Covid-19, Law and Justice

COVID 19 AND INDIA’S LEX LATA: COMBATING THE LEGAL WAY

It is now known to about the novel corona virus also better known as Covid 19, with the scientific name of SARS-COV-2 which triggers acute respiratory disease. WHO has claimed Corona virus disease to be an infectious disease affecting most people’s respiratory tract. While the majority people may recover from this illness many older people and/or people having other underlying medical conditions such as tuberculosis, COPD, heart related issues, diabetes, cancer, etc. are prone to its severity. It damages the autoimmune system. The pandemic, as it is declared by the WHO has brought the whole world to a standstill and under isolated quarantine to slowdown the transmission and to prevent the human chain from building. Having its root to what has been investigated in Wuhan, China it has spread to more than 210 countries which have reported the augment of this disease in their region. India has also been trying to tackle this epidemic since the 3rd week of March. The mitigation and control of this virus by India is being looked upon by not just the subcontinent but by the whole world.

India’s Fight with the Colonial Era Law.

The main law to tackle and control the pandemic in India is the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897, which dates back to the pre-independence British India. This short legislative framework was prepared hurriedly just after the 1896 Bombay bubonic plague. Though even then it was of not much use to protect against the second flare-up which occurred in India during the 1918. A much awaited amendment has been made recently to section 2 of this Act, so that the required implementation by the union could be done. Though the law, penalised by sentencing and fine or both and restricting any legal proceeding against any person or authority for anything done or to be done in good faith under this Act, it has been described as archaic which doesn’t allow one to understand it with a scientific temper. It lacks in encouragement of science and innovation related to any cure or vaccination of the diseases or to set up any incubation centre or a committee. Though states have their own medical related laws and rules which in a vast country such as ours as per population size, may differ on various grounds from each other. The states are constitutionally supported to have their own laws to restrict interstate movements and quarantine actions and policing to tackle and prevent such outbreaks as a response.

The union law deals with port quarantine, including in connection with seamen’s and marine hospitals, and interstate quarantine. State legislatures may provide for matters relating to public health and sanitation, hospitals, dispensaries, and prevention of animal diseases. The union government and states have concurrent jurisdiction to prevent transmission from one state to another of infectious or contagious diseases or pests affecting humans, animals, or plants.

New Age Lex-Lata

A bill pertaining to public health was proposed in the last decade twice in both the regimes of the Government, but in the 1st proposal the bill was discarded by all the states calling it an usurping of their constitutional powers, which at least gives the state the right to deal with the matters such as public health and sanitation, hospitals and other related infrastructures and prevention of animal diseases and quarantine as well. It is in the knowledge to all of us that there exists in the concurrent list, the prevention of transmission interstate of infectious diseases which are contagious and/or which might affect animals (swine flu), plants, or humans as well.

The 2nd proposal to repeal the Epidemic law of 1897 by the health and family welfare ministry which was put to table of the house as public health (prevention, control and management of epidemics, bio terrorism and disasters) bill 2017. It could have helped in our current situation as it dealt explicitly with quarantining and isolation of people suspected of catching the disease infectious in nature. It also empowered the union with respect to the states and other local bodies for ensuring the control and limiting the spread in such an emergent situation for the greater good of the society and public interest. The proposed law’s penalising provision by fine of rupees 1 lac or imprisonment up to two years or both, if anyone found violating the law intentionally was a need of the hour today in our society.

Management of Biological Disaster guideline was also proposed in 2008 after realising that the obsolete epidemic act was of not much use to us, the national disaster management plan 2019 with the guidelines of 2008 is put into practise.

The current practise adopted by India is to impose in the society the concept of social distancing and self-quarantining at their respective homes. Our India Penal Code, of the year 1860 was a visionary move, where disobeying public servant’s lawful order (to restrict unnecessary movement out of houses) resulting in violation of the quarantine norms may result in a jail term of one month or fine up to rupees two hundred or both and if the disobedience causes danger to human life, health or safety, the person can be punished with an imprisonment of six months or a fine of rupees one thousand or both. Further, section 269 imprisons or fines or both, any person found guilty for any negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life, section 270 is in furtherance of section 269 where any person knowing that their actions could lead to spread of contagious disease and still does it shall be penalized for this malignant act, section 271 punishes with imprisonment for violation of quarantine rule.

Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, empowers the executive magistrate to restrict the gathering of people residing in a particular area/place. This is one of the most important preventive steps taken up by many states to ensure curb on spreading of the virus.

The Disaster Management Act, 2005 as an entry in the social security and social insurance in the concurrent list provides a constitutional remedy for the people of India. As our Honourable Prime Minister is the chairperson of the National Disaster Management Authority and has the power vested u/s 6 of this act to create an authoritative action. It has a concocted effort by all high functionaries to implement its plan and policies at various local, state and national levels. Various sections under the act (Ss 10, 12, 13, 18, 24, 35, 36, 38, 39, 62, 71, 72, etc.) provide proper enforcement to alleviate our country from this biological disease.

In these times, the hasty and selfish paranoia purchase of essentials good are also supposed to be regulated so that enough is available for the society as a whole and not lead to a sudden price rise due to scarcity. The Essential Commodities Act, 1955 empowers the Central and state governments concurrently to control production, supply and distribution of certain commodities in view of rising prices. It provides knowledge to the citizens on what shall be counted as essential during such critical phases.

Conclusion

Although much cannot be done by imposing law and order on the masses, a general sense of awareness and hygiene habits can help the individuals to curb the spreading. Though our frontline warriors are giving their absolute best we as responsible citizens shall help the taskforce with our cooperation at such a critical phase.

References:  

  • https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/coronavirus-live-updates-india-corona-cases-worldwide-covid-19-death-toll-lockdown-corona-vaccine-plasma-us-maharashtra-delhi-ap-latest-news-120042900120_1.html
  • https://www.mohfw.gov.in/
  • https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
  • https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/04/tarique-faiyaz-covid-19-quarantine-india/
  • https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/how-india-is-fighting-coronavirus-with-a-colonial-era-law-epidemics/articleshow/74752473.cms?from=mdr
  • https://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/faq-on-the-essential-commodities-act-114070800735_1.html

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