Statistics do not lie. The loss of human life due to the Corona pandemic is of an epic proportion. Globally, the toll is estimated to be more than 4 lac with new cases rising in thousands with each passing day. The economically triumphant superpower, United States of America, is facing a crisis in governance, to say the least. Race protests have further compounded the political thicket even as Coronavirus continues to ravage the nation.
Unemployment is rising all over the globe and has ushered in an era of uncertainty and speculation about the future. The lockdown generation, (to describe young people facing multiple shocks from the COVID-19 crisis) according to ILO, is suffering hard. Nations and economies from one coast of the Atlantic to another are struggling to find the mean balance. and predictions are made suspiciously on market behaviour.
The big question is: Will this pandemic usher in a phase of ‘second depression’? Is critical medical care a luxury nowadays? Is ‘governance’ really there for the common man or is it struggling to keep pace with the dangerous spiralling trend of Coronavirus? Strange it may sound, but the future is what we believe it to be. Fear is the single most emotive disruptor in a hedonistic world full of man-made miseries.
This somewhat sham world thrives on a rat race for material pleasures and positions of power and pelf in a fast-melting ‘normal’ world. Both worlds co-exist in a competing way as of now. Fear of an uncertain future largely triggered by the pandemic is driving even star gazers crazy. The majority of the populace seeks solace in private prayers because God houses remain marginally operational and religious fervour is restricted as per prevailing governmental norms in India. What is the basis of our insecurity? Is state response enough? Do these questions continue to challenge us?
Industrial growth and expansion at the beginning of the twentieth century catapulted some countries on the path of fast-paced ‘assembly line’ production and these countries fast managed a favourable balance of trade.
As western nations like the United States, Britain and France went into an aggressive industrializing phase of production; the world witnessed a battle of political ideas among competing forms of ‘socialism’ and ‘capitalism’.
The policy of massive militarization was pursed by an emerging industrial superpower which ultimately led to two world wars and several minor and major confrontations between nations big and small. As a result, each country started ‘fearing the other’, and even the challenge of an epidemic like the infamous Influenza pandemic of 1918 failed to make any dent on the hubris of global power blocs.
The truth is, mankind has always prepared and continues to prepare for war and battles where bayonets are ready to draw blood at the slightest hint of betrayal. Mistrust among nations reigns even more dangerous now than perhaps it did during the 1920s. Never in history, have powerful nations seriously prepared themselves to brace for a rather insignificant threat in their perception like the one posed by influenza or let’s say, malaria disease.
We live with the deadly HIV, and we might just end up living with Coronavirus. Coronavirus has transformed patterns of social interaction and a visibly dissociated world is in the brink of losing its ‘community feeling’ and sense of ‘social solidarity. Thinkers like Emile Durkheim at the beginning of the twentieth century with the rise of industrialization predicted that the process will lead to decreasing social solidarity and cohesion.
Commercial and business law in India is so shy to acknowledge the lurking presence of unseen threats and disasters that it contemptuously inserts a ‘force majeure’ clause in agreements and the theme is rarely appreciated seriously by policy planners and lawyers. A ‘force majeure’ clause affords an elbow room to contracting parties to satisfy their mutual obligations in the event of an unforeseen mishappening or disaster beyond human control.
There is a need to explore the various implications of such a clause and the evolving character of legally enforceable contracts during a pandemic. Also, we need to hinge our laws on restorative and empathetic ideals.
The law is blunt, cold, and harsh even during a pandemic. So while a public enterprise may be taken to task for firing an employee during a pandemic by furnishing an illogical reason, this may not be the case with private players and parties.
Poor tenants were at the receiving end during the last few months as a direct fallout of the Corona pandemic. This may appear unjust and immoral. However, there is nothing illegal in for a landlord to take his due from a tenant as such.
The ethic of civility is a casualty here. John Rawls opined that “As such, ‘the ideal of citizenship imposes a moral, not a legal, duty—the duty of civility—to be able to explain to one another . . . the principles and policies they advocate and vote for’.
Certainly, at times the law is its operation can be quite weird and cut off from the societal needs and aspirations.
Labour laws increasingly face dilution as a legislative tool of Ordinance is being indiscriminately used by central and state governments. For instance, the Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020, suspends the operation of all labour laws in the state for three years with some exceptions. Under the new legal regime, the working hours could extend even up to 12 hours, and exploitation may be rampant.
Legislative initiatives like these indicate a knee-jerk reaction to contain the debilitating effects on the economy but the focus should be to strengthen the financial support systems and social security measures. Institutions are galore but we need to re-orient these towards a better assessment of unforeseen disasters and mishaps. Challenges can be multifold.
It could be an environmental threat, man-made disaster, the outbreak of an epidemic or anything else, we must not respond at the eleventh hour. After suffering disasters like Tsunami, India went on to draft the National Disaster Management Act, 2005. The urgency of emergency response must antedate the disaster in whichever form and institutional response shouldn’t be postulated.
The world is caught in a debate centring on the vaccine for Covid-19. Should this be our immediate priority? Maybe yes, maybe not. We like to live in wishful thinking that maybe once the antidote to the dreadful Coronavirus is discovered, our problems will vanish. Well, this is certainly not the case. The existing policy of the day needs a re-jig.
More importantly, policy thinking and planning need a re-jig. One, it is important to inform the public about the distinctions between ‘palliative care’ ‘quarantine care’, ‘therapy’ and ‘counselling’, and many more such medical terms which are used indiscriminately by healthcare officials, policy planners, and media.
It is important to purposely educate citizens. This can be done by launching massive educative campaigns and youth can be a partner in governance. Remdesivir is being launched under the name ‘Covifor’ in India as a ‘therapy drug’ for emergency care of Covid-19 patients.
Now several patients may presume it to be full-fledged care of Covid-19 but it’s not the case, though certainly, the aim is to reduce the burden on medical infrastructure in the long run. In the case of a homoeopathic drug, Arsenic album 30 being promoted by the Ministry of Ayush as one of the “preventive and prophylactic simple remedies” against Covid-19 it was reported that panic-stricken buyers are flocking to chemists to stock up on the drug touted as a cure for COVID-19.
However, it is no cure. The scientific community worldwide is racing against time to find a vaccine for a one-shot cure of the disease. A vaccine can be an onetime solution for a particular disease but unless the whole healthcare system is not organized and oriented towards empathetic policy planning, we will continue to stare at many more Coronas in the future.
The Annual Financial Statement tendered by Finance Minister on the floor of the parliament allotted Rs. 29774.21 crores for Medical and Public Health purpose and a meagre Rs.1811.0 crore for Water Supply and Sanitation. By contrast, Defence services alone shores up Rs.218368.48 in disbursement charged upon the Consolidated Fund of India. This was the scenario in February when Budget Speech was delivered by the minister of Finance, Nirmala Sitharaman. As per a news report, the PM Cares fund is expected to have collected around Rs. 9677.0 crores. The amount must be disbursed with transparency at the bottom of the process.
Future holds fear and insecurity in its bosom as we engage with multiple threats and marvels of technology take us afar only by a few miles. However, for the survival of mankind, we need to push for a realistic assessment of our emergency preparedness at every level of society and governance.
In the legendary work “Alice in Wonderland” of Lewis Carroll, the central character, Alice, a young girl puzzlingly asks the Mad Hatter about the curious watch which showed only the day of the month and not time, to which he replied that there is nothing strange in it as a watch also doesn’t even show the year.
Alice snapped back saying “but that’s because it stays the same year for such a long time together.” The interaction points towards the different perceptions of time carried by Mad Hatter who advises Alice to have a perception of time from his perspective.
A COVID-19 pandemic is an event in time and we may endure it and another year will dawn in near future but lessons learned from COVID experience must not be thrown overboard and should guide humanity for all times to come. Health emergencies have crippled systems and economies in the past but we need to be prepared better. There cannot be any discrimination at the policy level while chalking a methodology to counter an emergency. An emergency is an emergency. The future is safe and secure only if we astutely deal with current challenges.