JUSTICE ARUN Monga of the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Wednesday said not providing Personal Protection Equipment (PPEs) to health workers can be argued as a violation of their fundamental rights, as he compared their existing circumstances with those of people in a hazardous industry.
While addressing a webinar organised by the Bar Council of Punjab and Haryana on Wednesday, Justice Monga said right to life and liberty includes the right to health. Citing the 1995 Supreme Court verdict in the ‘Consumer Education and Research Centre’ case, he said, “The Supreme Court has held that compelling necessity to work in an industry exposed to health hazards due to indigence to bread-winning for himself and his dependents should not be at the cost of the health and vigour of the workman…that precisely is the issue that arises today in respect of the health workers. COVID-19 means the health workers fall under the contours laid down in the CERC Supreme Court judgment. One can then possibly argue that PPE is a basic human survival necessity for a health worker and non-providing of it is thus a violation of fundamental rights of a healthcare worker.”
Justice Monga said the lockdown ordinarily in peacetime would have been perhaps outrightly declared unconstitutional, but added that any reasonable restrictions on constitutional rights cannot be a bigger threat to the democracy than the COVID-19. “To preserve life, we have to give up our liberties, that is the scenario today. If there is life, then only there is liberty. In that sense, life comes before liberty,” he said.
Speaking about the issue of job losses and non-payment of salaries, he warned that courts may soon be flooded with cases claiming force majeure (chance occurrence, unavoidable accident) as employers may ask how they can be made liable when they themselves are not earning. He added that the current situation demands a solidarity and cooperation between an employer and employee.
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