LOCKDOWN IN INDIA AMID THE OUTBREAK OF COVID-19 – CRIMINAL ACTION AGAINST CITIZENS FOR DISOBEYING AUTHORITIES
With the spread of Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) throughout the globe and considering its impact on the health and wellbeing of citizens across, on 11th March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) made a declaration specifying COVID-19 as a global pandemic. Business operations throughout the world too suffered severe repercussions.
On 24th March 2020, the Government of India declared a nationwide lockdown for twenty-one (21) days, affecting the entire 1.3 billion population of India.
When India came under a state of lockdown, imposition of restriction on free movement of the citizens of India which is enshrined and guaranteed under the Article 19 (1) (b) and (d) of the Constitution of India came into effect. The outline of imposition of such a restriction wasenacted to maintain public order for the wellbeing of the general public.
The respective State Governments, keeping in mind the need of the hour, haveenforcedthe lockdownthrough various mechanisms as provided hereunder:
- Section 188 of Indian Penal Code,1860 (‘IPC’) which deals with “Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant”;
- Section 269 of IPC which deals with “Negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life”;
- Section 270 of IPC which deals with “Malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life”;
- the Epidemic Deceases Act, 1897, powers have been given to the Central and State Governments to take measures for the prevention of the spread of dangerous epidemic disease by way of imposing travel ban on the citizens, detention of any ship or vessel, etc.;
- Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 (‘CrPC’), authorises the Executive Magistrate of any state or territory to issue an order to prohibit the assembly of four or more people in an area;
- the Disaster Management Act, 2005, as the Home Ministry has declared the COVID-19 as a “notified disaster”, the National Executive Committee gave directions to different State Governments to take certain measures to deal with such a disaster; and
- the Delhi Epidemic Diseases COVID-19 Regulations, the Punjab Epidemic Diseases COVID-19 Regulations, 2020, the Maharashtra Epidemic Diseases COVID-19 Regulations, 2020, etc., (COVID-19 Regulations), various provisions have been set out so as to stop the spread of COVID-19 and implemented guidelines for regulating the supply of essential commodities;
However, a number of citizens are superfluously disobeying the abovementioned laws and various guidelines issued by the Central and State Governments, inadvertently furthering the spread of COVID-19 by way of inter alia gathering in large groups at religious places, escaping from quarantine, flouting self-quarantine instructionsas well as attacking doctors and law enforcement personnel.
Disregarding the law and flouting directions issued by authorities come at a cost. Hereunder are the implications of disobeying the lockdown.
- In the event of flouting Section 188 of IPC hereinabove, such person upon conviction would be punished with imprisonment extending up to six months or with fine extending up to rupees one thousand, or with both;
- In the event of floutingSection 269 of IPC hereinabove, such person upon conviction would be punished with imprisonment extending up to six months or with fine extending up to rupees one thousand, or with both;
- In the event of flouting Section 270 of IPC hereinabove, such person upon conviction would be punished with imprisonment extending up to two years, or with fine, or with both;
- In the event of contravention of the provisions of the Epidemics Deceases Act, 1897, it shall be deemed as having committed an offence punishable under Section 188 of the IPC;
- In the event of flouting Section 144 of the CrPC hereinabove, such person upon conviction would be punished with an imprisonment extending up to three years;
- In the event a person flouts the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 by way of obstructing any officer or employee of the Central, State Government or concerned authority in the discharge of his functions or refuses to comply with any directions given by the Central Government, State Government or concerned authority, shall upon conviction be punished with an imprisonment extending up to one year, with fine, or with both, and if the result of such flouting has caused loss of lives or imminent danger thereof, shall upon conviction be punished with imprisonment extending up to two years; and
- In the event of flouting the provisions of the COVID-19 Regulations, it will be deemed that he/she has committed an offence punishable under Section 188 of the IPC hereinabove.
The law enforcement personnel are constrained to make use of force against the persons who are disobeying the provisions of the abovementioned laws and guidelines after the announcement of the lockdown. The State Governments have also lodged several First Information Reports (‘FIR’) against persons flouting the provisions of the abovementioned laws as well as under Section 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 325 (punishment for voluntarily causing grievous hurt), 353 (Assault or criminal force to deter a public servant from discharge of his duty) of the IPC, relevant provisions of the Maharashtra Medicare Service Persons and Medicare Service Institutions (Prevention of Violence and Damage or Loss of Property) Act, 2010 and such other similar acts of the respective States,and have started arresting them.
Health researchers have warned that more than a million people in India could be infected with the virus by mid-May. As of 8th April, 2020, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India have confirmed a total of 4,643active cases, 401 recoveries and 149 deaths in the country.
Keeping in mind the current situation, social distancing and avoiding large congregations in order to battle the global pandemic which has spread throughout our nation is the best available remedy. Having regard to the magnitude of the health crisis which the world is facing today, it would be advisable for all the citizens to comply with the directions of the concerned Governments, authorities and the judicial system who are taking meticulous efforts every single day to avert any further annihilation of lives.