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Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, These Lawyers Will Fight Your Legal Cases For Free

COVID-19 Rights India is an online platform started by Delhi-based Sharon Mathew that can help address citizens' legal issues, and also has resources relating to various rights that people should be aware of amid the pandemic.

Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, These Lawyers Will Fight Your Legal Cases For Free

Ravi (name changed) a resident of Mumbai, had spent over 12 years in a private organisation. At the time when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the company he was working for decided to terminate his services. While the company resumed operations in June 2020, Ravi was not intimated about rejoining. He has been home since April 2020, without a job or any source of income. Despite several follow-ups with his organisation to clear his dues and make the full and final settlement, he didn’t hear back from them.

After waiting for almost one year, he approached COVID Rights India, a platform where people can reach out for pro-bono advice on legal issues arising out of COVID-19 and find information pertaining to their rights during this pandemic.

Eshaan Saroop, a Mumbai-based lawyer who works with the organisation on a pro-bono basis, sent out a legal notice to Ravi’s company on 26 May 2021. Within a day, the company responded asking him to collect his cheque on 10 June 2021.

“This was one instance where we were able to help,” Sharon Mathew, founder of COVID Rights India, tells The Better India.

Sharon, a resident of Delhi, has been practising law since 2018, when she graduated from Gujarat National Law University.

COVID Rights
Sharon Mathew

“One year ago, I moved to the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) and it was during one of the informal meetings at this organisation that the idea of putting together a resource page for those seeking legal assistance because of COVID-19 related issues came about.”

What does ‘COVID Rights India’ do?

COVID Rights India came into existence on 9 May 2021, and since then has received over 25 different complaints. “A majority of queries we get are about employer-employee rights. We have received a few domestic violence matters as well. We have managed to get lawyers from across the country on-board, who have been taking up some of these cases on a pro-bono basis,” she says.

The group also started putting out relevant content in order to create awareness about rights during the pandemic. While there are some schemes and benefits that have been announced by different state governments, specifically for those impacted by COVID-19, the organisation is trying to bridge the gap of lack of information and awareness. “For example, state governments have capped the prices of ambulance service, hospitalisation service (ICU beds) and the maximum retail price of medicines – our endeavour is to make sure that a maximum number of people know of and make use of the same,” says Aman Shukla, who manages content for the organisation.

He adds, “We look at important judgements, break them down for people and explain what their rights are during the pandemic.”

Mandakini Chandra, Content Management, Aman Shukla, Content Management and Shefali Mehta, Outreach.

For instance, did you know that during the ongoing pandemic, hospitals cannot deny admission to a person due to the lack of an identity card, residence proof or a positive RT-PCR report?

Five rights you ought to know about

1. Treatment rights – States have issued a price cap on various treatments, hospital beds and medication. It will be prudent for you to make note of what the same in your state is. If you are being charged extra you can legally take it up.

2. Schemes – The Central and State Governments have been making several social benefit scheme announcements through press releases. This includes the PM Cares for Child and schemes for children orphaned by COVID-19 announced by Delhi, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh among others. However, until and unless the same receives cabinet or ministry approval, it remains a scheme on paper and cannot be implemented. The platform tracks these announcements and keeps a check on when they get approval, along with whether there is a cut-off date to apply for the same. There is a difference between a press release and an official gazetted notification.

3. Insurance – Insurance companies and their agents must ensure that whenever requests are received for approval or discharge of patients who were affected by COVID-19, they must communicate their approvals to the concerned hospitals/establishments within a maximum time period of 30-60 minutes.

4. Employment – Some examples from different states to help understand this would include the following:

  • The Delhi High Court came down heavily on the NDMC (North Delhi Municipal Corp) for failure to pay salaries and pensions to employees during the pandemic.
  • Air India was directed to reinstate employees whose services they had terminated citing the reason of “financial constraints”.
  • Kerala: The visually impaired and differently-abled are exempt from attending office (even if they are government employees for essential services).
  • Employee pension schemes for dependents under the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) Scheme enhanced to cover COVID deaths.
  • Telangana: Full payment of wages for all employees during the lockdown including contract and outsourced workers

5. Right to Residence – Since the start of the pandemic, High Courts across the country have been passing orders staying (putting on hold) all orders of demolition, eviction and dispossession. Any orders of this nature shall remain in abeyance (a state of temporary suspension). This is being done because courts recognise that the pandemic has made it difficult for aggrieved parties to approach them for redressal of their grievances. This means that even if a landlord happens to get a court order that states you must be evicted, that order cannot be executed right now.

Top left to right: Akash Kumbhat, Maitreya Ghorpade, Saksham Madan, Vaishali Movva. Middle left to right: Anandu Unnikrishnan, Vir Britto, Neha Ravichander, Eshaan Saroop Bottom left to right: Meera Gopal, Srinjoy Bhattacharya, Rhythm Buaria, Mukund P Unny

If you have a grievance that you need addressed or help with, you can reach out by clicking here or visiting their social media handles here and here.

(Edited by Divya Sethu)

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