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Covid-19: Govt Must Be Made To Answer For Ignoring The Right Of Citizens To Die With Dignity

The Constitution of India, that wonderful book that guides the functioning of our constitutional entities, grants each citizen the right to life and liberty, a right which is enforceable in a court of law. But what about death? Don’t the citizens have the right to death with dignity, death where they shall be entitled to last rites per per their religion?

A family member conducts last rites before cremation of a person who died of COVID-19, at Nigambodh Ghat cremation ground as coronavirus cases surge,in New Delhi, Monday May 10, 2021. (PTI Photo/Manvender Vashist)

Bodies of Covid victims floating in the Ganga In parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, hapless patients dying awaiting oxygen or a hospital bed, long queues and waiting periods, often stretching to two-three days, outside crematoriums and burial grounds for Covid patients victims to be cremated or buried. In the New India that we are living in these days, forget living – or should it be surviving? – even death carries a huge premium. In their bid to cling on to the misleading narrative that everything is under control, several states like Uttar Pradesh are indulging in massive under reporting of deaths.

That this, more often than not, takes away even the victims’ right to be counted as victims of the biggest pandemic and human tragedy that we are witnessing, is one factor that adds to the scale of the tragedy.

The Constitution of India, that wonderful book that guides the functioning of our constitutional entities, grants each citizen the right to life and liberty, a right which is enforceable in a court of law. But what about death? Don’t the citizens have the right to death with dignity, death where they shall be entitled to last rites per their religion?

ALSO READ: As SC Reaffirms Reservation Law, Trust Political Parties To Try And Find Loopholes In It

But in times where several state governments and the Centre have almost capitulated in the face of the pandemic, especially the ongoing second phase for which, despite having much advance notice and time and resources to add to the health infrastructure, their response was woefully inadequate, Death due to Covid is not even a number.

But while our government has been caught completely off guard in its response to provide something as simple as oxygen to Covid patients, we have witnessed, and continue to witness, the ugly spectacle of functionaries of several states getting themselves photographed while inaugurating brand-new Mortuary vans. Why miss any opportunity to hard sell the achievements of the government, even if this particular achievement should have been as quickly swept under the carpet as the data with regard to growing number of casualties due to Covid.

Living in times when even right to life as enshrined under the Constitution and stressed in innumerable judgments of the Supreme Court is not automatically guaranteed, the citizens’ right to dignity in death has been usurped by the State, a State whose sole purpose seems to be to win the battle of perception in the field of public opinion.

So what is, in trying to Win this battle of perfection, state rides roughshod over our right to life and death.

In the State of Andhra Pradesh versus Challa Ramkrishna Reddy and others, the Supreme Court held that Right to Life is one of the basic human rights and it is guaranteed to every person by Article 21 of the Constitution and not even the state has the authority to violate that right.

The court ruled that even prisoners, whether a convict or under-trial or a detenue, continues to enjoy all fundamental rights, including the right to life, guaranteed to him under the Constitution. The Court also held that on being convicted of crime and deprived of their liberty in accordance with the procedure established by law, prisoners still retain the residue of constitutional rights. And, this is one reason why even convicts on death row have the right to protect their lives even though they have been awarded the death penalty.

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Their lives can’t be extinguished unless as by law established. But, by denying Covid victims a dignified death, the State is denying them their right to decent death.

In a landmark judgement in the matter of Common Cause versus Union of India delivered on March 9, 2018, the Supreme Court of India held that the right to die with dignity is an intrinsic feature of the right to life under Article 21.

The judgment, which dealt with the important issue of passive euthanasia, underlined the need for citizens to be afforded the same right in their death as they were accorded in their life.

But in these Covid hit times, when even the right to life has fallen victim to the whims and fancies of lackadaisical governments, the right to dignity in death seems a far cry. But the time has come for our constitutional courts to intervene and ensure that the thousands of victims of the covert pandemic are allowed dignity in death.

Allahabad High Court order about teachers who died due to Covid during local body elections could be way forward:

Putting a figure to assess the cost of a death is always a tricky issue. However ,the Allahabad High Court order to the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh to pay at least Rs one crore each to the next of kin of each of the polling staff in the recently held local body elections who were forced to perform election duty, could be the way forward.

The court has rightly observed that it was a “deliberate act on the part of the state and state election commission to force them (teachers, shiksha mitra, etc) to perform duties in the absence of RTPCR support.”

Time has also come for the citizens to start demanding from their elected governments decent treatment facilities as well as adequate arrangements to conduct last rites of those whom we lose to the pandemic.

Supreme Court has big opportunity in PIL filed by Dr Jacob Puliyel:

Till today, many like me had not ever heard of Dr Jacob Puliyel. After all, how many of us follow the work of the national technical advisory group on immunisation, the central government’s apex body on immunisation, of which Dr Puliyel was earlier a member. Puliyel  has filed a petition under article 32 of the Constitution in the Supreme Court of India through advocate Prashant Bhushan seeking directions to the government to make public the segregated data of the clinical trials for the vaccines that are being administered to the citizens in India under the emergency use authorisation granted by the drugs controller general of India.

While many, especially those who are self-styled spokespersons of the central government, ever ready to unleash their often-unscientific and irrational claims and views on the opponents and critics of the government, will see this petition as an attempt to spread misinformation about the Covid vaccination programme, the petition is a step in the right direction. After all questions must and should be asked of the government which first went overboard in granting emergency use authorisation to the vaccines and due to whose shoddy planning, state after state is running out of the crucial vaccine.

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The petition rightly submits and underlines the importance of disclosure of segregated data of vaccine clinical trials and also the need to disclose the same through peer reviewed scientific journals. Secrecy in the matter and the stubborn refusal of the government not to Disclose any data with regard to such clinical trials would harm the vaccination drive in the long run.

The petition also asked the Supreme Court to uphold the right of the citizens to give informed consent as was allowed by the Delhi High Court in the measles rubella case instead of being coerced directly or indirectly to get vaccinated.

It would be interesting to see what stand the Supreme Court takes in the matter. Will it simply go by whatever flawed logic is extended, as has been done in several cases in recent past, by the Centre or will it go by expert advice. The Supreme Court would do well to remember that its main job is to protect the rights of the individual citizens and not get needlessly swayed by the facetious claims of the central government.

ALSO READ: Covid 19: The Second Wave Is A Devastating Tragedy That We Should Never Forget

Maneesh Chhibber is a Consulting Editor with India Ahead News. The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author. 

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