Ravi Shankar Prasad, Press Conference, Law Minister

As the CoronaVirus (COVID-19) takes over the globe, the human civilisation undergoes a turmoil. Normal life seems to be disturbed as people stay at home and practice social distancing. Until a few months back, no one had thought that this virus should spread at such an alarming rate. However, Corona has now created a warlike situation in various countries, where people are filled with uncertainty and fear. The WHO (World Health Organisation) has taken various initiatives and published guidelines to combat the further spread of the pandemic. It has issued various effective preventive measures that can be practised by individuals. Various countries, including India, have declared lockdown and advised all citizens to practise personal hygiene and social distancing.

Scenario in India

In India, the Government has declared a nationwide lockdown from 25th March 2020 and has got extended till 17th of May 2020. All the colleges and other institutions had to be closed. Professionals shifted to working from home, while the universities and schools started taking classes online. Some law schools postponed their exams and extended the classes for the session whereas, others conducted online exams. Presentations, project submission and seminars have all been done online. However, conducting these classes or online exams are still a challenge for both the teachers and the students. Yet universities are trying to give their best as the students patiently cooperate. Various courses and internships are made available for the students to make the best of their time. Thus, all the essential work is being done through the internet.

Doctors are trying their hardest to provide treatment to all those affected. There are a very limited number of resources that are available to cure the infected. Thus, doctors, as well as science professionals, are trying their best to make equipment which shall be available for curing all. The DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) has taken initiatives to make hand sanitisers, critical care ventilators, N99 masks and bodysuits. Many scientists and doctors are also conducting research and studies to find a vaccine to the virus.

Government has issued various policies and took up various effective measures to contain the contamination in the previous months. After effective testing and analysis, it has included various places as hotspots and made various zones, namely, red, orange and green. According to these zones, it has made different measures according to the need.

Laws at the time of Corona

The Government is taking all necessary measures to ensure that no more people are affected. Those already affected, as well as suspects, are being isolated for at least 14 days. While the doctors are on work, the police have been appointed to see that people follow the guidelines and stay in quarantine till the lockdown period persists. 

In India, to regulate laws related to the prevention of epidemics, the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 was passed. According to Section 2(1) of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, the State Government is empowered to take various other measures or empower any person to take these, in cases of an outbreak of dangerous epidemic diseases. Such measures or regulations may be made through public notice and are to be observed by the public or by any person or class of persons as deemed necessary. The State Government can do so if it believes that ordinary provisions of law for the time being in force are insufficient to combat and control the epidemic. 

Under Section 2(2)(b) of the Act, the State Government has the power to carry on the inspection of people travelling by railway, metro or other public transport. It can also segregate the people who are suspected to be affected by the disease in a hospital or any other temporary accommodation. 

The Central Government has also been conferred the same power in Section 2A of the Act, where it may take measures and prescribe regulations for the prevention of spreading of the disease. It can order for inspection of any ship or vessel (or flight) leaving or arriving at any port. 

Thus, Central, as well as State Government, have been conferred power to take necessary action in times of spread of disease like coronavirus. 

Recently, the Central Government, as well as the State Government, have issued various orders and advisories to combat the pandemic. Violation of these is punishable under Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. Also, a Local Police can book individuals who do not comply with the law or regulatory orders. In such cases, the various provisions of law being applied are-

  • Sec 188 IPC: Disobedience to order duly promulgated by the Government. 

Whoever, knowing that by an order he is directed to abstain from a certain act, disobeys such direction, then he or she shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to six months or with fine extending up to one thousand rupees, or with both.

Cognisable offence, Bailable.

  • Sec.269 IPC: Negligently doing any act known to be likely to spread infection of any disease dangerous to life

Whoever unlawfully or negligently does any act which is likely to spread the virus, shall be punished with imprisonment for 6 months or fine, or both.

Cognisable offense, Bailable

  • Sec 270 IPC: Malignantly doing any act known to be likely to spread infection of any disease dangerous to life 

If anyone malevolently does any act which is likely to spread the infection of Coronavirus, then he or she shall be punished with imprisonment for 2 years, or fine or both.

Cognisable offence, Bailable

  • Sec.271 IPC: Knowingly disobeying any quarantine rule

Disobeying rules of quarantine or lockdown or increasing the possibility of spread of the virus knowingly shall be punishable with imprisonment for 6 months, or fine or both.

Non-cognizable offence

The above measures are necessary to ensure strictness as no chance or casualties can be entertained in such a life-threatening situation. The Government should also look into and make necessary changes in the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 as the times are changing

Laws to prevent the spread of fake news

As the virus spreads and there is currently no vaccine or preventative treatment, it has become a grave concern among all. It has been seen that the virus has also affected mental health because of the uncertainty and fear of contamination which has led to anxiety, stress and depression in many individuals. We, humans, are gregarious beings and enjoy the company of each other. Thus, being isolated for a month or more does not do good for our psychological health. It also makes us more susceptible to accepting fake news and potentially problematic, hostile or fearful attitudes. 

Recently, WhatsApp and other social media platforms were flooded with messages about the virus. Some contained various information about the COVID-19, while others contained its cure through home remedies. In such a situation, it becomes very difficult for people to know what is true and what a myth. Thus, to control the fake news and message in social media, the Government has imposed various provisions of law, which are- 

1. Section 505(1) of Indian Penal Code, 1860: 

Whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report, with intent to cause fear or alarm amongst the public, or incite the public, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend up to 3 years or fine or with both.

2. Section 66D of the Information Technology Act: 

Whoever, through any communication device or computer resource cheats by personating, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to one lakh rupees.

3. Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005:

Whoever makes or circulates a false alarm or warning as to disaster or its severity or magnitude, leading to panic, shall be punished with imprisonment up to one year or with fine. 

The measures taken by India, like the Janta Curfew on 22nd March 2020 followed by the lockdown, are being appreciated by various other countries. It must be recognised that controlling a country with such a huge population is not easy. Credit goes to the Government and the people who stand united in this hour of distress.

Other provisions

  1. Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA), 1968- the Act provides for the maintenance of certain essential services and the normal functioning of ordinary life. The Act empowers the government to look into the smooth availability of such essential services and so that there is no disturbance in doing so. These essential services mainly include transportation (on land, water or air), the supply of electricity, functioning of police and the defence departments and also operation of petrol pumps.
  2. Essential Commodities Act, 1995- the Act was passed to keep a balance between demand and supply and to ensure that there is no scarcity of such essential commodities. It had been passed ‘in the interest of the general public, for the control of the production, supply and distribution of certain commodities’, while making these available at a fair price. Essential Commodities is defined in Section 2. The main of the Act is to contain unfair practices like stocking of items, selling commodities at higher prices, creating artificial scarcity within the market or black marketing.

Recently, the Government included hand sanitizers and masks to contain the scarcity and black market of the following products due to an increase in demand because of the rapid spread of the Pandemic.

What can we do?

The most important thing we can do right now is to stay at home, follow the regulations and orders of the Government and take every precaution. We must maintain personal hygiene by keeping our surroundings clean and practice social distancing wherever we are. We must use our time properly. If anyone wants to contribute to helping the needy, it should be done through the authorities or under their supervision. 

Most important of all is not to panic. We all are in this together. As our lives have changed, worry and fear are natural. However, all we can do is adapt and accept the changes for change is the only constant. We can try to explore new patterns of thinking, working and living.

Conclusion:

We understand well the courage it takes to face and combat such times of despair and thus, share gratitude to those who still work to serve others while putting their lives at risk, be it a doctor or a delivery guy. 

As we have realised that we may not be well equipped to fight the unseen and unknown problems, we certainly know that if united we stand, we shall emerge out of it, stronger and sharper. Thus, we must all comply with the orders and keep everyone safe by keeping ourselves safe.