COVID-19: PROBLEMS WITH ACCESSIBILITY TO RESOURCES.

Harsha Parakh and Yugal Srivastava

Covid-19 is a respiratory syndrome caused by SARS COV 2 which spreads itself when an infected person and a healthy person are in close contact with each other. With almost 10 months down the line a lot has changed in our country and the whole world. It has affected the working of various sectors mainly the economy, judicial system, education and healthcare. It has affected people’s accessibility to obtain services and even exercise their rights and these are not short-term, but long-term impacts. 

Following the social distancing norms, the CJI on 23rd March declared the court proceedings to take place through video conferencing. Now, with this, in various High Courts and the Supreme Court, the matters are to be adjudicated and decided without being actually present in court. This order of virtual court was announced by the SC by using its power under article 142 of the Constitution. But in a letter to the CJI by the Bar Council, 90% of the advocates and judges were unaware of this technology. Closure of courts and reduction of their operations has negatively impacted the provisions of timely and fair hearings. This is a big question on the provisions of Right to fair trial and Right to Justice and its administration. Right to Speedy trial is an important part of fair trial and is also a human right, which, in this pandemic, has been compromised a lot. Indian prisons are crowded with prisoners whose trials are pending since even before the lockdown. Due to these lockdowns, only “urgent matters” are being heard, which has further delayed a definite conclusion for their cases. What is an “urgent matter” is not defined. The court is hearing those cases which have come up recently and those involving bails. According to the National Judicial Data Grid, an overall increase of 22% in the pendency of cases can be seen from 2006 till now. As on August 2019, there are around 3.5 cr pending cases, with highest in subordinate courts. The government should not run away from its responsibility of safeguarding the rights of the citizens by perceiving the pandemic as an opportunity. 

Another sector which is badly affected is the educational sector. These lockdowns are affecting about 91% of the world’s students with more than 40 crores in India alone. The main issue arising is that of increased inequality and bad quality of education in virtual classes. The assumption behind the working of virtual classes is that every student has stable internet access, a laptop or smart phone and reliable electricity. But according to latest data, only 600 million of the total 1.2 billion population has internet access with mere 24% of households of students having internet access, 42% are in urban areas while just 15% in rural. This is creating serious digital divide. As the schools continue with this academic schedule via online classes, these unconnected students will face serious difficulties once the schools reopen. The responsibility of parents towards their kids has greatly increased. The educated parents are able to do so but those who are not educated are facing serious difficulties. A very good scheme of the government to encourage students to come to school and provide them with proper nutrients was of Mid-Day meal. But due to this pandemic and the social distancing norms, this scheme is suspended for a while. This is having serious implications on the health of children. Due to this lockdown, many parents have lost their jobs or their work has been temporarily stopped. They are facing difficulties in paying the school and college fees. On the other hand according to the teacher, this fee paid by the parents is their only source of income. Also there are negative impacts on health due to long time spent on screen.    

The health sector is no exception. Among the 185 countries of the world, India stands at 145th position in terms of money spent on accessibility and healthcare services. Countries spending 8-10% of their GDP on healthcare are crumbling and India is just spending 1.4% of its GDP. Increased demand of health facilities and healthcare workers has decreased their capability to operate effectively. Due to restriction in movement, serious impact on the health of non Covid patients can be seen. Patients from less developed states can’t travel to metropolitan cities to seek healthcare. It has become impossible for the government to provide immunization to so many children.  Adults are missing their lifesaving medical treatment due to lockdown. The outpatient and emergency treatment for infectious and non Covid diseases are being curtained. Lab testing has reduced. Patients are having less access to mental treatment. While fighting with Covid, we should ensure that the price to be paid is not of the non-covid patients. If so, this fight will be immoral and worthless.   

The harm done on economic sector is much larger than that on health. There was an economic slowdown even before this pandemic in our country.  As said by the Ministry of Statistics, growth rate of our country went down to 3.1% in the fourth quarter of 2020. Nearly 14 crore people lost their jobs due to this lockdown. Income drop has been reported by more than 45% of households. Businesses were forced to reduce the salaries of their staff to maintain equations. The tourism sector has reported a loss of more than 15,000 crore in March and April only. There has been a reduction in demand of electricity from around 30% below normal in March to 8% below normal in June. The government revenue is largely affected as the tax collection went down and now they are finding ways to cut their costs. Export and imports fell down. Oil prices fell sharply as its demand reduced. Many of the big companies in our country and even in the world had to suspend their production for some time. This resulted in work loss for the people who were dependent on them. This further increased unemployment. According to a study, 60% of the farmers harvested their crops, but suffered a yield loss. On the other hand, around 10% of the farmers were not even able to harvest their crops. In the coming time their hardship is going to increase. Food wastage increased as the supply chains were affected during lockdown which in turn affected small farmers. 

E-commerce companies like Amazon, Flipkart and Big Basket restricted their supplies to only essential items.  Even after things became a bit normal they supplied their products only in “non-hotspot” zones. The Ministry of Defense announced that no major defense deals would be made until this pandemic normalizes. State governments incurred huge losses. They have to cut their capital expenses and plans for some time. The daily wage workers are left with no work and with the restriction on the movement of public transport they are forced to travel long distance by foot back to their villages. The state governments have this new responsibility to look into this matter of migrant labors. 

These impacts on various sectors are going to have long-lasting effects. Although social distancing is one of the best ways to reduce the impact of this pandemic, it is also one of the main reasons for so many issues. The courts should find ways to protect the rights of the citizens and give them justice even during these hard times. They should not overlook the cases of people which were registered before the start of the pandemic. The government should be prepared for these kinds of situation and make necessary arrangements in the education sector. The government should make every possible effort to contain this pandemic, but they should also keep in mind the problems of non-Covid patients. They should ensure that they don’t suffer long- term health consequences. It’s time to realize that battling the Covid situation is important but we can no longer ignore the problems of non-Covid patients. But the efforts of the government for the revival of economy are worth praising. The companies have started their revival with the maximum strength of 33% from May itself. From June, the companies further reopened and started making strategies for their revival. According to Nomura India’s Business Resumption Index, the position of India’s economy is like that of pre Covid times. As said by many scholars, the whole world economy, including India, could look at an “X” shaped recovery pattern.

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