The State shall regard the raising of the level of the nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties. (Article 47 of the Constitution of India)
To fight the Pandemic it was expected from the nation to unite, but recently the prices of Vaccines are declared which shows that we are not united but have to face it by purchasing them at different rates, even, the Central and State Governments will get it at separate prices. This shows that all are not treated equally in India contrary to the very spirit of the Constitution.
The nation is suffering from Policy Paralysis and we are witnessing infighting amongst States to secure Oxygen, Medicine. Unfortunately, the Centre is accused by States of not being fair in the distribution of resources. The political leaders are playing the blame game and the common man is on the road searching for a single Oxygen Bed for his dear ones.
Health is considered as a Fundamental Right flowing from Article 21 i.e. Right to Life. The Hon’ble Supreme Court way back in 1980 while dealing with the case of Ratlam Municipality declared that the right to health is guaranteed as Fundamental Right by the Constitution of India. This right can be suspended only if, an Emergency is declared specifying Government’s failure to act constitutionally.
While the Constitution has guaranteed right to the citizens on the other hand it has created corresponding duty in the State to ensure each citizen gets this right. But, the present scenario of health services, does not show that Governments have taken this right of the citizens seriously.
Recently, a magazine has pointed out that in 2012 Government of India has fixed a goal for itself to reach a level of 2.5% of Budgetary Allocation for health purposes by 2020, unfortunately, till 2021-22 it has not crossed 1.5%. The Central Government makes budgetary allocation for health, in 2019-20 it was Rs.64,609 Cr., for 2020-21 Rs.78,866 Cr. By a common sense we were expecting that in the year of Pandemic it will increase but surprisingly in the Budget for 2021-22 it came down to Rs.71,268 Cr. If, the population of India is to be considered this amount is insufficient even to purchase Vaccines for all of them. The States are also not behind the Centre while defeating the rights of citizens. The average spending of States on public health is just around 5%.
The above figures are sufficient to explain why the public health services are in such bad shape and the reason for the pathetic condition of COVID sufferers. Unfortunately, as a voter we never bother to ask the incumbents about their future policies regarding health and our representatives have proved that they have no regards for public health and as a result, India is ranked as 145th in the list of 180 countries on ‘Quality and Access of Health Care. Unfortunately, we are in the top 10 countries that force its citizens to spend the highest out-of-pocket expenses on their health.
The Pandemic has taught us a lesson that we should fix our priorities wisely and humanly, we should not ignore that we are a welfare State and paramount duty is the welfare of each citizen and especially the marginalized section of the
It is high time that the right to health is understood by the Authorities, start working for the welfare and protection of each citizen, start developing the health services on a war footing. If, China can build Hospital in 15 days can’t we do it faster than it? Equitable distribution of resources is given priority. All Funds be diverted for health considering the emergency.
We need to understand the Constitution has cast a duty on the Government that consists of elected and appointed executives to improve public health. They must understand the difference between duty and charity, if, they are doing something from the budgetary resources or using laws to get some relief for the citizens, they are performing their duty and if they are spending something from their personal wealth for the betterment of citizen it is charity, unless, they are doing charity they should not claim any credit while performing their duty as they are already paid for it either in the form of ‘vote’ or ‘salary’.
While discussing the duties of the Government we cannot ignore our own constitutional duties as a citizen, our duty is to keep others safe by using a mask, keeping physical distancing and following the guidelines issued by Government. We must obey the rules and directions of the Authorities. Those who don’t need Hospitalization should not encroach upon the beds and made them available to the needy. Generous donations are made for the betterment of health services, this is the time for which we have filled the coffers of religious places. Please give back to society as it needs you now.
Any Government is not permitted to deprive its citizens of constitutional rights on a plea of poverty.
By Advocate Firdos Mirza,
Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court,