What is freedom? Is lockdown a curtailment of our right to freedom?

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Imagine you have vantage to use the boon of nature,science and society but you don’t have liberty to use those things to make your life fruitful. Does such life have any meaning? The answer is obviously no. That’s the importance of freedom in one’s life. Mahatma Gandhi has said "freedom is the breath of life."

When our constitution was under evolution, its makers were very much aware about the nosogenic condition of the citizens in the absence of freedom and that is why they enshrined the right to freedom as the foremost fundamental right of the citizen, which makes the word democracy meaningful.

Right to freedom is defined under article 19-22 of the constitution. Here we are mainly concerned with some provisions of Article 19 i.e.,19(1)(d) and 19(1)(g) that are affected during this lockdown. Those clauses are…

(d) To move freely throughout the territory of India.

(g) To practice any profession or to carry on any occupation trade or business.

To exercise freedom we should know its characteristics. Article 19 is not absolute and reasonable restrictions provided under Article 19(2) to 19(6) may be imposed by the state. 

Lockdown : why it is imposed

On 11th of March, WHO declared the Covid-19 as pandemic. It originated in china and quickly spread throughout the world. Pandemic means a disease that has spread in multiple countries around the world at the same time.It becomes more fatal in community transmission stage i.e when there is no clear source or the origin of the infection in a new community. In order to tackle the severity of this disease India utilised the tool of lockdown.

According to Chanakya's rule "it is better to hide when enemy is invisible". Lockdown portrayed same rule and became a shield against this virus. It is a measure requiring the closure of public and private establishment in order to restrict the large - scale movement of the people. Lockdown is not synonym of curfew. The difference is that essential services continue to operate in lockdown period and people may access such services. Though it is less restrictive, still its violation will invoke penal provisions.

Is lockdown a curtailment of right to freedom?

The lockdown has affected two of our fundamental rights which are mentioned above.To know the answer of it first check its constitutional validity. Firstly,Article 21 talks about right to life guaranteed by constitution. It is a positive obligation on the state to provide healthy environment to its citizen. "Right to health is an integral part of the right to life" held in State of Punjab v M.S. Chawla AIR 1997. Hence lockdown was the need of the hour.

Secondly, reading Article 19 especially the provisions 19(5) and 19(6) state about reasonable restrictions which can be imposed on these rights in the interest of the general public provided it is done under a duly enacted law.

The law which was enforced to tackle the situation qualified the word duly enacted law. Reading the provisions of Epidemic disease Act 1897 which is 123 year old law got sanction under Article 372 of the Constitution, made to tackle the bubonic plague which had spread in slums of Mumbai back then; empower state to take all necessary measures to combat the virus. 

Another step had taken through Disaster management Act 2005 which by terming Covid-19 as disaster, confer power on the PM,being ex- officio chairperson of the NDMA under section 3(2)(a) of the Act has power under section 6(2)(i) to take measures for the prevention and mitigation of the disaster. The guidelines for social distancing had specially issued under section 10(2)(1) of the Act. So as far as legal prospect is concerned, lockdown was sound law.

Thus when lockdown is constitutionally valid it can’t be said as a curtailment of any right to freedom as article itself envisaged that reasonable restrictions on freedom can be imposed in the interest of general public. ”To be reasonable restrictions there must be a direct and proximate nexus between the restriction imposed and the object sought to be achieved”, held in case K.K.kochuni V. State of Madras AIR 1960. Here the mischief behind lockdown was to curb the spread of this deadly disease, hence it qualified as reasonable restrictions under Article 19(5) and (6).

In the words of Virginia wolf "to enjoy freedom we have to control ourselves." This lockdown delineate this quote. People need to understand the main challenge in present scenario is to survive when this catastrophic disease has claimed so many lives and continue to do so. People should abide by the rules and guidelines which are periodically issued by the government and take measures prescribed by the medical agencies until there is a medicine to cure this disease.

-Shraddha Srivastava