COVID-19: The legal challenge ahead
New Delhi, July 01: It has been more than four months and there is still, no cure for Corona. While in the earlier months of March and April, the cases were rather low but in the last few weeks, the Corona positive cases have grown exponentially.
Apart from the health aspect of COVID 19, it has a legal side to it. The lawyers across the continents in the past few months have been hit with a slew of coronavirus related legal matters. The reason is not difficult to gauge. Corona has given rise to strained relations in business as well as other spheres. The disputes which have their roots in the corona Pandemic are now playing havoc with people's lives.
In India, the last four weeks have been rather disturbing as the cases as well as the deaths are mounting. Some people affected by the disease are directly impacted while many others have had to face many situations for no fault of theirs.
These situations were often created by their employers, landlords, neighbourhoods, even hospitals, and even law enforcers. Many people in the last few months have lost their jobs or were laid off or had a salary cut despite a government directive to the contrary. There have been cases where landlords threw out the stuff of medical personnel fighting corona on the pretext that they could bring in corona!
This is the most unfortunate situation as when we need to be united against the virus we are busy using it to further our petty ends. The coronavirus does not discriminate, but people do.
The biggest legal issue is employment-related. In the wake of a shrinking economy and rampant loss of customers, the companies after companies are laying off their workforce, often illegally on the pretext that they have no funds to sustain them.
"This is a rather bizarre situation as no one can take such a position as this goes grossly against the labor laws and established employer-employee relations. At best, they can cut perks (that too if permitted in the contract if any). The court cases are inevitable in this situation.
"if anybody is fired on the pretext of the Corona Pandemic he has a strong case as his boss happens to be on the wrong side of the law", says Dr. Kislay Panday, an eminent lawyer in the Supreme Court of India.
"The Indian Contract Act which provides the framework of any contract is silent on the term force majeure'. Unlike in the West where 'force majeure' is categorically mentioned, it is most likely to be absent in Indian contracts. Interestingly enough even if it is there it has no legal value. The expression 'force majeure' or an act of God does not exist in the Indian statutes. "adds, Dr. Kislay Panday, solicitor, Supreme Court of India.
In the absence of the 'force majeure' clause, Section 56 of the Contract Act becomes relevant which is about frustration of contract' implying that the contract has become impossible or unlawful. It then opens a new legal tussle which can rage for years as it becomes courts prerogative to interpret the law in the matter brought before it.
Besides, even if the term 'force majeure' is mentioned in a Contract it does not imply Pandemics' per se, as it typically covers catastrophes like war or floods on a large scale. This is indeed good news for the employee who has been wrongly terminated or whose salary has been drastically slashed by the company to safeguard its interests to pass on the burden of Corona pandemic on the hapless employees.
However, it is not that simple as if anyone who has ever fought a case in court knows the time and energy it takes to get justice. Dr. Kislay Panday has started a helpline for Corona Affected people to help them in this time of crisis. The helpline provides free consultation to people adversely affected by Corona. He is also providing pro bono legal services for the Corona affected.
"The Pandemic we are facing is unprecedented and we need not forget that it should be an opportunity to help others rather than profit from it at the expense of others," says Dr. Panday.
It will indeed be sometime when Corona is finally won over till then we can at least cooperate and help each other, which is the most human thing to do, it is also something COVID 19 cannot.