Infections with the virus, which originated from Wuhan, situated in China, have been reported around the world. The whole world is intensifying its efforts to try to stop the spread of Coronavirus (COVID – 19). Indian Government has imposed twenty-one days lockdown throughout the country intending to curb the spread of COVID-19 and to keep India from sliding into the disaster that China, Italy, the United States, and other countries face.
At present, we continue to hear the words “lockdown”, “curfew”, “quarantine” and “isolation”. Except for lockdown and curfew, all the other terms have a legal connotation and are defined in various laws prevalent in India. These provisions, deal with offences affecting public health, safety, convenience, decency, and morals, which have been invoked amid the Coronavirus lockdown.
Under the Constitutional framework, The Disaster Management Act, 2005 provides the Centre and The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 provides the States statutory basis for acting against the Coronavirus. Local Police can book individual as under, for those who do not comply with the law or regulatory order related to curb COVID-19 and to enforce lockdown protocols. On top of it, District Magistrates have imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, prohibiting more than five people from assembling in public places, in several districts and the violation of the directions can lead to action under the below – mentioned provisions.
Indian Penal Code, 1860:
- Section 188 of IPC – This section deals with the offence of ‘Disobedience to order duly promulgated by Public Servant’
- Section 269 of IPC – This section deals with the office of ‘Negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life’.
The Punishment for Sections 188 and 269 is simple or rigorous imprisonment which may extend up to six months, or with fine, or with both.
- Section 270 of IPC – This section is a more variant of Section 269. This deals with the offence of ‘Malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life.’ This is punishable with simple or rigorous imprisonment which may extend up to two years, or with fine, or with both.
- Section 271 of IPC – This section deals with offence of ‘Disobedience of Quarantine rule’. This is punishable with simple or rigorous imprisonment which may extend up to six months, or with fine, or with both.
The offences under Sections 188, 269 and 270 are Cognizable and Bailable whereas offence under Section 271 is Non – Cognizable and Bailable.
Disaster Management Act, 2005:
- Section 51 of the Act is similar to Section 188 of IPC dealing with ‘Obstruction of performance of duty by public officer and refusal to comply with any direction given by the authorities.’
Mere act of obstruction or refusal is punishable with imprisonment which may extend up to one year and if it leads to loss of liver or imminent danger, it will attract imprisonment up to 2 years.
- Sections 52 and 54 of the Act deals with the making of False claim for relief and False alarms over disaster leading to panic.
Sanctions of concerned government are necessary for launching prosecution concerning offence under this Act. Also, the complaint is written by an authorized officer is necessary for the court to take cognizance of the offence.
Does the ‘lockdown’ constitutionally seem valid?
Lockdown restricts the free movement of the citizens of India and to assemble peacefully in the territory of India, guaranteed under Article 19(1)(b) and (d) of the Constitution of India. Moreover, Our constitution provides three grounds for the proclamation of emergency, i.e. war, external aggression, and internal disturbance.
As per Sarkaria Commission report ‘internal disturbance’ includes epidemics, earthquakes, cyclones, etc which may ‘paralyze the government of the state and put its security in jeopardy’. Indisputably the ‘coronavirus pandemic’ would qualify as a situation of ‘internal disturbance’. As matters stand, India is at the precipice of perhaps its greatest public health emergency since independence. When the very right to life of the nation is imperiled, such constitutional arguments are heresy. After all, the Doctrine of Necessity proclaims loud and clear that “Necessity knows no law”.
Do the arbitrary actions of police justify?
The special and general legislations that govern the authorities are The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, The Disaster Management Act, 2005 and The Indian Penal Code, 1860. Social media videos capturing policemen brutally beating up people for stepping out of their homes raises serious questions on what exactly are the penal provisions that empower the police to use such force. None of the aforesaid laws authorize police to use brute force against citizens. These instances are blatant violations of the doctrine of rule of law, in the absence of any other orders made under these Acts authorizing the police to use such force. There is nothing in the law that empowers the law enforcement authorities to use corporal force via lathi-charge to enforce the law. The law only empowers the police to duly facilitate prosecution for such offences as mentioned under Section 188 of the IPC.
What are the consequences If govt. officers refuse to carry out duties or violate the law?
The Disaster Management Act, 2005 also provides for punishment of government officers who refuse to perform their duties that they have been entrusted with during the lockdown period. They could end up with a one – year jail sentence and a fine. If an offence under the Act is committed by a government department, it is the Head of the Department that would be held responsible, unless it is proven that the offence had been committed by the consent, connivance or due to neglect of any other officer.
According to me, just the lockdown alone is not going to work unless the government makes sure that people are not going outside their homes and are abiding by the lockdown. It is suggested that citizens must understand the seriousness of the situation and comply with the orders of the government. Social distancing is the only option to combat COVID-19. It is impossible to fathom the cost that our country may have to pay if such irresponsible behavior continues.
Mohd. Altmash is a student pursuing B.A. LLB from Jamia Millia Islamia.