COVID-19 AND IT’S LEGAL PERSPECTIVES IN INDIA
On the 24th of March 2020 the Nationwide Lockdown had been imposed in the entireity of India with regard to the Disaster Management Act(DMA).Little did were the people aware about the gravity of the same which led to many difficulties which the common people had to face.Amidst the period of Lockdown only the essential goods such as those relating to security,government,food,municipal facilities,fire services,hospital,medical supplies and grocery shops were permitted to function all the while while other public spaces such as Hotels,Restaurants,Cafes,Gyms,Clubs and other places were all closed keeping the safety of the public in mind.During this time all international flights were stopped and people travelling from various foreign countries were asked to test themselves and isolate themselves in order to not spread the virus infection to others.At the times where the infection spread rapidly there were also inter-state boundary closures and the movement of citizens from other state and districts were also restricted.All the citizens were requested to stay at their respective homes and maintain social distancing.Any breach in maintaining social distancing and not obeying the rules and regulations mandated during the widespread of the novel corona virus,such people were criminally punished and legal actions were taken against them.When the first wave of the virus had hit India no one had sensed such an global epidemy like condition would persist for so long.While that time the United States was the most hit countries among the whole world India was no less cases rose day by day killing lakhs of people and creating a lot of social dilemma among the society.
Like the first wave that India had encountered back in 2020,similarly the second wave of the virus hit India back again in 2021 this time much worse.The virus keeping on mutating itself has become more dangerous and more infectious.The only solution that is left is Vaccinating as many people as possible and maintaining social distancing and keeping one’s immunity strong and healthy.On 16th of January 2021 vaccination started in india.Despite that during the early-April 2021 India was hit by a major second wave of covid infection this time much worse and severe.People of Delhi and Mumbai were the most hit as many as of people died due to shortage of Oxygen and Remdesivir medicine.Many people have lost their near and dear ones amidst the global pandemic.The Second wave has taken a major toll on the medical-healthcare system,while there’s an ongoing major shortage of liquid medical oxygen because of the rapid demand ,shortage of cryogenic tankers and delay in the transportation of the same.While all this ongoing havoc many covid-19 patients died because of shortage of ventilators,there’s an acute shortage of covid bed for the patients in many areas of the country.While many countries came to help India in the time of need by providing medical oxygen,ventilators and many other medical equipments and other such raw materials for the same.There have been Lockdown in many parts of the country to combat the widespread infection spread due to the virus.Coronavirus is the typical 'Black Swan' event. The global Coronavirus outbreak has led to destabilization of the world economy,a loss of earnings for companies as well as individuals, rise in the unemployment rate and a significant drop in the stock markets. As India battles the Covid-19 tsunami, the likelihood of a worsening global impact looms. The global pandemic that has caused lockdowns in numerous nations around the world, has caused disruption in all facets of life for an uncertain period. Social-distancing has emerged as the most powerful weapon to curtail the spread of this highly contagious virus in the society at large. However, these social distancing directives have reshaped and transformed many industries around the world.
India’s constitutional propriety on covid-19
The Indian Federalism resting upon the three pillars namely,a strong centre an cooperative federalism and the flexibility have taken an toll on its way of handling the nationwide spread of covid-19 cases.While such an epidemic situation requires immediate response and action from the centre or state governments,which isn’t happening.Where the other jurisdictions of the world are handling the epidemic in a wise manner with providing their respective state governments the power to determine whether to impose lockdown in their respective areas depending upon the number of cases.In India the imposing of lockdown in the nation is regulated by the centre and not the state government.The Ministry Of Home Affairs regulates and makes rules and regulations relating to the imposing of lockdown and curfews all across the nation. The constitutional propriety of the central government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic is questionable, which begs the question of why there has been a lack of protest from the states.But acquiescence is characteristic of Indian federalism, which relies on having a strong centre and subordinate states.In Union of India v State of Rajasthan, Indian federalism was described as “watered down”.In State of West Bengal v Union of India, the Supreme Court described Indian federalism as being where “the political sovereignty is distributed between… the Union of India and the States with greater weightage in favour of the Union”,this is very unlike the American notion of federalism. The lack of protest against the central government’s encroachment upon state powers may be attributable to this conventional understanding of the subordinate role of states within the Indian federation.
India’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic highlights a grim reality of Indian federalism–the absence of a declaration of “emergency”under the Constitution does not prevent the central government from consolidating power within itself.The lack of demurrer from the state governments in such times is not a function of co-operative federalism or the flexibility of Indian federalism, but detrimental passivism in times in which governmental accountability is paramount.While one might argue that tackling the outbreak of COVID-19 is of national importance,and accordingly requires the centre to act authoritatively,any response to such novel situations must not impinge on the constitutional rights of the states in the absence of their consent.
CHALLENGES TO THE INDIAN LEGAL SYSTEM
The Nationspread Covid-19 has affected the indian legal system very drastically.It has highlighted the adversities of our outdated legal system which makes it challenging in such an epidemic situation.Although it is very ironical to highlighting that the onset of introducing virtual hearing and e-governance initiatives in justice and court administration were enhanced after the enactment of the IT act,2000.However with the unforeseen widespread of the deadly novel corona virus it has become very essential to run the courts and providing justice to the needy with keeping all the safety measures in mind.Coronavirus has harnessed the potential of under-utilized tools and alternative work models long resisted by the Indian legal industry.Traditional ways of working have been altered and accepted at an astounding speed and with ease.Within few days a lot of changes too imparted into the indian legal system,with virtual court proceedings to virtual online classes,online internships.This nevertheless has taught us the importance of technology that we are so bound to be dependant upon because of the ongoing situation.Though India’s situation is still in a flux but nothing can be done instead of being dependant solely upon the technology and function through virtual –online proceedings and other such technology dependant mediums. The impact of the pandemic has been majorly seen in the Indian courtrooms. In order to adhere to social distancing norms and to curb the spread of second wave of this infectious virus, the Indian Courts have again resorted to Virtual Court Rooms to ensure that administration of justice remains uninterrupted.It must be noted that, the concept of Virtual Courts is not a novel concept in India. In 2003, the Supreme Court of India in State of Maharashtra v. Prafulla Desai held that recording of evidence by a Court through video conferencing shall be considered to be 'as per the procedure established by law'.Since then, several subordinate Courts in India have already framed guidelines in this respect and have held judicial proceedings through video conferencing.India’s second wave of the deadly novel coronavirus has hit the legal system to an great extent,with a large number of eminent jurists succumbing to Covid also the lawyers and the court staffs.Although it is an obligation of the judiciary to provide timely justice yet keeping in mind the safety and the sole wellbeing of the people to lessen the physical interaction only urgent and emergency cases are being heard ,also the cases which do not require immediate actions or are not of that urgent are rescheduled or cancelled or being shifted to virtual hearings. In light of the pandemic and to prevent the spread of this virulent virus, many criminal Courts in India have granted interim bail to under trials due to congested prisons.Whereas, in child custody and visitation rights cases the Indian Courts have advised that parents substitute physical visits with electronic contact.Moreover, keeping in mind the difficulties due to this pandemic, the Supreme Court of India has extended statutory timelines in all proceedings including filing of pleadings, irrespective of the limitation period prescribed in general or Special Laws whether condonable or not till further orders.This directive of the Supreme Court of India providing extensions in the limitation periods is applicable to all Courts and Tribunals in India.
The Covid-19 outbreak has also disturbed the liquidation process under the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 (IBC). It has been ordered that the period of lockdown is to be excluded from the calculation of any statutory timelines under the IBC. Moreover,the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal has also ordered that any interim order/stay orders shall continue to operate till the next date of hearing, which may be notified later.Additionally, in the wake of the pandemic,the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India (IBBI) has introduced a Regulation 47A to the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2016 which states that "Subject to the provisions of the Code, the period of lockdown imposed by the Central Government in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak shall not be counted for the purposes of computation of the time-line for any task that could not be completed due to such lockdown, in relation to any liquidation process".Likewise, the alternate dispute resolution mechanisms in India have also been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. The nationwide lockdown prevents the physical conduct of Mediations and Arbitrations. Mostly hearings have been postponed or are being conducted virtually through video conferencing. Nevertheless, considering the severity of the pandemic and that India is again under curfews and lockdowns, the Supreme Court of India has suspended the limitation period for passing of arbitral award as obligatory in the Section 29A of the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Act, 2015 till further orders. The pandemic has also transformed the way law schools impart education to students. The law schools in India have suspended campus learning processes and have moved to online teaching methods to ensure continuity of the learning process. Furthermore, to embrace the new normal and to remain connected to law, many judges and lawyers in the country have been holding webinars, lectures and talks on numerous areas in law. Law Firms have also enforced work from home policies during this countrywide lockdown period to minimise the potential business impact of Covid-19. The pandemic has kept lawyers and law firms engaged in advising and assisting clients on force majeure provisions and termination of contracts. Lawyers are now reanalysing contractual terms including provisions as to arbitral seats and venues, governing laws, institutions, procedures and force majeure. The global pandemic has also led to a rapid increase in the rate of unemployment in the country causing companies to deal with a lot of legal complications. Thus, legal professionals have been engrossed in guiding these businesses as they navigate unemployment, confidentiality and non- compete clauses, gratuity, severance pay and numerous other challenges.
Even during these unprecedented times, information technology has ensured that dispensation of justice is not hampered. The Indian legal industry is becoming majorly dependent on IT-enabled virtual systems and communication facilities to minimize the effect of the global pandemic. Nevertheless, despite the challenges of this new system, the virtual technology in the Indian legal system is flourishing and helping the entire world in dispensing proper justice is delivered even at such crazy situation.
Hereby concluding by saying that though we might not be completely functioning at an organised manner yet with the help of technological benefits we are still able to manage and handle the situation and the dispensing of justice isn’t yet stopped but is flourishing in a novel way.
3rd year student (BA.LLB)
UNIVERSITY LAW COLLEGE,