GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE: AN EMERGING PANDEMIC

Naina Bora and Devika Bansal, both 3rd year law students of Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar discusses the surge in Gender based violence amidst the COVID-19 pandemic along with the directions given by the High Courts of J&K and Delhi on this issue.

Introduction

Battling the pandemic outside and inside the house, domestic violence has seen a grave surge in the number of reported cases all over the world. Falling under the umbrella term of “Gender-based violence,” it’s been defined as “any act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and is based on gender norms and unequal power relationships” by the UN.[1] 

India ranked 125th by the UN Gender Inequality Index, has seen a consistent rise in the number of reported domestic violence cases due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent lockdown.[2] This could be attributed to the tense situation created in domestic households due to the economic and social consequences of the pandemic. This includes loss of jobs and financial instability.  It is pertinent to note that the recorded statistics might not reflect actual numbers given the lack of accessibility to reach the concerned authorities due to poverty.  

During the second week of April 1612 cases of domestic violence were reported to the Delhi Police. National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) which aims to provide free legal aid and advice reported[3] 727 cases of domestic violence. This article attempts to analyse the orders of the High Courts of Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi, which have addressed and given directions on this issue.

High Court of Jammu and Kashmir 

On April 18, the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir took suo moto cognizance[4] of domestic violence during the lockdown and passed an order suggesting a set of directions to be followed by the Government.

The Court noted the plight of women as a consequence of the lockdown due to the inaccessibility to online platforms by women coming from weaker economic sections of the society. It further laid down guidelines for government agencies in adherence to Section 11(a) of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005[5] which accords a statutory mechanism to ensure the rights of women against domestic violence by ensuring the Government’s duty in publicising it’s provisions through public media.

The Court suggested the creation of a special dedicated fund to deal with the issue, increased legal and counselling service, designated informal spaces such as educational institutions to serve as accessible shelters for such victims. Furthermore, there may be certain designated spaces such as grocery stores and pharmacies where they could report such abuse without alerting the perpetrators. Due regard was given to an increase in awareness campaigns and for all the courts in the UTs of J&K and Ladakh to treat the cases of domestic abuse as urgent.

The High Court of J&K has taken a positive step by providing well-rounded directions which encapsulate solutions for various scenarios while keeping in mind their economic background and access to online platforms.

Delhi High Court 

On April 24, 2020 the Delhi HC delivered a final judgment[6] in a petition filed by the All India Council of Human Rights, Liberties, and Social Justice. Considering the rising number of cases, the inadequacy of having 17 protection officers for the entire state was pointed out. Moreover, the helpline number had been published in two English newspapers, highlighting its limited outreach and the inadequate efforts of the Government to spread awareness via other forms of media. Further, the High Court failed to address the concern regarding the inadequate number of protection officers.

The Government informed the Court that all the directions issued earlier[7] By the High Court, have been complied with, and shelters for such victims will remain functional. Moreover, other help lines, including 181, will remain operational for emergency rescue and support that includes psychological support. National Commission for Women has also introduced a complaints portal on its website along with a WhatsApp number. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has issued directions to all private satellite TV channels and FM Radio channels to broadcast the helpline numbers and the different ways a victim can ask for help. The Delhi Government has also recognized 14 NGO run women shelter homes. Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA), has established a toll-free helpline number and a WhatsApp number through which the victims can get relevant legal advice and aid. Further, both these numbers have been brought to the attention of the public via radio jingles, advertisements in the newspapers, and distribution of pamphlets in mother dairy booths and chemist shops.[8]

The Court failed to take note of the fact that women in India[9] are 28% less likely than men to own a mobile phone and 56% less likely to use mobile internet compared to their male counterparts. This renders the multiple help lines redundant to such victims. France, for example, has set up pop up counselling centres in places like grocery stores, where the victim can ask for Mask 19[10], a code word used by women to notify the authorities if the abuser is accompanying the victim. No such direction has been issued by the Delhi HC, unlike the J&K HC. Due to the close proximity between the victim and abuser, it might lead to the victim being unable to report the abuse; hence there need to be other measures to address this issue.

Conclusion

Most people are still not aware of the help lines due to the limited reach. The Government must also focus on victim rehabilitation centres and other facilities. Despite the special measures taken by some states, they have still failed to take into account problems of inaccessibility to online resources and the minimal measures taken to increase awareness. Although the problem of domestic violence is all-pervasive, other states have failed to take up such proposals.  The Government must take cognizance of the fact that uniform measures are required to provide consistency in areas that lack solutions. 

There should be a notable emphasis on measures beyond help lines while considering the socio-economic status of women in society. The increasing number of domestic violence cases is an indication that government agencies need to rise to the occasion and combat gender-based violence during and after the pandemic.


Naina Bora and Devika Bansal are 3rd year law students from Gujarat National Law University, Gandhinagar


[1]United Nations, SEXUAL AND GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE, UNHCR, https://www.unhcr.org/sexual-and-gender-based-violence.html (last visited May 26, 2020).

[2]Dhamini Ratnam, Domestic violence during Covid-19 lockdown emerges as a serious concern, HINDUSTAN TIMES (May 25, 2020, 8:30pm), https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/domestic-violence-during-covid-19-lockdown-emerges-as-serious-concern/story-mMRq3NnnFvOehgLOOPpe8J.html

[3]Most domestic violence cases in lockdown from Uttarakhand, Haryana: NALSA, THE INDIAN EXPRESS (May 25, 2020, 10:05pm), https://indianexpress.com/article/india/most-domestic-violence-cases-in-lockdown-from-Uttarakhand-Haryana-nalsa-6412084/.

[4]Court on its own Motion v. UTs of J&K and Ladakh, (J.&K. High Court: 2020). 

[5]Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, §11, No. 43, Acts of Parliament, 2006.

[6]India Council of Human Rights Liberties and Social Justice v. Union of India, (2020), SCC OnLine Del 537.

[7]Unnati Sharma & Zainab Sikander, Sufficient measures taken to defend domestic violence victims amid lockdown, AAP tells Delhi HC , THE PRINT (May 26, 2020, 9:30pm), https://theprint.in/india/sufficient-measures-taken-to-defend-domestic-violence-victims-amid-lockdown-aap-tells-delhi-hc/404290/.

[8]All India Council of Human Rights Liberties and Social Justice v. Union of India, (2020), SCC OnLine Del 537.  

[9]MOBILE GENDER GAP REPORT 2019, https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/GSMA-Connected-Women-The-Mobile-Gender-Gap-Report-2019.pdf (last visited May 24, 2020).

[10]Ivana Kottasová; women are using code words at pharmacies to escape domestic violence CNN(2020), https://edition.cnn.com/2020/04/02/europe/domestic-violence-coronavirus-lockdown-intl/index.html (last visited June 16, 2020).  

IMPORTANT – Opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IJOSLCA.

FEDERALISM IN TIMES OF PANDEMIC

Rishi Raj Mukherjee, 1st year student of National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi analyzes the manifold challenges associated with the Indian federalism at the time of pandemic.

The outbreak of the global pandemic has thwarted the equilibrium in nations across the world and triggered a ‘litmus test’ moment for Indian Federalism. The article outlines the opportunities it has presented, the manifold challenges associated with the same, and how far has the Indian State successfully transformed ‘challenge into opportunity.’ Undoubtedly, a curious paradox of a ‘Globalised World and Federalised Politics’ is undeniable. The pandemic has derailed globalised development and connectivity and urges for increased cooperation between the Centre and the States.

Politics is a perennial, overflowing river changing its course and dynamics subject to time, space, and conditionalites. So, it is crucial not only to look at the structure of the constitution but also at the practice of it to attempt a comprehensive understanding of the Indian polity and federalism in current times. Scholars including Subrata.K.Mitra have envisaged Federalism as reconciliation between ‘self-rule’ and ‘shared rule’ where there is not only division of powers but eventually a trickledown effect to empower the last person in the line within the folds of democratic governance. 

Changing Centre-State Equations

The shift towards centralization was evident since 2014, with states ruled by Opposition parties alleging discrimination and authoritarianism on part in the Centre. The nationwide lockdown never seemed a ‘consensual decision’ in the initial stages, with only a couple of states like implementing strict curfew restrictions. Delhi was the first to close educational institutions in the first week of March, followed by Karnataka, which had imposed restrictions on public gatherings even before a nationwide lockdown was declared. Public health is a subject in the State List, but given the Global Pandemic, a national approach was much desired. Invoking the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and the National Disaster Management Act, 2005, which provides the Centre with magnanimous powers to arrest the spread of the disease, the decision seemed unilateral on the part of the centre. Later a number of states joined the bandwagon, as the situation worsened.

The Centre and the States finally decided to bury the hatchet for a common cause triggered by the outbreak of the pandemic. Indian federalism seemed to take a conciliatory approach manifested in the video conferences hosted by the Prime Minister with the Chief Ministers. A plethora of Inter-Governmental and Inter-Departmental meetings were witnessed at different levels of the Government. ‘Minimisation of political differences’ is a landmark development achieved only sparingly in the Indian political landscape characterized by stiff electoral competition. Working in a collective and coordinated manner has yielded results, and India’s response mechanism has been widely praised, including by the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

The Federal Tensions

When the entire country was being mapped into red, orange, and green zones, disagreements were bound to surface with every state calling for considerable autonomy in the handling of the pandemic and deciding the parameters for zone demarcation. Past experiences have demonstrated how guidelines and directives issued by the Centre have ‘irked’ state leadership in some opposition ruled states who have conceived such actions as a blow to the ‘federal structure.’ Disputes over data sharing have further contributed to a tug of war with the Governor’s ‘apolitical office’ has recently stirred fresh controversy in the states of Maharashtra and West Bengal. The chaotic inter-state movements of migrant labourers have certainly reflected the failure to chart out a joint plan by the governance. The onus is to effectively mitigate the sufferings of the migrants through proper coordination and develop the areas where the scope lies to transform the ‘challenge into an opportunity.’ 

At the district level, Bhilwara in Rajasthan, Agra, and Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh and several districts in Kerela have done a commendable job in conducting large scale testing and door to door campaigns. A ‘PM-CM-DM’ equation is clearly playing an instrumental role in all three levels of governance. From the right to life, liberty, and property, the Government moved to secure second and third generation of rights for its citizens, but the crisis has pushed it back to the pavilion. As the unlocking begins after a prolonged shutdown, it needs to be taken care of that ‘A one size fits all policy’ wouldn’t yield the best results.

Dynamics of Fiscal Federalism 

In such times, the significance of ‘Fiscal Federalism’ is only ascendant. The States see the Centre as a ‘repository for financial aid.’ The Centre also continues to play a critical redistributive role in such matters. The Indian Constitution certainly provides us Articles 268 – 293 under Part XI dealing with center-state relations with respect to fiscal provisions shows that the States has exclusive jurisdiction over the collection of State GST, duty on liquor, tax from agriculture etc, depends on aid provided by the Centre. A Micro-Analysis would definitely point to the harsh realities where the States are in a dire financial crunch to meet their immediate expenditures. The nationwide lockdown implied a stop to the sale of liquor, thereby depriving the States of a major source of revenue along with significant relaxations in the collection of land revenues and repayment of farmer loans. Justice KM Joseph had hailed the introduction of the GST Regime as a ‘revolutionary chapter in the history of Indian federalism’, yet states look forward to a GST compensation, which the Centre is yet to release. 

With the BJP at the Centre and a number of opposition parties ruling at the state level, the decision to suspend the MPLAD Funds for a period of 2 years has been slammed by the Opposition as a unilateral stand to ‘Centralise Funds’. Such unilateral steps of the centre without consulting the State governments can worsen the situation. Always ‘demonising the centre as Shylock’ is not the solution to our present woes. Every Government has fiscal constraints, and besides aiding the States, the Centre has its own schemes and packages to fund. 

Empowering local self-governance is imperative to the success of Fiscal Federalism in India. The informal and agricultural sectors which hold the key to economic recovery have been apparently one of the focal points of the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ package announced by the Centre. The package could well emerge as a source of tension with time concerning provisions for loans over grants from the centre. But, it is time for the leadership to realise that the Centre and States ought not to ‘scramble’ for funds but rather, effective and coordinated fund transfer to the needy should be the sole objective. Municipalities and Panchayats will inevitably have a decisive role to play in providing relief at the grassroots for the successful implementation of the package. 

Roadmap for the Future

The framers of the Constituent Assembly had envisioned Indian federalism as a ‘Strong Centre but not Weak States.’ In an era of ‘cooperative federalism,’ states are the partners in nation-building. Leadership and well as policy implementation is the foundation of federal dynamics during any crisis of such massive proportion. Though separation of powers is a tenet of ‘India’s Living Constitution,’ their territories of operation and the interests of the electorate overlap. Any remedial strategy in response to the crisis ought to be people-centric. The reality is that federalism is not just a normative doctrine; it is a ‘procedural necessity’ for achieving ‘larger substantive goals.’ 

“No train runs without an engine. Moreover, the real job is to lay the tracks”. In the context of Cooperative Federalism, the Double Engine, which comprises both the Centre and the States, ought to run in synchronisation to make things happen. ‘Saving Lives and Restarting Economic Growth in a phased manner’ poses a dual challenge in the current scenario. The writing on the wall is bold, clear, and unambiguous. ‘A proactive role for the Centre coupled with constructive partnership from the states’ seems to have emerged as the ‘mantra for nation-building’ in the new evolving India of the 21st century.


Rishi Raj Mukherjee is a first law student from National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi


IMPORTANT – Opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IJOSLCA.

Image Source – The Statesman

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: A SUPPLEMENTARY PROBLEM WITH COVID-19

Kapil Devnani, a first year student of Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur discusses the issue of domestic violence in the light of the COVID -19.

ABSTRACT

The main focus of this article is on the rise of the cases of domestic violence in the period of lockdown. Domestic violence is one of the biggest social evil that is ignored by the majority of people in our country, but there is an urgent need to cope up with this problem. It is like one of the pillars on which the progress and development of a nation depend. So, this article provides a decent overview of all the aspects related to the Domestic Violence and also provides some suggestions to curb this rise in the cases of Domestic Violence.

INTRODUCTION

This lockdown to combat the present situation of COVID-19 is a crucial step taken by the Government of India. But as we know, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This lockdown has brought many challenges in front of our nation, one of which is domestic violence. During this period of the lockdown, the cases of domestic violence have been increased rapidly. The National Commission for Women (NCW) has recorded more than twofold rise in the cases of Domestic Violence during this period. The total number of complaints filed for domestic violence in the month of April 2020 was 315, which was highest since last August. The unavailability of alcohol for addicts and the pressure of meeting necessities were the key factors because of which this rise in cases was witnessed.

DIFFERENT FORMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Domestic violence is not only limited to physical abuse, but it also takes various forms in different situations. Some of these forms are:

  • Physical abuse – Threatening or physical assault, including choking, hitting,punching and shoving, smashing objects, throwing objects, and assaulting children. 
  • Sexual abuse – Any unwanted sexual contact, it also includes rape.
  • Social abuse – Isolating partner from society (friends and family), controlling the partner’s movements when going out, denying partner access to the telephone. 
  • Psychological abuse – Verbal and emotional abuse such as humiliation, insults, threats, swearing, harassment, and put-downs. 
  • Economic abuse – Exerting control over household income by prevention the other person’s access to financial independence.
  • Spiritual abuse – Denying religious beliefs or practices to justify other forms of abuse or to force victims into subordinate roles.

LEGAL ASPECT OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN INDIA 

There is a separate Act that governs the cases related to Domestic Violence in India, and it is known as “The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005“. This Act deals with all the provisions related to Domestic Violence broadly and aims to protect females from the brutality by any of her household man and his relatives. 

Apart from this, Section 498-A of IPC also protects the women from being subjected to cruelty by the husband or his relatives. This Section also stipulates a punishment extending to 3 years and fine as may be decided by the court.

ROOT OF THIS PROBLEM

The main hurdle that comes in front of this nation to eliminate this crime is that most of the cases of domestic violence are not even reported because it is very hard for a victim even in the most supportive conditions to report such abuses and this can be proved by taking the stats of National Family Health Survey-III, published in the year 2005. According to this survey, about 37.2 percent of married women faced spousal abuse, but out of this only, 2% approached police stations to sought help. In rural India, this situation is worst because most of the woman in rural India are illiterate and are very much dependent on their husbands who discourage them from filing the complaints. The NGOs which were spreading awareness and acting as a mediator between victim and authorities, making it easier for women to come out of their house and report such abuses are also not able to work because of this lockdown.

LOCKDOWN AND THE CASES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE IN FOREIGN NATIONS

Apart from India, many other countries are also facing this surge in the cases of Domestic Violence. Katrin Goring-Eckardt (Germany’s parliamentary leader) in her speech mentioned this issue and said that she is concerned for those women who are trapped with violent partners in this lockdown. In the UK, Mandu Reid (leader of women’s Equality Party) has called for the policy or legal changes to reflect the increased risk to women and children in quarantine. UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres also appealed to the governments to pay attention to this horrifying global surge in domestic violence which shows that it’s a “Global Problem” and there emerges an urgent need to protect the victims of Domestic Violence globally.

STEPS TAKEN BY THE GOVERNMENT AND ITS RESULT

To combat this problem, the National Commission for Women (NCW) launched a helpline number – 0721-7735372, which enables the victim to report the crime of domestic violence through a message on WhatsApp. The reason behind using WhatsApp was that it is easier for most of the women to connect on WhatsApp in comparison to E-Mail and this can also be proved by the fact that a total of 40 messages were received in the first two days after the launch of this helpline number. But, in our country, a good percentage of women do not possess smartphones and there is also a lack of availability of internet facilities in remote areas which makes this initiative unavailable for most of the women.

SUGGESTIONS

The Government must implement far-reaching reforms that are inclusive of all women in the country, whether in an urban or rural area. An immediate step should also be taken to spread awareness about all the aspects of Domestic Violence and awareness about the helpline number should also be spread by using various mass media platforms. The Government can also change the legal policies to cope up with this rise in cases of Domestic Violence and can also take steps which other countries have decided to combat with this problem like, in Spain, the Government has proclaimed that the women will not be fined if they leave their house to report abuse and in France, the Government announced to put victims of domestic violence in hotel rooms and it also announced a fund of EUR 1 million to relief organizations working against domestic abuse, to help them to cater the increased number of victims. 

CONCLUSION

The only place where we are safe in this present epidemic is our home but, we can’t even imagine the condition of those women who are not safe in their homes as well. The Government alone is not responsible for solving this problem, but we as a citizen of this nation also have some moral duty to save those women and help them in getting legal aid. Our society generally ignores this problem and pays no attention to this issue, but this issue is like a slow poison which will affect the development of the nation in a long-run, and because of this there emerges an urgent need to protect the victims of Domestic Violence otherwise, the marks of these domestic violence cases will remain for a longer period.


Kapil Devnani is a first year student of Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur


IMPORTANT – Opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IJOSLCA.

THE LOCKDOWN: LAW STUDENTS & EDUCATION

Aashi Sharma, a 4th year student of Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi analyzes the impact of the pandemic on education sector.

Introduction

The new normal is living with Coronavirus. It is transforming every sector from the food industry to agriculture to education, etc., hardly any industry is left untouched by the impact of the pandemic. It is wisely said that to cope up with the change, one should learn to adapt as fast as possible. The current situation is asking every sector to transmute at a faster pace.

Highlighting specifically the education sector, it has changed drastically after mid-March affecting it at every level, from kindergarten education to higher education. The education system in India has taken a sudden halt and is moving towards an unprecedented path. Soon after the detection of Coronavirus cases in India, the Law colleges/institutes around the country were shut down. Despite the given circumstances, many students got an opportunity to step out and lean against the conventional ways. Unsurprisingly, some students were unable to avail the opportunities due to varied reasons. The change has proved to be transformative as the whole education system found space on various online portals. 

Transformation

In India, people in the legal fraternity have been deprived of technology whether we talk about the functioning of courts or teaching methods in the classroom. Some are not comfortable; some are unable to use it, and many are unaware of the new technologies. The traditional ways were in the mainstream. Despite all this, technology eventually engulfed the education system making everyone equipped with gadget rapidly after the advent of Coronavirus, which paves a path towards e-learning. Between all this, the condition of students in the rural areas and from poor sections worsened after the lockdown. Lack of proper access to the internet and not possessing required devices adversely impacted their studies.

The Laws in our country are mostly archaic, and so are the ways of acquiring knowledge. Still, the lockdown period turned out to be an opportunity to bridge the gaps in knowledge as the interactions between students and teachers adopted online mediums like Zoom, Google Meet, Webex Meet, Google Classroom etcetera. The education from a particular institute was not just limited to the students of that institute but was available nationwide. Apart from this, the lockdown period also brought an opportunity for the students to grab some valuable information from eminent personalities like Judges of Supreme Court & High Courts, retired Judges, Senior Advocates, CEO of top law firms’ etcetera. Various webinars, MOOCs, etc. were conducted by many colleges, organizations, law firms, etc. which immensely benefited the students. Also, research has majorly moved from the library to online platforms. 

Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) had already taken many steps to digitize the education system through the introduction of various portals (mentioning particularly for law students) like Swayam, e-Pathshala, National Digital Library.[1] Soon after the lockdown, the ministry worked towards its improvisation.[2] Students unaware of such platforms were brought an opportunity to learn through unconventional ways. Not just this but various other free courses provided by MOOC platforms like Edx and Coursera enabled students to nurture their legal knowledge. Institutions like Harvard, Yale, Australia University, etc. are providing valuable study material for the law students on these platforms. It, however, is not sufficient to achieve the desired goal of digital learning across the nation. Now, the question arises concerning the students who were unable to access the e-study material and other e-learning facilities. The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India, surveyed from July 2017 -June 2018. The data says that the percentage of households that possess computer (Computer included devices like, desktop computer, laptop computer, notebook, netbook, palmtop, tablet (or similar handheld devices) excluding smartphones) is only 10.7%. Only 23.8% of households have access to the internet (Internet accessed via devices like desktop, laptop, palmtop, notebook, netbook, smartphone, tablets, etc.). Only 16.5% and 20.1% of people aged 5 and above were able to operate the computer and use internet respectively.[3] 

“Reconstruction of study material is required by the higher education institutions. It should be done in a way, which is compatible with e-learning and to achieve the desired objectives”, says Dr Shakila Shamsu (Former Officer on Special Duty (New Education Policy), Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Human Resources Development, GOI).[4]

Apart from all this, there had been a negative impact. Students were affected mentally, psychologically and even physically. One such example is, due to industrial shutdown and economic slowdown, it has been seen that the students in their final year of higher education are adversely affected. The job offers were withdrawn in this sector, and many even lost their jobs. On the other hand, internship opportunities have grown tremendously as people are looking for cheaper labour to circumvent the situation.

Conclusion

Perhaps an opportunity lies in the crisis which may be availed by taking various effective steps in the right direction. Crisis is expected to set the advent of a blended education system in the coming future. The students will be able to have physical interaction combined with the virtual interaction and will not be deprived of digital learning. The continual practise of such digital interactions in future will avail students to bridge the gaps in their knowledge.

If online learning works well in the coming future, then colleges can offer more than just classroom knowledge. Individuals can learn through online platforms. The elite institutions and faculties in the country can accommodate more students through digital platforms, and hence, an increased number of students will be able to enrich their knowledge in the guidance of such experienced people. 

Privatization leading to educational inequality due to which education had taken the form of business where education is being traded, and the students were just the consumers. This destructive factor might gradually deplete with the upcoming digital learning and could let the students avail best of knowledge across the globe at a lesser cost. 

The opportunity is on the plate to promote collaboration through e-conferencing and various other modes at a lower cost. The isolated study culture and closed teaching community in India can open up to collaborative study and research through digitization. 

The stepping stone is needed for the required change, albeit it is not an overnight process. The future is unknown, and we don’t know till when we will have to stay with it. This is the time to avail the opportunity and transmute the system. The changes made today will be seen giving results after a decade or so, but things will change for the better. Let’s get equipped to leave the conventional and to train and adapt to the new normal. 


Aashi Sharma is a fourth year student from Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, GGSIPU, New Delhi.


Press Information Bureau, Government Of India, Variousinitiativeshavebeentakentopromotedigitallearningunder‘Nationalmissiononeducationthroughinformationandcommunicationtechnology’ (05.06.2019), https://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/ru1470.pdf.

Ministry of Human Resource Department, Government of India, Indian National Commission For Cooperation With UNESCO response To COVID 19 (06.06.2020), https://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/inccu_0.pdf.

National Sample Survey Office of Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Key Indicators of Household Social Consumption on Education in India (July 2017-June 2018), http://mospi.gov.in/sites/default/files/publication_reports/KI_Education_75th_Final.pdf.

Ananya Koppikar Murthy, Online Higher Education in India during the COVID-19 pandemic (26.05.2020), https://www.orfonline.org/research/online-higher-education-in-india-during-the-covid-19-pandemic-66768/.

IMPORTANT – Opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IJOSLCA.

MIGRANT CRISIS: THE HARSH REALITY OF OUR BROKEN SYSTEM

Manasvi Bhatt, a fourth year student of University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun analyses the sufferings of the migrant labourers and the responsibility of the government for their safe return and rehabilitation.

INTRODUCTION

In December 2019, the first case of Covid-19 was registered in China. Soon the outbreak of virus spread across the world. India, to fight the virus, was under lockdown from March 25, 2020. When all the citizens of our country were locked in their houses and enjoying the quality time with their families. Doctors, police officers and all the essential services were working day and night to fight against the deadly virus. But in the midst of this, the government failed to consider a large section of the society who suffered the most: migrant workers. For decades people have moved to different cities, states and countries in search of better life opportunities. People coming from villages and small towns migrated to metro cities. We see them everywhere, yet we failed miserably to acknowledge them.

THE BEGINNING OF THE CRISIS

The Prime Minister announced the first lockdown from March 25, 2020, closing all the factories, industries, hotels and restaurants. Thousands of people lost their jobs and were left with no money. According to the 2011 census, 455 million Indians, or one-third of the population could be classified as migrants.[1] The improperly planned lockdown forced these workers to go to their native village either on foot or bicycle. Hunger and no jobs led to the exodus of these migrant workers from various parts of the country. As their source of income ended abruptly, they were left with little savings their hand. But these savings were not sufficient for them to reach their native villages. They had to sell their valuables to reach their destination. Deprived of jobs and transportation, these workers started walking their way with either no money or little money and no food. For them it was like walking on a two-sided sword, on the one hand, they could stay at their rented houses in the city and depend on government and citizens for their survival, or they could walk to home suffering atrocities and policemen in their way. To avoid police interrogations, they chose to walk on dangerous paths, and some have even lost their lives. On May 8, 2020, 16 migrant workers were killed when goods carrying train passed over them. They were walking towards home and slept on or near the tracks. Many reports have come regarding the desperate measures taken by migrant workers trying to reach home and how their life ended in this dangerous journey. According to reports, 14 migrant workers were killed in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh on May 13, 2020. The police said six migrant workers were killed in Uttar Pradesh when a state transport bus ran over them, and PTI reported that eight were killed when the bus in which they were travelling collided with a truck in Madhya Pradesh.[2] On May 15 morning, NDTV reported that six migrant workers were killed in 3 separate incidents in Uttar Pradesh.  According to data from Save Life Foundation phase, 3 of lockdown contributed to 60% deaths of migrants’ workers. Around 198 migrant workers died in road accidents during lockdown according to reports of Save Life Foundations. The workers lost their lives in road accidents, due to hunger and dehydration and they even died in Shramik trains.  After 80 days, these workers can still be seen walking on the highways.  

THE ROLE OF JUDICIARY AND GOVERNMENT

On May 26, 2020, a three-bench judge led by Justice Ashok Bhushan decide to take Suo moto action on the miseries of stranded migrant workers and ordered the central and state government to immediately provide with transportation, food and shelter free of cost to migrant workers. The CourtCourt previously failed to protect the rights of migrant workers in March and made some bizarre statements by saying “How can stop migrants from walking”.[3] The Solicitor General also made a funny statement in Supreme Court in March by saying “there is no person walking on the roads in an attempt to reach his/her home towns/villages.”[4] Time and again, the Supreme Court has abdicated its duty to protect the fundamental rights of the migrant workers. The three-bench judge comprising of Justice Ashok Bhushan, SK Kaul and MR Shah said that 15 days are enough for the central and state government to bring all the stranded migrant workers to their native homes.  

The central government started Shramik Special Trains from May 1 to carry migrant workers. The special trains only added to the plight of these workers. The central and state governments again failed miserably. Indian Railways reported that 256 trains were cancelled by various state governments. The lack of coordination between the state government and central government led to such cancellation of trains. There are reports of people dying on shramik trains and trains not reaching the destination. According to the data from Railway Protection Force, almost 80 persons have died on Shramik Special trains. According to a few reports, the special trains initially were not providing any food or water. The trains were running without any pantry services. The railways and government faced severe criticisms. Only after such criticism, they started pantry services.[5] The railways and government subtly blamed the extraordinary times and the health issues of the workers who died on the train. The Solicitor General said to the Supreme Court denying all the allegations related to the deaths of workers on special trains. He said that no death of migrant worker happened due to lack of food or water or medication. They died because of their poor health. The government did not publish any official data relating to the deaths of migrant workers during the lockdown. There is no official report on the reasons behind the death of migrant workers. 

CONCLUSION 

The Central Government, State Governments and Supreme Court all three of them added to the plight of migrant workers. Instead of helping these people, they turned their eye and blamed these poor people for their miseries. The lack of coordination and the inventiveness of both governments lead to the cancellation of trains and trains losing their route. The central government ill-planned lockdown forced these workers to walk on the road to reach their native places. Some walked barefoot, some walked with small children, and some pregnant ladies walked carrying all their belongings. The government refused to acknowledge their problems and left them on their own. The CourtCourt did not take action on time and made some bizarre statements acting like they can’t help in such a crisis. While the government and CourtCourt failed, the media and citizens reached out to these people. There are several interviews and reports on how citizens helped these people by providing food and shelter. Few celebrities also came forward to help these workers. The Covid-19 did not only lead to economic and health crisis but also a humanitarian crisis. It exposed our broken system. It made us think for the most neglected group of our society and forced us to imagine how our big cities will survive without them?  


Manasvi Bhatt is a fourth year student from University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun .


[1]Rukmini S, Why India’s’ Migrant’ Walked Backed Home(May 28, 2020, 5:21 AM)  ,https://www.livemint.com/news/india-why-migrants-walked-back-home-11590564390171.html

[2]Rohini Chatterjee, Migrant Workers Have Died Almost Every Day Since May 8 Aurangabad Tragedy(May 5, 2020, 1:21 PM), https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/migrant-workers-killed-lockdown_in_5ebcfdfbc5b63dbb671141d8

[3]Jagdeep S. Chhokar, Migrant Worker Crisis: The Supreme Court Has Abdicated All Responsibility(May 19, 2020), https://thewire.in/law/supreme-court-migrant-workers-crisis-abdicate-responsibility.

[4]Ibid.

[5]The Wire Staff, Almost 80 Persons Have Died on Board Shramik Special Trains( May 30, 2020), https://thewire.in/government/almost-80-persons-have-died-on-board-shramik-special-trains.

IMPORTANT – Opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IJOSLCA.

SORRY STATE OF MIGRANT WORKERS – THE STATE IS NOT SORRY!

Source – The Hindu

Swarna Latha R., a practicing lawyer of Madras High Court, expresses her opinion on the untold sufferings of the inter-state migrant labourers and the responsibility of the government for their safe return and rehabilitation.

INTRODUCTION

In the wake of Corona induced lockdown, while the elite was hitting vessels and burning candles in balconies, the desperate migrant workers have been forced to flee the cities and take up the long walk home to survive the pandemic. One look at the dailies will tell us the sordid tale and untold sufferings of the hapless inter-state migrant labourers. Their yearning to go back home and the lack of possibility of integration with the designation state due to shutdown of public transport compelled the inter-state migrants to take up their long journey on foot. 

DISEASE OR HUNGER? 

Several gory incidents of innocent workers, men and women with infants and children boarding trucks like cattle and also the death of these marching migrants succumbing to hunger and heat reveal the widespread apathy and discrimination of the policymakers.  Bereft of social security benefits and no labour legislation to protect migrant working class, they are completely dependent on their employers for their livelihood. The present lockdown has made hunger and relief the need of the hour.  If they remained still, they died of the disease or died of hunger and poverty. If they chose to retreat, they maimed and starved unto death unable to complete their journey home.

THE INVISIBLE GUEST-WORKERS 

Why did the Government lose sight of the plight of the floating population? Had they become invisible? Is it because they belong to the most vulnerable section of the unorganized sector? Do the elite and the middle-class migrants face a crisis the same way migrant working class do?  This reverse migration is again a representation of the class struggle between the haves and the have-nots. Are we moving from a Democratic welfare state to a draconian feudalistic state? If not, the Government which brought Indians working overseas through special flight arrangements, turned a blind eye to the walking inter-state migrants? Is it the rule of law or rule of the rich? Is it not a severe blow to the equality jurisprudence embedded under Article 14 of the Constitution?  

THE UNFRIENDLY FAREWELL AND COLD WELCOME

In announcing the lockdown without prior notice, the central Government had invoked the Disaster Management Act, which overrode state governments’ powers. But the onus of transporting and rehabilitating the miserable inter-state migrant workers was shifted to the State Government. The Central Government washed off its hands with a total disregard for these innocent people. Neither the sending states allow and arrange for the safe return nor did the receiving states welcome the retreating population. Many have died of exhaustion or become victims of road and rail accidents as they tread thousands of kilometres on foot. Is it not the responsibility of the District Collector to make necessary arrangements for their safe return and rehabilitation? 

RESPONSE OF THE JUDICIARY

The Indian Supreme Court, renowned for the effective exercise of its epistolary jurisdiction, absolved itself of Constitutional duty of protecting the rights of the people. Hearing the Public Interest Litigations challenging the inhumane treatment of stranded workers, the Supreme Court didn’t relent to pass any effective order. The unmoved Supreme Court remarked with a high point of insensitivity, “it was not possible for the Court to monitor who is walking and who is not walking. How can we stop if they sleep on tracks? ”      

However, the stories of hardships faced by the marginalized stirred the sympathetic consciousness of the High Courts in India. The Madras High Court called the string of pathetic incidents, a human  tragedy and referring to the Aurangabad incident where 16 migrant workers were killed by a gushing train. The High Courts of Bombay, Gujarat and Delhi also did their bit by holding the State Governments responsible for the rehabilitation of the migrant labourers.

After severe criticism for charging fare for transit, the Central Government aided their relief and repatriation, through Shramik Special trains and free bus services. Though 3840 Shramik trains were accelerated from May 1, death of 80 persons enroute was reported. Corona did not Kill them; Starvation did. Who will bring the voices of these invisible citizens to the forefront? A scathing letter unsigned by the senior advocates of the Supreme Court pointed out the indifference of the Supreme Court and wrote that the current migrant crisis is symptomatic of how the Constitutional promises of equality, life, freedom and dignity have been totally ignored by the Government in passing arbitrary executive orders. 

While so, the empathetic Supreme Court of Nepal has upheld the dignity of the migrant workers and rightly ordered that if there was a way to facilitate the commute of the people so willing to return to their native places, then the state should do everything at its disposal. Further, to ensure food and medical facilities enroute and also to explore the possibilities of rehabilitating the migrant workers.

Better late than never. At last, the Supreme Court took Suo Moto cognizance of the matter and issued notice to the Government that the administrative lapses cannot be ruled out and also directed the Government to transport them back to their native villages by providing shramik trains within 24 hours of the request. The top Court has also ordered to specify the schemes of employment of these migrant workers post lockdown.         

MIGRANT-SPECIFIC WELFARE LEGISLATION

As per the 2011 census, there are 65 million inter-state migrants, of which a third are workers. Many of the stranded workers could neither afford to get one square meal a day nor the benefits of public distribution system.  It is this desperation that is driving these migrant laborers to undertake the arduous and bizarre journey. The Convention on the Protection of the Rights of  All Migrant Workers and Members of their families recognizes that ‘the State Parties concerned shall as appropriate consult and co-operate with a view to promoting sound, equitable and humane conditions in connection with international migration of workers and members of their families.

In this respect, due regard shall be paid not only to labour needs and resources but also to the social, economic, cultural and other needs of migrant workers and members of their families involved, as well as to the consequences of such migration for the communities concerned. The acute state of these migrants today is only due to the disregard and neglect for them during normal days. Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 mandates the contractors who employ more than five migrant workers to obtain a license after registering at both the ends. However, this doesn’t apply to employers employing five or less migrant workers. Had there been any welfare scheme in each state which accommodated this highly mobile workforce, India would not have witnessed the mass exodus and an enormous number of hunger deaths.  Inter-state migrants lose even their entitlement of Public Distribution System when they cross the borders of their native state as it’s made available only to permanent residents in a state. The ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ scheme refashioned by the Central Government as a relief measure for migrant workers, also covers only a minuscule of migrants as most of them do not hold the card in hand.  

CONCLUSION 

It’s imperative upon the Government to enact equitable policies for inter-state migrants in terms of labour policies, medical facilities, hygiene, education and social welfare. It’s high time that the Government comes up with a comprehensive migrant-specific labour welfare legislation making it mandatory for the employers to register their names in a portal extending the benefits of social security to them as well. Nevertheless, the lives that starved unto death in the fight against Corona will ever be etched in our memories as a black mark in the history of the largest Democratic country in the Government. 


Swarna Latha R. is a practicing advocate at Madras High Court.


IMPORTANT – Opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IJOSLCA.

THE QUEST FOR JUSTICE IN THE MIDST OF AN EPIDEMIC: ANALYZING THE HUMAN RIGHTS NARRATIVE OF THE DISPLACED INDIAN MIGRANT WORKERS.

Prateek Joinwal, a 3rd year law student at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata analyses the gross human rights violation faced by the displaced migrant workers due to COVID-19 in India.

Introduction

The pandemic caused by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (‘2019-nCoV’) has compelled States to implement policies targeted towards curtailing the pernicious manifestations of the virus. Likewise, in its bid to prevent community transmission of the 2019-nCoV, the Government of India had implemented a nationwide lockdown on March 24, 2020. Ever since the first phase of the lockdown was enforced, the newspapers were inundated with reports of migrant workers walking several miles en masse from regions within the National Capital Region (NCR) to their hometowns.[1] Even the third phase of lockdown has not shown signs of any improvement in the predicament of the migrant workers; for, while the first phase was marred by the helplessness with which thousands of migrant workers were forced to march homewards, the third phase is marred by the visuals of the same workers protesting in front of the railway stations.

Rather unsurprisingly, several reports have revealed that migrant workers – international as well as within a country – have been especially vulnerable during this 2019-nCoV crisis.[2] The quagmire faced by such workers is not merely limited to the facet of mobility in the midst of a nationwide lockdown but is interlinked with the overarching violations of the basic human rights of these workers, who are often dubbed as the ‘nowhere people[3] in our society. There have been instances where some of these workers have been denied entry in their native places out of fear that they might be infected[4], in other cases they have been made the victim of hate speech which has militated against their possibility of coming forward for screening.[5] The crisis of the workers was further exacerbated by the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s order on April 07, wherein, it refrained from interfering with the decisions taken by the Government vis-à-vis the migrant workers amid the 2019-nCoV lockdown.[6] 

It has been argued that migrants’ specific patterns of vulnerability often lie at the intersection of class, race and status; since migrants are overrepresented in low-income and discriminated minorities, and encounter a multitude of challenges linked with their lack of entitlement to health care, exclusion from welfare programs, and fear of stigmatization and/or arrest and deportation.[7] This blog piece is aimed towards highlighting the plight of these workers and engender a discourse on the gross human right violations incumbent during the State imposed lockdown. Part I of this paper elucidates the basic rights of the migrant workers and how the same have been encroached by the State and its beneficiaries. The discussion shall culminate with the concluding remarks, along with providing some measures to ameliorate the stance of the migrants, in Part II of the paper.

  1. Analyzing the paradox: Migrant Workers and Human Rights.

The World Health Organization (‘WHO’) had declared the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right, in 1946.[8] Additionally, while the ICESCR stipulates the Right to Health as an international legal obligation, the U.N, High Commissioner for Human Rights had urged the Indian State to ensure that measures to respond to the pandemic are “neither applied in a discriminatory manner nor exacerbate existing inequalities and vulnerabilities”.[9] Previous epidemics have shown us that stigmatizing viral transmission only further places populations at risk and reduces access to care. Along similar lines, the WHO Director-General T.A. Ghebreyesus has urged for a “whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach” by the States while tackling the 2019-nCoV.[10] 

It has been observed that migrant workers have not been accorded the same status as other members of the community, leaving them in a precarious situation vis-à-vis curing the spread of the 2019-nCoV.[11] It is unfortunate that poor working and living conditions, marked by abhorrently deplorable access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities, have become a grim reality for all the migration workers.[12] Often, these workers are denied the right to an adequate standard of living, including housing owing to which they are mandated to live in overcrowded, unhygienic conditions, with limited or no access to health services.[13] Their predicament has only worsened in the period of lockdown, with migrant workers being placed at risk from the impact of the pandemic due to the harsh containment measures, poor working conditions and the exploitative labour systems.[14]

Even though Article 19(1)(d) and (e) of the Indian Constitution guarantees them the right to move as well as reside and settle in any part of India, their citizenship rights have nevertheless been confined to the mere legalistic entitlement to an identity without much access to the more substantive social and economic rights. The same has shown to keep them at the periphery of the political and social paraphernalia, which constantly tends to deny or overlook their existence.[15] The question which arises at this juncture is whether the right to life and dignity guaranteed under Article 21 has any meaning for these workers whose lives have been rife with the anathema of state repression?

  1. Policy Recommendations for an Inclusive Framework: The Way Forward?

In order to effectively curb the outbreak of the 2019-nCoV, it imperative that displaced populations are provided with access to infection prevention and control measures, along with integrating the community of migrant workers within the framework of the national health-response processes. While the Government had implemented a relief package of 1.7 trillion rupees for the vulnerable populace on March 26[16], it is evident that the same has not been effective in ameliorating the stance of the migrant workers within the Indian demographic. Thus, it is quintessential for the Government to look into the recommendations UNESCO-UNICEF and the Working Group on Migration for ending the plight of the workers displaced during the lockdown. 

Additionally, the Government should work towards paying the pending wages for all work done by these workers under the MNREGA and expand its scope to those forced out of work by the lockdown. It is unfortunate that the displaced populations, including the migrant workers, are often the first to be stigmatized and unjustly blamed for the spread of a disease, yet they are also among the most vulnerable people during a pandemic—to both the virus itself and the measures enacted to effectively control it. Our country should also consider taking interpretative cues from other nations who had addressed a similar quagmire in their battle against the spread of the virus. For instance, Portugal had temporarily accorded full citizenship rights to every migrant and asylum seeker within its borders, which allowed the displaced populace to get the benefit of the country’s public healthcare regime.[17] 

On similar lines, even migrants in Thailand have been entitled to 2019-nCoV screening and treatment procedures irrespective of their legal status; with the documented workers being covered under the ambit of the country’s ‘Migrant Health Insurance Scheme’.[18] Thus, in its endeavour to tackle the pandemic while upholding the sanctity of the rights of the displaced populace, our State must incontrovertibly undertake additional social protection measures or widen the ambit of the current social security schemes so as to alleviate the rigours of those who are at the risk of being disproportionately affected by the crisis.


Prateek Joinwal is a Third year law student from West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata


[1]Anand Mohan J., As capital sleeps, migrants keep on moving — and getting stopped, The Indian Express (May 16, 2020, 6:04 AM), https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/as-capital-sleeps-migrants-keep-on-moving-and-getting-stopped-6412170/.

[2]Fasani Francesco & Mazza Jacopo, A Vulnerable Workforce: Migrant Workers in the COVID-19 Pandemic, Publications Office of the European Union 1, 2-3 [2020].

[3]A.K. Ghosh & A.R. Chaudhury, Migrant Workers and the Ethics of Care during a Pandemic in R. Samaddar (ed.) Borders of an Epidemic COVID-19 and Migrant Workers 91-92 (Calcutta Research Group 2020).

[4]Krishnadas Rajgopal, Coronavirus lockdown | Migrant workers should not be prosecuted, says Supreme Court, The Hindu (June 09, 2020, 11:25 AM), https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/coronavirus-lockdown-migrant-workers-should-not-be-prosecuted-says-supreme-court/article31784841.ece

[5]Ananya Tiwari, Delhi: Before train ride, Endless lines at Screening Centres, The Indian Express (May 21, 2020, 2:27 AM), https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/coronavirus-covid-19-lockdown-migrant-labourers-delhi-6419985/.

[6]Shruti Mahajan, Migrant Workers’ plight during Coronavirus Lockdown: Will did not interfere in government decision for few days, CJI SA Bobde, Bar and Bench (April 07, 2020, 12:20 PM), https://www.barandbench.com/news/litigation/migrant-workers-plight-during-coronavirus-lockdown-will-not-interfere-in-government-decision-for-few-days-cji-sa-bobde.

[7]Lorenzo Guadagno, Migrants and the COVID-19 Pandemic: An Initial Analysis, 60 Int’l. Org. for Migration 1, 5 (2020). 

[8]Andrea S. Christopher & D. Caruso, Promoting Health as a Human Right in the Post-ACA United States, 17 AMA J. Ethics 958, 959-61 (2015).

[9]COVID-19 Lockdown: U.N. Human Rights Chief Expresses Concern About Migrant Workers, The Wire (April 03, 2020), https://thewire.in/world/india-covid-19-lockdown-un-human-rights-chief-migrant-workers

[10]Ling San Lau et al., COVID-19 in humanitarian settings and lessons learned from past epidemics, 26 Nature Medicine 647, 648 (2020).

[11]Frayer Lauren, Coronavirus Lockdown Sends Migrant Workers on A Long and Risky Trip Home, National Public Radio (March 31, 2020, 7:02 PM), https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/03/31/822642382/coronavirus-lockdown-sends-migrantworkers-on-a-long-and-risky-trip-home.

[12]S.N. Roy et al., Migrants in Construction Work: Evaluating their Welfare Framework 5 (Centre for Policy Research 2017).

[13]Pramod K. Nayar, The Long Walk: Migrant Workers and Extreme Mobility in the Age of Corona, 4 J. of Extreme Anthropology 1, 2-4 (2020).

[14]R.B. Bhagat et al., The COVID-19, Migration and Livelihood in India: A Background Paper for Policy Makers 6-8 (International Institute for Population Sciences 2020).

[15]Adhir R. Chowdhury, Govt has been groping in the dark on the migrant issue. This must change, The Indian Express (May 22, 2020, 9:49 AM), https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/migrant-labour-crisis-india-coronavirus-lockdown-modi-govt-adhir-ranjan-chowdhury-6421503/.

[16]Asit Ranjan Mishra, Sitharaman announces 1.7 trillion packages for the poor hit by the lockdown, LiveMint (March 27, 2020, 12:45 AM), https://www.livemint.com/news/india/covid-19-centre-announces-rs-1-7-trillion-package-for-migrant-workers-poor-11585207289279.html.

[17]Mia Alberti, Portugal gives migrants and asylum-seekers full citizenship rights during coronavirus outbreak, CNN (March 31, 2020, 2:22 AM), https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/30/europe/portugal-migrants-citizenship-rights-coronavirus-intl/index.html.

[18]Pramod K. Nayar, supra n(13).

IMPORTANT – Opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IJOSLCA.

 

SUSPENSION OF LABOUR LAW DURING COVID-19

Shubhangi Soni and Ayush Pal, both Second year law students from Faculty of law, Banaras Hindu University, discusses the effect of suspension of labour laws amidst the covid pandemic on Indian labourers.

It pours when it rains, are the conditions with the Indian labourers amidst this lockdown which have hit them hard. At this time of crisis when thousands of migrants are travelling back to their place bare feet by barren highways, empty stomach many state governments decide to suspend most of the labour laws in the name of boosting the economy. The plight of Indian labour is such that the decision has acted as the last nail in the coffin of hopes of these labourers.

As during the lockdown the economy has seen a great downfall, states decide to boost it up, the way that they find is the suspension of labour laws as the various state following the lead of Uttar Pradesh where 35 out of 38 labour laws exempting prohibition of bonded labour and regulations regarding the protection of women and children, have been suspended for 1000 day.[1] The state of Madhya Pradesh has also suspended the most of the labour laws exempting certain specified safety and security clauses and other states like Odisha, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttrakhand have also made many changes as well increased the working hours from 8 to 12 hours[2] and sent for the ascent from the president as there are no particular laws which are called labour law. 

The subject “Labour” lies in the concurrent list of Indian constitution under list 22, 23 and 24, which means both state and union government have the authority to amend or suspend the labour laws. Nobody knows what the striping the labours of their basic rights of sanitization and safety will lead to. If labour laws are removed, most of the employment will turn from formal to informal, and wage rate will also take a plunge to the ground. As well, the government has not provided any measures regarding the grievance redressal for the violation of their basic rights.

The ordinance passed by the Uttar Pradesh government regarding the suspension of laws is so ill drafted leaving a room for judicial scrutiny for example, as per the ordinance the factories act have been suspended but (1) it is not clear what will happen to the PF which is accumulated and at what rate the interest will be paid, (2) the award of industrial tribunal only become enforceable under the Industrial Disputes Act, which is suspended! It is evident that none of this has been thought of; the details are missing. This will only give rise to the legal conflicts between the employer and employee. In the end, the employee will have to suffer as the right to form trade and union is also suspended, leaving no other option than to being exploited by the hands of the employer.

The governments advocate their steps in the name of surging the economy. Still, as per the economic theory, the incentives taken by the state governments are ill-trained and retrograded steps. The main aim of these incentives is to open the market for investment, as the lower, the government intervention on the name of rules and regulations, the more the investments. This is an ideal situation. In the present scenario, there are other factors affecting the market such as wage cut of employees; as a result, people have less money to spend reducing the demand which affects the production, that will further reduce the investment. It will only lead to the exploitation of the labour and will result in the natural form of the market and will bring down the wages.

Indian labour laws were often criticized as ‘inflexible’ due to legal requirements, as this has constrained the growth of the firm, and others have also argued that there are too many laws, unnecessarily complicated and not effectively implemented forming a base for corruption. If India had fewer and easy to flow labour, law firms would be able to expand and contract. Is this the long-pending reform of labour laws? Expecting to create a flexible form of the market which will result in investment and expansion of the firms which will increase the employment benefiting the labourers. Experts have objected the view as it will not boost hiring and spur economic growth as there is already too much chaos in the market, firms are shaving off the salary of their employees, the overall demand has fallen. Which firm will hire the employee right now? As the intention of the government was to restore more and more jobs than instead of increasing the shift duration from 8 hours to 12 hours they should have allowed two shifts of 8 hours in this way more number of people can be employed. 

Radhichika Kapoor of Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) has stated that measures are taken by the government “are creating an enabling environment for exploitation”. It is because far from reform which essentially means improving the status quo it has deprived the labours of its basic rights and also drives down the wages.[3] Who keeps a check on the firms from not firing his existing employees and hiring them at a lower rate as the government has removed all the provisions binding firms not to fire workers.

Eminent labour economist Dr Shyam Sundar believes that it is an extremely retrograde step that pushes the rights and safety of India labour force at risk. Moreover, these measures are going to result in fall of wages will only further deteriorate the existing conditions of the formal market and economy which will backfire the recovery process.[4] ‘The time for taking such severe steps is not right; we are moving in the exact opposite direction of downfall this will dwindle the economy further.’

When Indian states decide to suspend the labour laws for mushrooming the economy on the other hand in the time of difficulties for supporting their labourers and surging their economy, countries like Vietnam has provided $70/months for workers on unpaid leave and also aid to employers by offering funds and workers with no unemployment insurance and securities to get $40/month for three months. Bangladesh government also launched a package of $89.45million for workers who have lost their income, and UK government has decided to pay 80% of usual wages of employees laid off for four months.[5]

India being a founding member of the International Labour Organisation and Indian parliament, has ratified 47 conventions of the ILO[6] which are deliberately related to working hours, labour inspections, equal remuneration, compensation and cases of injuries as should comply with the norms of the convention and if not then ILO should also intervene in this vandalized situation

The government in this situation of disarray has to understand that as the case behind the downfall of the economy was the sudden and unknown, outbreak of the disease novel virus COVID-19, and the measures are taken to control the epidemic and fight the disease were different, which were never considered in the history. Similarly, now the economy also needs a different perspective which includes every section of society as all have suffered equally whether employees or employer, entrepreneurs, to surge the economy.


Shubhangi Soni and Ayush Pal are Second year law students at Faculty of law, Banaras Hindu University


[1]Beta Sharma, UP Govt’s Suspension Of Labour Laws Could Greenlight Bonded Labour. Here’s Why, HUFFINGTON POST, (May.8,2020), https://www.huffingtonpost.in.

[2]Prashant Krar; Several states extend working hours from 8 to 12 hours in factories, ECONOMIC TIMES, (Apr. 24, 2020), https://m.economictimes.com/news/economy/policy/states-extend-working-hours-from-8-to-12-hours-in-factories/articleshow/75342462.cms.

[3]UditMisra, Nushaiba Iqbal, What labour law changes by states means, THE INDIAN  EXPRESS. (May 16, 2020),https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/what-labour-law-changes-mean-coronavirus

[4]Kundan Pandey, COVID-19 labour laws dilution: ‘Neo-liberal character has eroded welfare state’, DownToEarth,(May 12, 2020), https://www.downtoearth.org.in

[5]Iqbal supra note 3, at 3.

[6]ILO IN INDIA, INTERNATIONAL LABOUR ORGANISATION, https://www.ilo.org/newdelhi/aboutus/WCMS_166809/lang–en/index.html.

IMPORTANT – Opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IJOSLCA.

COVID-19 LOCKDOWN AND HUMAN RIGHTS OF MIGRANT LABOURERS

Shreya Chauhan, a 3rd year Law student from Amity Law School, Delhi deliberates upon the issues faced by migrant labourers and the violation of their human rights amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

ABSTRACT

The pandemic COVID19 is continuing to have widespread influence on workforces globally, but migrant workers are bearing the chief impact of the crisis. Inadequate and packed living conditions, limited access to healthcare, and exploitive labour systems are few of the factors which have made workers disproportionately at the risk of exposure to infection. Many of the migrants are not able to afford the rides back to their states. Making their situation worse, many state governments under the fear that the returning migrant workers would increase the virus spread further has left them stranded. Although the quick response to the pandemic has reduced the widespread infection, it has also created concerns about aggravating existing inequalities and vulnerabilities.

INTRODUCTION

Today our nation and the entire globe are battling an incurable disease which till date has no specific vaccines or medications. COVID-19 is a disease that has put the whole world into a standstill. Talking about its effects on humans groups, the pandemic has caused a significant impact on our hardworking labourers. They travel from one state to another to secure their families with food and clothing.

To save the citizens of the country our Prime Minister abruptly announced a lockdown on 25th March[1] which got extended as the effects of the deadly viruses began to spread. The extended lockdown while desirable for India trying to reduce COVID-19 spread, but it underestimated how vulnerable, and unorganized the migrant workers in the country continue to be. This extended lockdown made the workers of the country worried that they are going to be struck for three weeks, and their daily wages would suffer a lot.[2] They were stuck at the place where they have no money to feed themselves, and they can’t reach out to their families at this time. 

ISSUES FACED BY MIGRANT LABOURERS

A large number of migrants began undertaking their journey to their village or state by foot helpless, and disappointed.[3] Lack of cash in pockets, being jobless, and with public transport that has been shut down, hundreds of migrants had to cover hundreds of miles on foot back to their home villages with some dying during their journey. According to a media report, a total of 140 people died in road accidents across India since the lockdown was announced. 30% of them were migrants who were walking or trying to reach their home states by concealing in buses or trucks.[4] 

There are children of these workers who are left behind by their parents who undertake employment elsewhere. These children are dependent on remittances sent back to their homes. In many parts of India daily allowances is the primary source of income for the nourishment of the families.[5]  Then there are those children who migrate with their parents when they leave the city for their job. Because of the lockdown, their parents’ pending wages will only exacerbate their living.  They might have a long-lasting impact on their health and overall well-being.[6] 

A vast majority of migrant families in India are employed in the agricultural sector.[7] This extended lockdown may cause the risk of nutritional insecurity in these families. Nutritional insecurity causes adverse health effects in the short term as well as long time.[8] The workers are also haunted by the fact that they might get infected and if they leave one place they might not be allowed to re-enter it by their landlords or employers who have given them places to live. A labourer from Uttar Pradesh stranded in Gujarat allegedly committed suicide as he was in despair that he did not have work and he could not return home.[9] 

On May 7 2020, 16 migrant workers who took their journey to their homes were killed by goods train. These innocent migrant workers were resting at a train track after walking a day from Jalna to Aurangabad.[10] While in Bengal and Bihar migrant workers staged a protest demanding transport facility for travel to native places and the supply of adequate rations during the lockdown.[11] There are situations where the migrants have registered themselves in rented accommodations but got no information about their transport from the government.[12] 

HUMAN RIGHTS OF MIGRANT LABOURERS

The Human Rights of migrants include the right to work and receive wages that contribute to an adequate standard of living.[13] Along with these rights, migrants have an indivisible and universal right to return home whenever he wishes.[14] Unfortunately, these rights of workers are being violated unintentionally due to COVID 19 outbreak. The lockdown announced by the government has put the workers in a kind of hostage situation where they can’t earn wages or even return to their homes. We must realize that along with the economy of the country, this outbreak has an impact on the socio-economic sector of the country too and takes measures for the same. There were reports of police officers beating migrants for breaking quarantine and dousing migrant labourers with disinfectants which is very degrading and exploitive of human rights of these workers.[15] Forcing the labourers to stay can be inferred as bonded labour treatment. Hence, a proper commitment to save the Human Rights of these vulnerable groups is required urgently from the government.

SUPPORT AND FUNDS BY GOVERNMENT (STATE AND CENTRAL)

Ministry of Home Affairs has authorized state governments to use their disaster response funds amounting to Rs. 29,000 crore to aid migrant workers.[16] The funds had helped states to support these workers by giving them shelter, food, and medical support. However, this is not enough as there are still workers who are stranded from their homes.[17] 

However, many states have exhibited higher standards of human values when they extended their help to migrant labourers in their respective states, Kerala, Telangana, and Odisha[18] are few of them who have been successful in bringing their migrant labourers in their state and taking proactive steps to address the issues of its migrant workers. The Jharkhand Government launched[19] ‘chief minister’s special assistance scheme’, a mobile app to help with the registration of stranded labourers. But the present situation demands fair implementation of schemes and distribution of funds. State Governments must have complete data of the migrant workers.[20] Only then they would be able to negotiate better. 

CONCLUSION

The labour force of migrants in the construction and manufacturing sectors is essential for economic development in India. The migrant workers are completely excluded from the safety nets as they are entirely exposed to the infection and other accidents.   The predicament of these migrant workers must be treated as a humanitarian crisis requiring crucial attention. The state government has to effectively develop mechanisms to transport these migrants back to their villages. Interstate coordination to exchange data is essential at this time.

The Central and State government have received an order from Supreme Court[21] regarding the plight of migrant workers according to which no fare for train or bus shall be charged from migrant workers, along with food and accommodation for workers who are stranded. An active, orderly, and planned management of migrants is essential at this point of time. 

A fresh focus to bring these labour workforces within social, economic, and health security protection. A great start can be made by providing them with social security under Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maandhan.[22] Along with this, there must be a political willingness to protect the rights of labourers for ensuring their welfare. Only by ensuring social protection, food security, health, education, financial inclusion of these labourers the goals of migrants’ well-being can be achieved. 


Shreya Chauhan is a 3rd year Law student from Amity Law School, Delhi


[1]Myupchar, PM Narendra Modi announces a national lockdown for 21 days starting midnight of 24-25 March, FIRST POST(June 10, 2020,9:16 PM) https://www.firstpost.com/health/pm-narendra-modi-announces-a-national-lockdown-for-21-days-starting-midnight-of-24-25-march-8185961.html

[2]Nirvikar Singh ,Covid19 let the workers go home, Financial Express(April 22, 2020, 2:56 AM), www.financialexpress.com/opinion/covid-19-lockdown-let-migrant-workers-go-home/1935786/lite/

[3]Charmi Mehta,  Data on sugarcane in Maharashtra after floods shows why accurate assessment is critical, DOWN TO EARTH (April 2, 2020) https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/governance/data-on-sugarcane-in-maharashtra-after-floods-shows-why-accurate-assessment-is-critical-70619

[4]Zeba Warsi, 42 Migrant Workers Died in Road Accidents While Trying to Return Home during Lockdown: Report, News18, (May 7,2020,4:17 PM), https://www.news18.com/news/india/42-migrant-workers-died-in-road-accidents-while-trying-to-return-to-their-home-states-during-lockdown-report-2609841.html

[5]Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation & The World Food Programme, Review of Global and Indian Food Security Analysis , FOOD AND NUTRITION SECURITY ANALYSIS, INDIA, 42 (2019)  

[6]Divya Ravindranath, Understanding the implications of the Covid 19 Lockdown on migrant worker‘s children, THE WIRE (May 5,2020,8:36 AM), https://m.thewire.in/article/rights/covid-19-lockdown-migrant-workers-children-implications

[7]A. K. Gupta, D. R. Arora and B. K. Aggarwal, Sociological Analysis of Migration of Agricultural Labourers from Eastern to North-Western Region of India,23,INDIAN JOURNAL OF INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS, 440, (1988)

[8]Jung Sun Lee, Edward A. Frongillo, Jr, Nutritional and Health Consequences Are Associated with Food Insecurity among U.S. Elderly Persons, 131 THE JOURNAL OF NUTRITION, 1504 (2001)  

[9]DP Bhattacharya, Migrant worker in Gujarat commits suicide, Economic Times(May 8,2020,7:46 AM), https://www.google.com/amp/s/m.economictimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/covid-19-lockdown-migrant-worker-in-gujarat-commits-suicide/amp_articleshow/75610073.cms

[10]16 Migrants crushed to death by a goods train in Maharashtra, EXPRESS NEWS SERVICE (May 8, 2020, 09:47 AM), https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2020/may/08/16-migrant-workers-crushed-to-death-by-goods-train-in-maharashtra-uddhav-announces-compensation-2140696.amp

[11]Mohammad Iqbal, COVID-19: Migrant workers from West Bengal and Bihar protest in Jaipur, THE HINDU,(May 12, 2020,2:12PM), https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/covid-19-migrant-workers-from-west-bengal-bihar-protest-in-jaipur/article31564245.ece

[12]HT Correspondents, States prepare to bring migrant workers home, The Hindustan Times (May 1, 2020,  04:49AM), https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/states-prepare-to-bring-migrant-workers-home/story-wBQBMX4muFNuQ7kJREZViJ.html

[13]INDIAN CONST, art 43

[14]International Convention on maritime search and rescue,1979 , Chapter 2.1.10 

[15]Dutee Chand, Distressed by the plight of migrant workers: UN human rights chief on India lockdown, THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS, (April 3, 2020,1:56AM), https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2020/apr/03/distressed-by-the-plight-of-migrant-workers-un-human-rights-chief-on-india-lockdown-2124995.html 

[16]Press Information Bureau, On directions of the Prime Minister, Home Ministry approves release of Rs 11,092 crores under State Disaster Risk Management Fund to All States, PRESS INFORMATION BUREAU (April 3, 2020, 7:10 PM ) https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1610756

[17]Omar Rashid, Coronavirus lockdown : With no work or food, workers brave the long march home from Uttar Pradesh, The Hindu (May 9, 2020, 11:51 PM) https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/coronavirus-lockdown-with-no-work-or-food-workers-in-up-brave-the-long-march-home/article31538788.ece

[18]Umi Daniel, Down to earth, DOWN TO EARTH, (May 28, 2020, 7:35 PM) www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/governance/amp/covid-19-lockdown-crisis-for-migrant-workers-what-states-are-doing-70584 

[19]EHealth Network, Jharkhand: CM launches mobile app to help migrants stranded outside due to COVID-EHEALTH (April 18, 2020) https://ehealth.eletsonline.com/2020/04/jharkhand-cm-launches-mobile-app-to-help-migrants-stranded-outside-due-to-covid-19/

[20]Santosh Mehrotra & J Parida, India has the resources to care for its embattled migrant workers – but does it have the will?, SCROLL.IN (April 27, 2020, 3:30 PM) https://scroll.in/article/960179/india-has-the-resources-to-care-for-its-embattled-migrant-workers-but-does-it-have-the-will

[21]Alak Alok Srivastava v. Union of India AIR 2020 SC 468 

[22]ET, Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maan-dhan: All you need to know, Economic Times (July 2, 2019, 02.49 PM) https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/wealth/invest/pradhan-mantri-shram-yogi-maan-dhan-all-you-need-to-know/articleshow/70039624.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

IMPORTANT – Opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IJOSLCA.

RIGHTS OF INDIAN PRISONERS DURING COVID-19

Tamanna Gupta, a Third year student at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab, reviews various rights accorded to prisoners across the country during Covid-19.

INTRODUCTION

“It is said that no one truly knows a nation until it has been inside its jails, A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.”- Nelson Mandela.

Prisoners Rights have been a subject of controversy since the late eighteenth century. Due to COVID-19 being declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organization, and in light of more than 4 lakh deaths worldwide, several steps are being taken to ensure that the rights of prisoners are not hampered. Several jails are resorting to releasing prisoners en masse, while others are testing all the prisoners for COVID-19, and there are plans for setting up centres for testing COVID within jails, as well as plans for setting up temporary arrangements for prisoners who might be affected by COVID-19, as well as to de-congest the prisons. In light of all these developments, it is imperative to look into the various rights accorded to prisoners across the country.

OVERCROWDED PRISONS- AN IGNOMINIOUS REALITY

The denial of bail to the several accused arrested due to the Elgaar Parishad Bhima Koregaon case hit the headlines recently. It also brought to the fore misgivings about the conditions of prisoners languishing in Indian jails during the COVID-19 pandemic, in light of the hospitalization of prominent activist Varavara Rao on May 28, after reports surfaced that his treatment at Taloja Jail was unsuccessful. People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) issued a clarion call for ensuring bail to political prisoners, especially sexagenarians, and prisoners suffering from co-morbidities. In a press statement, PUCL stated that ensuring conditions conducive to prisoners’ life and health is a duty of the state.

PUCL also condemned the abysmal prison conditions in India during COVID-19.[1]

The reality of the overcrowding in Indian prisons in the present context is an open secret. The number of prisoners as compared to the capacity of a prison reflect a wide gap, which has been harped on by several activists and organizations, clearly falling on deaf ears of the authorities, until COVID-19 cases started emerging in several prisons across India, prompting prison authorities to launch a haphazardly planned series of actions to ensure the safety of the prisoners.

 The ‘Prisons Statistics India’, released by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), stated

  • More than 4.5 lakh prisoners were lodged in various jails across India, by the end of 2017, with a lodging capacity of 3.91 lakh prisoners.
  • More than 4.33 lakh prisoners (2016) adjusted in the provisions meant for 3.8 lakh prisoners. 

The reason ascribed to the present state of affairs is the swarms of under-trial prisoners, who eagerly await grant of bail or judgment at the hands of the Courts.[2]

Several issues have cropped up, which now challenge the prison authorities such as security and safety in prison, health and hygiene issues, and safety of the prisoners, which cannot be unseen during the pandemic. The jail authorities have taken several measures such as releasing under-trials, aged prisoners, and even setting up temporary jails for housing COVID-19 suspected prisoners.

A CATALYST FOR PRISON REFORMS-SPREAD OF COVID-19 IN PRISONS

After the incidents of the spread of COVID-19 in several state prisons hit the headlines, coupled with news and media channels reporting upon the extent and severity of the same due to the inaction of the courts and other authorities, prison officials sprang into action.

  • In Mumbai, the forebodings of Arthur Road Jail superintendent that the spread of COVID would not be able to be controlled in the jail due to the problem of overcrowding came into revelation, after 184 of the prisoners lodged in Arthur Road Jail tested positive for COVID-19.
  • In Jaipur, Rajasthan, authorities have to get the entirety of the prison staff and all inmates tested for COVID-19, after nearly 150 prisoners tested positive.
  • In Agra, Uttar Pradesh, the death of an inmate in Agra Central Jail led to panic and confusion, amidst which 14 other inmates were quarantined and tested for COVID-19.
  • In Ludhiana, Punjab, the first case wherein a prisoner tested positive for COVID-19 was diagnosed at Ludhiana Jail, identified as a 48-year-old woman inmate.
  • In Delhi, cases were diagnosed in Rohini Jail, which led to quarantining several other prisoners.[3]

FREE RANGE PRISONERS-ACTIONS TAKEN BY AUTHORITIES

After the Supreme Court issued directions to ensure the release of prisoners subject to conditions, to ensure de-congesting in prisons, several states have taken steps for the welfare of the prisoners.

 The action taken by each state differed, depending upon the density of persons lodged in prisons, nature of the crime committed, age of the prisoner, etc.

While several states resorted to releasing prisoners en masse, in several instances temporary facilities were created for the relocation of prisoners, and for prisoners who were suspected to be COVID-19 positive. Many prisons turned to test the entirety of the prison staff and inmates for COVID-19.

Releasing Prisoners-

  • In Punjab, 9773 inmates have been set free from jails all over the state, as stated by a government official.
  • In New Delhi, a whooping 3500 inmates were released from three of the centre’s most congested jails-Tihar Jail, Asia’s largest prison facility, Rohini Jail, and Mandoli Jail.
  • In Maharashtra, over 7200 prisoners have been released from prisons all over the state.
  • In Assam, over 3500 prisoners were released.

Temporary Facilities-

  • In Bihar, the government shifted around 4500 prisoners from overcrowded to less crowded prisons; however, no prisoner was granted bail or parole.
  • In Ghaziabad, a temporary facility has been set up at Adyatmik Nagar after a spurt of cases in Sahibabad.
  • Plans are being made to set up facilities at Ghaziabad, Meerut, Bhagpat, Agra and Meerut.[4]

Testing Prisoners-

  • In Kerala, the authorities are now only admitting prisoners out on parole or bail, after the completion of their bail term, only if they test negative for COVID-19. Each prisoner is being tested before re-admission in prison. Prisoners are lodged at quarantine centres or designated hospitals till they test negative for COVID-19, after which they are re-lodged in the prisons, depending on the result.
  • After several cases were tested positive at jails in different states, contract tracing was done, and prisoners were quarantined. In some cases, the entire prison staff and inmates were tested.

RIGHTS OF PRISONERS-INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENTS

Prisoners Rights have been a subject of wide debate and discussion, both nationally and internationally. Several International statutes and covenants lay down rights for the prisoners, such as the United Declaration of Human Rights (1948), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1976), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1976). Recently, the Mandela Rules (UN Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners) (2015) were drafted by the UN for ensuring humane treatment to prisoners.

RIGHTS OF INDIAN PRISONERS DURING COVID-19

In the Indian Context, Prisons Act 1894, recently amended by Prisons (Amendment) Bill 2016, regulates the management, rules and regulation for prisons in India.

While Section 7 of the Prisons Act 1894 protects the Right to Accommodation, aiming at providing for suitable and safe accommodation to prisoners, Section 14, 37 and 39 of the Act, ensures for the presence of a medical officer, reporting of ailments, and presence of hospital within prison premises. Section 39-A, added by the Prisons (Amendment) Bill 2016 states that jail authorities shall be responsible for maintaining basic hygiene in premises. These provisions ensure the rights of the prisoners during the all-encompassing pandemic.[5]

CONCLUDING REMARKS

While several measures are already in place in order to ensure that the rights of prisoners are not violated during the lockdown, the government needs to have a pro-active approach in order to ensure the timely de-congestion of jails, re-accommodation of prisoners at alternate establishments, and the courts must ensure that mass testing is conducted within the most crowded jails across the country. Since several cases have already emerged across prisons in the country, courts and prison authorities have to work in tandem in order to ensure that COVID-19 doesn’t spread like wildfire in the Indian Prisons. Till then, one can only speculate upon the state of affairs. COVID-19 should not serve as a red herring for prisoner rights, which shall remain a contentious issue, even in the post-COVID-19 scenario.


Tamanna Gupta is a Third Year Student at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab


[1]Sonam Saigal, Denying bail in Elgaar Parishad case to political prisoners is callous: PUCL, T.H India, June 2, 2020.

[2]FP Staff, Indian Jails overcrowded, understaffed, reveals NCRB Report; Most prisoners are under-trials, over 70% of them haven’t studied till Class 10, Firstpost.com, (June 11, 2020, 12:49 am), https://www.firstpost.com/india/ncrb-report-on-jails-most-prisoners-are-undertrials-over-70-of-them-havent-studied-till-class-10-reveals-data-7538171.html.

[3]PTI, COVID-19 Outbreak in Jaipur jail worries authorities, thousands of prisoners released on bail or parole across India, I.T. India, May 17, 2020.

[4]Peeyush Khandelwal, Temporary Jail in Ghaziabad for suspects of Coronavirus cases, H.T. India, April 24, 2020.

[5]Prisons Act 1894, Act of Parliament, 1894 (India).

IMPORTANT – Opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IJOSLCA.