’s have a look: Ayushman Bharat or the The PM-JAY is a health insurance scheme for the poor, Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana, we have “Aam Aadmi Bima Yojana” for Fishing, Handloom, Weavers and such communities, Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana for the unorganised sector and among states, we have something like Chief Minister’s Comprehensive Insurance Scheme in Tamil Nadu, Karunya Health Scheme in Kerala and Aarogyasri in Andhra Pradesh. 
 
While these are insurance schemes that exist along with several other states having their own insurance covers, most of these government schemes do not include Coronavirus as part of the diseases. Additionally, even insurance companies are struggling with the pandemic as COVID19 is a pretty new virus and hence, do not really understand how it will pan out while claims have shot up in the last one year. 
 
In the last one year, life insurance and health insurance purchases have gone up. But, the poor are nowhere benefitting as they do not understand the claims process nor do they demand for protection even in the government health schemes that they have purchased. While this remains a cause of concern, here’s a clear example of how the current Modi government takes decisions. 
 
“PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana” which was brought in last year for frontline healthcare workers was suddenly withdrawn around April 19th this year. The insurance cover guarantees a sum of Rs. 50 lakh for those healthcare workers who die in the line of COVID-19 duty. 10 Days later, the Modi government said that it is extending the scheme for another 6 months. 
 
For any person with common sense, why would a government be so insensitive to withdraw and then extend ….when a raging pandemic in the country is directly claiming lives of frontline healthcare workers? Why would you go back and forth on a decision at such a crucial time and confuse the entire country? Why cannot such basic things, which include common sense, be handled in a better way by this government? 
 
And, coming back to insurance, why isn’t the Central government pushing states and insurance agencies to include COVID-19 treatment as part of government-run health insurance schemes? That will not only give a financial relief to many poor people but also save their mental health in an already charged situation of dealing with COVID-19 within their families. 
 
At this juncture, I would like to highlight something that I spoke of in the beginning…about Right to Life. With all of this happening and even High Courts of States taking a serious view of the situation running out of hand, this COVID Emergency in India clearly points out how our “Fundamental Right to Life is being violated by the government itself.”
 
What does Article 21 that guarantees “Right to Life” say? “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.”
 
‘Life’ in Article 21 of the Constitution is not merely the physical act of breathing. It does not connote mere animal existence or continued drudgery through life. It has a much wider meaning which includes right to live with human dignity, right to livelihood, right to health, right to pollution free air, etc.
 
One Court judgement said: 
 
“That, which alone makes it impossible to live, leave aside what makes life livable, must be deemed to be an integral part of the right to life. Deprive a person from his right to livelihood and you shall have deprived him of his life”
 
Another judgement said: 
 
“Socio-economic rights were basic aspirations for meaning the right to life and that Right to Social Security and Protection of Family were an integral part of the right to life”
 
Now…given that basic right to life and dignity in death, and right to health and livelihoods are all violated due to the incompetence of the government in handling this COVID crisis, can the citizens of India, penalise the Central government for such a gross violation of basic human rights?  What kind of penalty or punishment does a Central Government deserve when its ministers are all running behind to save the PM's image while violating the fundamental right to life of its own people?
 
Remember this crisis (of 2020 and 2021) before you cast your next vote. 

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