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The concealed combatants of COVID-19

This article is written by Mr. Adityaraj Patodia, 3rd Year Law student at Amity Law School, Delhi.

The Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, which began in China, has expanded to touch nearly every corner of the globe. Millions around the world have been seriously ill, and thousands have died. India started witnessing its effects from mid-March due to which the country had to go under multiple lockdowns.

Doctors, nurses, medical staff, and police personnel, have been given the title of ‘frontline corona warriors’ as they are leading the battle against this lethal and invisible virus. Medical staff cures the patients and the police help in maintaining the guidelines and SOPs modeled by the government to keep the matter under control. However, society is also indebted to the unacknowledged warriors of this pandemic, without whom our daily lives would have been severely handicapped.

To date, many people have not even stepped out of their driveways or maximum their colonies to avoid exposure. The government has announced unlock plans and motivates people to start working, albeit many are still very skeptical and choose to stay indoors. The upper class has mostly enjoyed their time in their comfortable homes right from when the lockdown was imposed.

If all the people had chosen to do this and not work, the economy, along with its people, would have been doomed. Thankfully, some sections of the society carried on with their duties making the lockdown a successful one.

The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer”. — Will Rogers

COVID-19 is India’s first-ever natural disaster wherein there was no widespread starvation in terms of a total collapse in food consumption levels. Famers have delivered abundant produce despite many difficulties faced by them. The reason that fuels their commitment to farming is that they do not have an accountant’s blinkered approach to profits. As long as the produce covers costs and generates cash flows to run their home, and finance the next crop cycle, they will keep producing.

Farmers have kept our granaries full, and hunger satisfied even in this hour of crisis. We must ensure that there are no hindrances of any kind that come in the way of selling their produce. Currently, due to social distancing norms, they are not being allowed to go to the mandis daily, which typically helps them realize better prices for their crop production.

It does not require an extended argument that farmers have a smallholding and need protection for selling their meager agricultural produce at fair prices.[1] In order to avoid overcrowding, the best solution is to spread out the buying beyond the mandis, to using the facilities of schools, colleges, and similar institutions which offer large grounds or spaces. It is the agency of the Government of India to implement food policy, which envisages the protection of farmers by ensuring remunerative prices for their produce and simultaneously safeguarding the interests of poor consumers by providing them food grains at highly subsidized rates under National Food Security Act, 2013 and other welfare schemes.[2]

Sanitation is more important than Independence”. — Mahatma Gandhi

The cleanliness of the country is crucial during such times to curb the spread of the virus. A quiet and diligent war has been fought by the sanitation workers/safai karamcharis slogging day in and day out for disposing of the garbage generated from colonies and even toxic bio-waste from hospitals. They preserve the healthy surroundings, some even without protective gear. Undoubtedly, these workers have put their lives on the line and are on par with the frontline warriors.

The State is tacitly complicit in allowing such unsanitary and dehumanizing practices as manual scavenging to continue; violating the Prohibition of Employment of Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. A plea did raise this issue before the Hon’ble Supreme Court. The petitioner prayed to the court to pass necessary directions to the State to provide the sanitation workers with the proper kit.[3]

International Labour Organisation says that employers must ensure that, all preventive measures are in place to reduce the risk of occupational hazards by giving the employees adequate protective equipment and clothing.[4] The health and strength of the workers is an essential facet of right to life and denial thereof violates Article 21.[5] In Safai Karamchari Andolan’s case[6], few guidelines were laid down such as ₹10 lakh compensation in case of death, immediate payment of dues, etc. which would give them immense confidence to carry on in such dire circumstances.

Another set of unsung heroes are the people who deliver essentials at our doorstep right from the delivery person of food and groceries to the milkman and the newspaper boys. They need to be applauded for putting themselves at high risk so that other people can safely stay at home.

The Supreme Court, in response to a PIL, on May 8, 2020, highlighted the importance of home delivery to maintain the social distancing norms, especially at liquor shops and suggested the states to consider the same. Many states did allow delivery; however, some states were concerned about the situation it might create for the executives. The Delhi High Court opined that alcohol delivery is fraught with security and safety issues as there are possibilities of theft and adulteration due to which it suggested other ways to reduce crowding like online sales.[7]

Even the grocery store owners have been grateful to have kept their shops running through these uncertain times, thanks to a committed cadre of helpers without whom they would have no option but down their shutters. The staff may look cheerful and calm on the exterior, but deep within they are equally or maybe more worried about contracting the virus and even worse, transmitting it to their families.

Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air”. — Henry Anatole Grunwald

The fourth estate of our democracy has played an instrumental role in providing constant updates and keeping us aware of the situation. None of the lockdowns or guidelines would have been successful without the press, which has now assumed the role of a public educator.[8]

The role of reporters and media personnel cannot be underestimated nor undermined. Their duty to timely disseminate authentic information involves risking their lives by visiting the containment zones and other dangerous areas, which is as crucial as the duty of the frontline corona warriors.[9]

Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids to work together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important”. — Bill Gates

Teachers have gone well beyond their call of duty to once again prove that the educational environment is not just confined to the classroom but even extends into the home and the community as well. They have put their best foot forward in these times to impart knowledge among their students seamlessly. Conducting online lectures smoothly in India was like a distant dream until the lockdown was announced. Some were technologically challenged, and others did not have the means to afford basic connectivity. Nevertheless, today all the problems have been more or less tackled, and the learning process continues.

Despite their selfless service, many people had filed petitions in various courts over these months demanding that fees should not be levied at all during the period of lockdown. However, in most of these petitions,  the High Courts have stated the importance of bare minimum tuition fees as it would amount to the salaries of the teaching staff. Justice Jayant Nath in Queen Mary School Northend v. Director of Education[10], permitted schools to decline online educational facilities to those students whose parents fail to explain the reason for default.

The Delhi High Court has observed that teachers, doing their duty, are equal to corona warriors.[11] Along with spreading knowledge, teachers have also been assigned COVID-19 duties, as the government has taken many schools run by the municipalities for providing essential supplies to the needy.

Lastly, plasma donors are playing an essential part in saving the lives of COVID-19 patients. Plasma is a blood component that contains virus-fighting antibodies. The plasma of a fully recovered COVID-19 person contains antibodies to fight the infection.

These valiant men and women, executing thankless jobs, are indeed the real unsung heroes. It is time that the society wakes up to respect them for their invaluable role in maintaining liveable environs!

[1] Sukhnandan Saran Dinesh Kumar & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors., (1982) 2 SCC 150.

[2] Workmen through the Convener FCI Labour Federation v. Ravuthar Dawood Naseem, 2020 SCC OnLine SC 461.

[3] Harnam Singh v. Union of India & Ors., 2020 SCC OnLine SC 449.

[4] Article 16 (3) of the Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 1981 (No. 155).

[5] Consumer Education and Research Centre & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors., (1995) 3 SCC 42.

[6] Safai Karamchari Andolan & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors., (2014) 11 SCC 224.

[7] Ambrosia Foundation Society (Regd.) v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi & Anr., 2020 SCC OnLine Del 585.

[8] Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Private Ltd. & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors., (1985) 1 SCC 641.

[9] Jacob George v. Secretary Department of Information and Broadcasting & Ors., 2020 SCC OnLine Kar 541.

[10] Queen Mary School Northend through Its Principal/Manager v. Director of Education, 2020 SCC OnLine Del 736.

[11] Court on its Own Motion v. Unpaid Salary of Teachers and Employees of NR.D.M.C., 2020 SCC OnLine Del 810.

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