Loopholes in Disaster Governance: A Democratic Threat
This article is written by Jatin Bishnoi, a Fourth Year B.A. LL.B (Hons.) Student at Ideal Institute of Management and Technology (GGSIPU), Delhi.
The year 2020 has been an extremely challenging year for the entire world, especially since the threat of World War III i.e. COVID-19 outbreak. The article discusses the Indian government’s inability and incompetency towards its citizens and the backbone of their economy – the Labourers through the course of such deadly pandemic. Coupled with other important issues like that of Kashmir and Nepal’s infiltration, the government failed to protect and secure the country. The author provides insightful observations on the topic while discussing the ineptitude of the government and the consequences of which faced by the citizens under rule.
India has a Constitution composed of 448 articles, regarded as the longest constitution in the world which empowered the whole cultural diversity with social equality along with fundamental and legal rights. The Constitution has always been looked upon to gain the sight of the unforeseen, prevent the inevitable and tackle the worst.
Nonetheless, the circumstances at present auctioning the deadly pandemic never coexisted with our Constitution. Through this Article, I seek to designate the loopholes and accentuate the manifestation of the pandemic. Though I would like to clarify that I do not intend to criticize or appraise any political party in power or opposition through this article. We should keep in mind that India is a three-tier democracy balanced on a bicameral legislature, public criticism and an independent judiciary. The article further shines a light on the blatant moves of the executive upon already vexatious circumstances.
The Executive Edict
When the pandemic struck the country, the widespread caused deathly fear in the minds of people. At the instance, the government invoked the National Disaster Management Act (NDMA) on 24 March. Though, the causality of invocation and implementation of the act leads us to the revelation that the classification of the pandemic as a disaster stands doubtful by the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Central Government was served with adequate powers to issue binding guidelines and directions by section 10 of the NDMA, where they imposed the nationwide lockdown, halting complete movement of the public with considering certain exceptions.
During the lockdowns the Central Government, Institutions and Organizations under the influence of imposed guidelines and fear of virus, made a paradigm shift to the virtual world, and those who couldn’t they had to shut down. As a result, there has not been any contemplation about the policies adopted by the government. India majors in the bicameral legislature for the intrinsic quality of keeping a check concerning the prevalence of democracy.
The government has overlooked the conceptual contemplation and concluded the governance through executive edicts. Since the imposition of lockdowns numerous guidelines have been imposed, which caused veritable difficulty in their implementation.
In addition to it, the government has also released an enormous fleet of economic packages, which is incessantly criticized by influential economists based upon the inadequacy to provide the required juice to the economy. This usurped use of power by the Central Executive has augmented the ignorance upon the system of democracy. These complex edicts have led the nation into a state of ambivalence.
The Waning Judiciary
In times like the present the responsibility of holding the Central Executive accountable for keeping eye on the actions falls upon the judiciary. After all, the judiciary managed to be dynamic adequately to make the paradigm shift into the virtual world, however, adhering to its foundation.
The Supreme Court posited that the prisons in the country are overcrowded and potential hotbeds for the COVID-19, where the High Court substantially classifies certain bail applications as non-urgent. Keeping in mind, the overenthusiasm portrayed by the officials in making arrests during Delhi Riots under Sedition and Terrorism laws, flooding the prisons while the nations deal with the imminent threat of health emergency. Followed as none at present can stop the immigrants from walking, internet situation in Kashmir, and many more forced out of light. Therefore, the Judiciary has failed to direct the sprawling powers of the executive rightly, resulting evidently in failure to keep pace with the second tier of the system of checks and balances.
On an unsubstantiated report, advanced by the government citing the disparaging effects of fake news during the pandemic, the court then directed a release in the daily bulletin by the government to clear the doubts of people and manifested media to cover the official version of developments during the pandemic. This order from the topmost court received heavy criticism and is in direct and complete violation of the Right to speech and expression of the press guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution. Which makes it indisputable, that the media has to only display the sugar-coated developments during the pandemic as passed by the government itself.
The foundation of democracy implicated as the Rule of Law, has seemed to erode with the limitless use of power by the Central Executive from the remaining two organs. It has managed to tumble-down the system of checks and balances which highlights the golden fabric of democracy.
This dodging from accountability and misuse of powers without a sunset clause would lead to an insinuation of autocracy, eroding democracy. It is important to understand that free press and judiciary are equally necessary pillars of the bicameral legislature, hence should not be manipulated even in the hardest times.
Lastly, the fundamental right to personal liberty and the right to life is the essence of the Rule of Law, evidently the constitution. When the havoc of pandemic ends and normalcy returns, we should profoundly look back not for rectification but to gauge and assess the drab state of affairs that prevailed. The chapters from Indira Gandhi’s feudal emergency should never be forgotten and we should be on the lookout on efforts to cripple democracy.
 Chetan Chauhan, “Covid-19: Disaster Act invoked for the 1st time in India”, Hindustan Times (August 15, 2020, 10 AM), URL: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/covid-19-disaster-act-invoked-for-the-1st-time-in-india/story-EN3YGrEuxhnl6EzqrlreWM.html