India is fighting against the second wave of coronavirus, which is said to be the worst humanitarian crisis since Partition. During these desperate situations, the Indian Judiciary has come forward to protect human lives by exercising their power vested under the Indian Constitution.
On May 1, 2021, the number of the country’s daily Covid cases crossed 400,000, which subsequently burdened the country’s healthcare system, which was overwhelmed with patients and was on the verge of collapsing — where it was believed that the worst is yet to come, where the daily cases were rising up to 8-10 lakh.
India’s steep increase in the rising numbers of Covid cases has led to the criticism of the government for not handling the pandemic well from the Covid task force that did not have any meeting on the month of February and March, in spite of reporting a surge in Covid cases to the Election Commission, who is being severely criticised for conducting elections in the time of the pandemic and allowing mass gathering and roadshows to happen.
In the worst humanitarian crisis in the country, the Indian Judiciary has come forward to protect the lives of citizens by exercising their power vested under the Indian Constitution. As the Delhi High Court described the situation during the second wave as a situation “where the state failed in fulfilling its fundamental obligation of protecting fundamental rights, i.e. the Right to Life of its citizens”, whereas the Madhya Pradesh High Court while dealing with Covid-related matters, referred to various Supreme Court judgments where the High Court had interpreted that the Right to Life also includes Right to Health, and this right can only be secured if the State provides an adequate measure for the treatment.
The Indian Judiciary turned up as a corona warrior, whereas the Central and the State government faltered to provide basic medical needs like oxygen. More specifically, the role of the High Court was much more proactive in this regard; where the Court exercises its power of Judicial review under Article 226 of the Indian Constitution to issue Notices and guidelines to the State and the Central government.
For example, in the case of Delhi, which was severely hit by the second wave and oxygen supply was in shortfall, the High Court took cognisance of the matter and warned the Central Government of contempt if the government failed to comply with the guidelines.
Judicial activism in Covid-related matter is not limited to one High Court. Matters like these were being heard in almost every High Court. For example, the Jharkhand High Court issued a strong statement against the State Government regarding to non-availability of oxygen support beds in the hospitals, where the Chief Justice of the High Court went on to say, “The situation of the state is pathetic.”
The Chief Justice instructed the State government to follow the direction issued by the Court. The Madras High Court, in its strong observation against the Central government, sought a response from the Central government about their Covid management plan and asked what they have been doing for 14 months.
The Indian High Courts have also taken a strong view against the Election Commission, which failed to comply with Covid-related guidelines in the election rallies, which eventually went onto be a super spreader event. In one of the matters before the Madras High Court where it made a serious observation against the EC for allowing political rallies during the pandemic, the Court said, “Why shouldn’t the officers of the Election Commission be booked on murder charges?” A similar observation was made by the Calcutta High Court, which said, “The Election Commission has failed to implement Covid Guidelines.”
It is to be noted that during the early surge of the Covid cases, much of the Judicial activism was seen from High Courts, but now, the Supreme Court has also taken crucial steps to counter the Covid crisis in the country. Presently, certain important matters concerning the Covid crisis are being heard by the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
These include the issue of the pricing of the Covid vaccine and exercising of power under the Patent Act over vaccines and medicine. Dealing with the matter of oxygen shortage in the country, the Supreme Court set up a 12-member National Task Force to guide the Central government for the allocation of medical oxygen.
The situation that is said to be the worst humanitarian crisis of India after the Partition of 1947 where millions of Indians were infected and the thousands succumbed to the virus the country, finds itself in the verge of collapsing health care system. During such times of crises, when the country is dealing with its ineffective bureaucracy, the Indian Judiciary has come forward to protect citizens by exercising its power vested under the Indian Constitution. Indian judicial activism has boosted hope among the masses as the country finds itself fighting against the pandemic.