COVID and the Constitution: C-HELP Launches Portal to Help Citizens
Aravind Natarajan 13 July 2021
With the onset of COVID, the world as we know has changed. One of the biggest fallouts of the ongoing pandemic has been the confusion around how laws need to be enacted, which law would take precedence in a particular situation, what are the local rules and how do they impact our rights as citizens.
 
During the disastrous and the more dangerous second wave of COVID, our country went through an extremely tough time. People lost their loved ones, their jobs, their livelihoods. One example of a situation where there was lot of misinformation was when unfortunately, lot of children were orphaned due to the loss of both parents falling prey to COVID. During the second wave, messages started doing the rounds that some kids who had lost their parents were up for adoption. 
 
Lot of news portals had to fact-check these and point out the correct procedure to be followed in such situations and how those messages were false, misleading, and illegal. Fortunately we have all the relevant laws in our rule book were also able to avert a much bigger damage that could have been caused due to the misinformation. 
 
But this still does not change the fact that in situations like these when we are in the middle of a pandemic, apart from a health crisis, we are also dealing with an overload of information, lack of clear rules and regulations of what would apply for a particular situation and unclear guidelines. 
 
Keeping in mind the need for clear understanding of the law, The Centre for Health Equity, Law & Policy (C-HELP) launched COVID-19 and the Constitution, https://COVID-19-constitution.in/ a unique online knowledge resource on COVID-19 and the law. The project, which has taken the shape of an interactive web-based timeline, documents law and policy responses to COVID-19 and places them in the context of fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.
 
Speaking with Moneylife, Vivek Divan the co-ordinator of C-HELP says, “We realised that much law and policy was being issued in relation to COVID-19, both from the Central government and state governments, often creating lack of clarity due to ever-changing guidance and directives. This created great confusion among citizens on everything from travel and livelihoods to healthcare access and meetings.” 
 
So in response to this, C-HELP has come up three core-components of the project. 
 
1) A comprehensive database of law and policy responses of the Uniongovernment, and the governments of the National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu, arranged chronologically. The database presents each law or policy response in relation to constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights.
 
2) Stories and voices, which are first-hand accounts of people’s experiences of COVID-19, that portray human cost of the COVID-19 catastrophe, and suggest rights issues that are implicated.
3) Analytical pieces from experts that comment on the impact of the COVID-19 law and policy response on fundamental rights.
 
According to Mr Divan, “Most of these issues, invariably implicate our fundamental rights as citizens. So, everything that is done in law must comply with them.  
 
“We really need to examine all of these rules and regulations because if we do not, the heart of our Constitution can be violated,” he added.
 
One of the biggest issues that citizens are facing during the pandemic is access to authentic information, laws, and policy documents. 
 
Mr Divan says, “People should be able to understand how COVID-19 related actions are impacting their fundamental rights. Authentic information is the need of the hour in such a crisis. COVID-19 and the Constitution fills a critical knowledge gap and serves as a fertile ground for research, reflection that can in turn lead to rational, evidence-informed, rights-based, transparent and accountable health and policy interventions,” 
 
The COVID-19 and the Constitution portal seeks to inform the reader so they can question, critique, and develop constructive suggestions for a robust law and policy response to the health challenges the country is facing keeping in mind India's fundamental rights and constitutional values. 
 
When asked who the project is intended for, Mr Divan says, “It can be used as a resource by everyone, academics, lawyers, health professionals, public health experts, students, policy researchers and makers, social workers, and activists.”  
 
While the project has just been launched, Mr Divan assures that it will be continuously updated. “COVID-19 and the Constitution is a living project that will be continually updated to reflect the shifts and changes in law, policy and society wrought by the pandemic. In the months to come, C-HELP will add to the database, update the Timeline, and collate more stories and analyses,” he added.
 
You can now check out the website of C-HELP and COVID-19 and the Constitution here and here.
 
In case you wish to write any feedback or have any queries you would like to know the answers to, you can write to them at [email protected] 
 
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