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Legal Perspective on COVID-19 In India

Author : Omkar Trimbak Gadakh

Introduction:-                                       

Coronavirus disease is spreading form person to person by coming in close contact with one another. To control this disease and prevent the spread of coronavirus, it is necessary to break the chain of spreading coronavirus through one person to another.  Therefore, many rules, regulations and ordinances are applying in the whole country. Following are the Laws invoked during coronavirus –

Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC):-

The first order is passed in many states of the India under Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) which did not allowed to people to come together (four or more people). Under section 144 of CrPC. District Magistrate, Sub- divisional Magistrate, and Executive Magistrate are taking necessary step for speedy remedy and there is sufficient ground to prevent obstruction, annoyance or injury to any person or danger to human life health or safety.

According to our constitution, there is freedom of assembly to everyone.  In curfew also freedom of assemble is allowed. But there are some reasonable grounds of reasonable restriction in which state can prevent you from freely assemble. Coronavirus spread from person to person is medically certified so this is reasonable restriction to freedom of assembly.

The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897:-

Section 144 of CrPC only prevent people from assemble due to essential as well as non-essential businesses like shops, mall etc. Therefore, lockdown is ordered under The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897  

This act is formed to tackle plague in Mumbai called Epidemic Disease Act, 1897. It was enacted for taking measures for prevention of spread of disease.  This act also used in other diseases such as swine flu, cholera, dengue and malaria. At present also many provisions of this act invoked to tackle coronavirus disease. But there are some limitations at present situation as compare to 18th century when act was enacted.

 Epidemic Disaster Act, 1897 is very short act. It contains only four sections. First section includes title and extent, Second section gives power to central and state governments for making regulations and take measures, and third section includes penalties for violation of regulations made by governments with section 188 of IPC. Forth section is for protection to the implementing officers acting under the Act.

 This act empowers the state government to issue temporary regulations for their areas, if ordinary provisions of the laws in force are insufficient. Many states issued regulations by using this act. For instance Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and other state regulation specified that information on COVID-19 cannot be printed or published without the prior permission of the State Health Department, Bihar’s regulations specified that spreading of rumors or unauthenticated information with malafide intent is punishable offence.

 Ordinance Provisions:-

To tackle such big crisis, The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 is enacted on 22 April 2020.which is sanctioned by the President of India and filled the gap to prior act which do not contain any provision for occupational harassment.

            There are many cases in throughout India are done regarding beating, violence, attack on doctors, nurses and damage of structure of hospitals. Therefore, ordinance made some important provisions.

It contains main provision for protection of healthcare personnel who combating with epidemic disease which includes-

  1. Public and clinical healthcare providers such as doctors, nurses,
  2. Any person empowered under the Act to take measures of disease,
  3. Other persons designated as such by the state government.

            A violence includes-

  1. Harassment impacting living or working conditions,
  2. Harm, injury, hurt or danger to life,
  3. Obstruction in discharge of his duties, and
  4. Loss or damage to property or documents of the healthcare service personnel

The Ordinance also increases the power of Central government. Provision for punishment is also made. These offences are cognizable and non-bailable. If anyone commits act of violence against healthcare personnel or causes damage to property is punishable with imprisonment for three month to five years, and fine of fifty thousand to two lakh rupees. If there is a grievous harm then there is punishment of imprisonment for six month to seven years and fine between one lakh to five lakh.

Sec.269 and sec.270 of Cr.P.C.-

 In the lockdown it is directed that, every people have to quarantine himself. If person comes from other country it is necessary to inform the government for medical checkup in order to prevent spreading of virus. If any person failed to inform government, break the quarantine, it becomes his own negligence, which also causes dangerous to other peoples. Such act is punishable under section 269 (Negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) and sec 270 (Malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) of CrPC. Under this section FIR is lodged against singer Kanika Kapoor.

    According to Article 19(1)(d) , all citizen shall have right to move freely throughout the territory of India .This right is not violate due to curfew and lockdown. But article 19(5) states that nothing in sub clause (d) and (e) of the said clause shall affect the operation of any existing law in so far as it imposes or prevent the state from making any law imposing, reasonable restrictions on the exercise of any of the rights conferred by the said sub clauses either in the interests of general public or for the protection of the interests of any scheduled tribe.

 Essential Commodities Act, 1955:-

            According to this act government can regulate the production, supply, and distribution of essential commodities to make them available to consumers at a fair price. On March 30, 2020 the central government issued the Essential Commodities Order, 2020 and declared that hand sanitizers and masks are essential commodities up to June 30. The central government later reduced the prices of hand sanitizer, masks and fabric which is used in making masks. Madhya Pradesh and Bihar under this order of central government directed that every dealer must display prices of masks, sanitizers near the store entrance.

 Disaster Management Act, 2005:-

            To take some effective measures relating to spread of coronavirus across the country the Disaster Management Act is invoked. On the direction of Union Ministry of Home Affairs, there is a lockdown throughout the India. Under this act there is a provision for the establishment of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) under the leadership of Prime Minister and National Executive Committee (NEC) under Home Secretary. On 24 March 2020, NDMA and NEC directed Union Ministries, State Governments and others authorities by making some guidelines, and took important measures for not to spread of coronavirus.

            With respect to such guidelines under Epidemic Disease Act, 1897, the state government authorities took some decision such as social distancing, isolations of foreign returnees, home quarantine, and stay home stay safe.

 Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945:-

            These rules classifies drugs under different schedules and provides guidelines for the storage, sale and prescription for each schedule. On March 26,  the central government  directed by issuing order that the retailer sale of any preparation containing hydroxychloroquine must be done under the conditions as specified in schedule H1. Schedule H1 contain that substances specified under the schedule cannot be sold without a prescription by a registered medical practitioner.

The Essential Services Maintenance Act, 1968:-

            This act is more important in situation of lock down due to COVID-19. This act gives power to central government to prohibit refusal to work in certain essential services such as the postal services and railways. Some similar acts were formed by several states.  In April, Andhra Pradesh Government imposed Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) and declared that all the health facilities, doctors, nurses and health personnel, sanitation workers in health facilities as essential services for six months. Madhya Pradesh also issued order prohibiting refusal to work in specified essential services.

Labour Laws after Lockdown:-

                        Around three months of lockdown every state activities are stopped and state economy get static. Many labours were migrated to their own town.   Due to lockdown, Indian economy collapsed. And resulted the biggest loss to capital of India.  

                    Madhya Pradesh passed Madhya Pradesh Labour Laws (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 and made certain changes in labour laws. Uttar Pradesh also passed Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020. Under Factories Act, 1948 certain changes are made in maximum working hours.

Conclusion:-                        There is need to make some strict legal provisions to prevent such big crisis in future. The present Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 is not sufficient. In response to COVID-19 the central  government, states government have issued numerous policies such as quarantine orders, lockdown orders, work from home order, travel and transfer shut down orders. And so many orders. In this way impact of COVID-19 affects in every sector of India.

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