How to Fight the Pandemic Legally- Gaurav Hooda, Alumnus AIL

From the past few weeks, the situation in India & all across the globe has been tense. It is as close to war, the entire human race could have possibly been. Regardless of who’s to be blamed, which we all know by now, India for sure is on a war footing. I repeat this is not a DRILL!!

As we all know, in times like these, there have been perpetrators who more often than not, indulge in activities detrimental to the health of others by violating the lockdown, roaming around freely in the streets. Some even resorting to spitting, or licking the vegetables, fruits and keeping it back in the rack. Feeling disgusted at the mere thought of it, you must be wondering how we deal with such people, who have no regard for their safety and that of others.

When it comes to situations like these, where the entire humanity is caught off-guard & fighting the unknown, there is an archaic piece of legislation that still holds ground in the modern era. Yes, who would have thought that? While S.144 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 helps us curtail the movement of people and make it punishable, it does little help in combatting COVID-19. While the gathering should be brought to a minimum & social distancing should be practised, we have the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 to lessen our worries. Both the State as well as the Central Govt’s are empowered to undertake special measures & prescribe regulations as to dangerous epidemic diseases when the ordinary provisions of law for the time being in force are insufficient for the purpose. The Penalty though as described under this Act is little on the softer side considering the harm which can be caused when it comes to a situation like this. In essence, any person disobeying any order/regulation made under this Act shall be deemed to have committed an offence u/s 188 of the Indian Penal Code which is punishable by a term of imprisonment extending up to 6 months or fine up to Rs.1000 or both.

While the above-mentioned legislation enables the govt’s to take control of the situation in more of an administrative manner, it is the Indian Penal Code which ultimately drives home the point, when it comes to punishing the perpetrators or Covidiots. In our normal day to day routine, we can surely come across one odd person who would like to use his ignorance of the law as an excuse to justify his actions. The incidents of violence in states where people attack the law enforcement agencies or the medical staff to fulfil their own frivolous motives, they don’t realise how serious the gravity of the situation is. That is where S.269 & S.270 of the Indian Penal Code kicks in. S.269 deals with a case wherein the negligent act is likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life punishable with imprisonment up to 6 months or fine or both. Whereas S.270 punishes the malignant act likely to spread an infection of disease dangerous to life punishable with imprisonment up to 2 years and fine and both. The offence in both sections is cognizable & bailable in nature.

The govt. at the helm of affairs in India did a fantastic job when it came to contain the spread of COVID-19. With the flight bans coming into place quite early and ensuring people stay quarantined at home, we have successfully evaded Stage-III of the disease, as of now. The key term being “quarantined”. While many have been under self-quarantine in their homes, some have been forces by the authorities to undergo mandatory quarantine for the greater good and safety of others. What empowers this quarantine rule is S.271 of the Indian Penal Code, which makes the disobedience to quarantine rule punishable by term of imprisonment extending up to 6 months or with fine or both.

Having analysed the few sections which have gained significance over the past few months, they play a vital role when it comes to maintaining law & order in the society amongst these unprecedented times. Unless & until the measures are followed in their true spirit, the situation will only get worse. It is in everybody’s interest to respect the lockdown and stay at home.

While the authorities have their task cut out, as citizens we should help the govt. in fighting the disease rather than fighting with them. To those who feel their rights have been hampered or curtailed, well, even the Constitution of India provides for the exercise of those rights with a rider called – Reasonable Restrictions.

*Gaurav Hooda is an Alumnus of AIL, Mohali (Batch of 2019) practising an an Advocate in New Delhi.

* *The views of the Author are purely personal in nature & for academic purposes and in no way intended to harm, disrepute or hamper the feelings & sentiments of anyone reading it.

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