This post is written by Amritesh Panda, student of Symbiosis Law School, Pune.
The current generation (the so-called “millennials”) have not witnessed such a large scale global disruption and devastation, the novel coronavirus has destabilized the entire country and not a single sector has been spared from its effects. This kind of global disruption and pandemonium was last seen in the Spanish flu of 1918, which first broke out in Bombay and later spread across the entire country. The Hindi poet, Suryakant Tripathi, popularly known as Nirala, wrote in his memoirs that “Ganga was swollen with dead bodies.” As a report was also released by the sanitary commissioner in 1918 later documented that it was not just Ganga that was clogged up with bodies, but all rivers across India.
To protect the nation from large scale infection and taking a lesson from epidemiological history, sweeping lockdowns were introduced and the state governments were quick enough to follow suit. With this several terminologies were used to back the executive action such as lockdown, curfew, Epidemic diseases Act, Disaster Management Act, National Security Act, and sections 188, 269, and 270 of the Indian penal code, here are the meaning of some of these Laws.
Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897
The central government invoked the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 and advised all the states to follow the same.
This short legislation contains only four sections but is a very powerful tool for the executive. Under this law, the Central government, as well as state government, has the power to take special measures and prescribe regulations to prevent the spread of a “dangerous epidemic disease”.
The section 3 and section 4 of the Act deals with penalty and Protection to persons acting under Act, meaning No suit or other legal proceeding shall lie against any person for anything done or in good faith intended to be done under this Act.
On 22 April 2020, the Government of India announced the promulgation of an ordinance, The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance 2020, to amend the act, adding provisions to punish those attacking doctors or health workers. The ordinance allows for up to seven years of jail for attacking doctors or health workers (including ASHA workers). The offense will be cognizable and non-bailable among other things.
Disaster Management Act of 2005
During Prime Minister Narendra Modi 2nd address he mentioned that National Disaster Management Act 2005 has been invoked.
What is a disaster?
Section 2 (d) of the Disaster Management Act states that a disaster means a “catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man-made causes or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of, property, or damage to, or degradation of, environment, and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area.
Why was this Act invoked?
The Section 2 (d) is not meant to deal with epidemics or diseases of any kind but causes such as, but not limited to, tsunamis and earthquakes. However, the Ministry of Home Affairs declared the spread of COVID-19 as a “notified disaster”, thus bringing into play Section 2(d) of the Disaster Management Act.
By invoking the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the Modi government has allowed or granted itself to access “National Disaster Response Fund”. Using this fund, the government will be better able to fund medical facilities and medical research to contain the immediate concern of rise in positive COVID-19 cases.
The central government is also empowered to set up a number of agencies to help manage the ongoing crisis. This includes setting up administrative authorities like the National Disaster Management Authority and the State Disaster Management Authority.
National Security Act, (NSA),1980
The National Security Act (NSA) came into existence on 23 September 1980 during Indira Gandhi’s government which empowers the Central Government and State Governments to detain a person to prevent him/her from acting in any manner against the welfare and security of the country, damaging the Indian relations with foreign countries, obstructing the maintenance and supply of essential services to the community.
Under the NSA, a person can be detained for up to 12 months without a charge. A person can be also be held for 10 days without being told about the charges against them.
How this Act fits into this entire scenario?
Many reports surfaced that the healthcare workers who were working to trace COVID-19 cases where attacked, to protect the healthcare workers, and to deter such events in the future many states (Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Delhi) slapped NSA Act on the persons who were involved in such incidents.
Lockdown is an emergency protocol that prevents people from leaving a given area. A full lockdown will mean you must stay where you are and not exit or enter a building or the given area. This scenario usually allows for essential supplies. All non-essential activities remain shut for the entire period.
In India, the restrictions on movement and services have been enforced by state government, after advisories from the Centre. These restrictions derive their legal basis from the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. A lockdown can be enforced by a Collector or Chief Medical Officer in their particular area under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.
Under the coronavirus lockdown, essential supplies, and grocery stores, pharmacies and banks will be open for the public. All non-essential activities remain shut for the entire period.
- Essential activities include Buying groceries and medical supplies. Visit to the doctor in case of medical emergencies will be permitted.
- Private and government offices will be shut
- Religious institutions, schools, colleges will not be allowed to function.
- Hospitals will be open
A curfew is an order specifying a time during which certain regulations apply. Typically it refers to the time when individuals are required to return to and stay in their homes.
I.e – Punjab announces 4 hours relaxation in curfew, lockdown to continue for next 2 weeks
Section 188, 269 and 270 of Indian Penal Code
What is section 188 of IPC?
Section 188 is a part of Chapter X of the IPC, which covers offenses related to ‘contempt of the lawful authority of public servants’. It lays down penalties for such contempt of orders of public servants like avoiding service of summons, non-appearance, or non-attendance in response to an order, etc.
Simply put, it provides that any person who has the knowledge of an order passed by a competent public servant, by which he is directed to abstain from doing any act or a certain direction with respect to property possessed or held by him, disobeys such direction, he shall be liable to be punished under this section.
The gravity of punishment under this Section varies with the severity of the consequences of the act:
- If the disobedience of the order causes or tends to cause obstruction or annoyance or injury, or risk of the same, to a person lawfully employed, the offender might face a simple imprisonment of up to one month or fine up to Rs. 200, or both;
- If such disobedience is of a greater nature, so as to cause or tend to cause danger to human life, health or safety, etc, the offender might face imprisonment of up to six months and fine up to one thousand rupees or both.
By virtue of the First Schedule of the CrPC, S. 188 is made a cognizable and bailable offense. This, in the normal course of things, would mean that apart from powers of arrest without a warrant which accrue to the police in such offenses, the police can register a First Information Report (FIR) under Section 154, CrPC, and initiate investigation into such offense.
What are section 269 and 270 of IPC?
The section 269 and 270 of the Indian penal code comes under Chapter XIV of the Indian Penal Code– ‘Offences Affecting The Public Health, Safety, Convenience, Decency and Morals’ which deals with the negligent and malignant spreading of diseases and mentions the punishment for such acts.
Section 269 in the Indian Penal Code
Negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life.—Whoever unlawfully or negligently does any act which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe to be, likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.
Section 270 in the Indian Penal Code
Malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life.—Whoever malignantly does any act which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe to be, likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
I.e – a 63-year-old woman from Kangra who failed to disclose her travel history following her return from Dubai, and who later tested positive for COVID-19, was booked under Section 270 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
All these Laws enables us to understand the legal standing of the action which are taken by the executive and informs us to act according to the situation, therefore citizens should responsibly abide by the direction of the authorities without creating ruckus cause all these Laws fundamentally protects the well being of the common masses and the authorities themselves
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