Coronavirus: What legal action can govt take against violators of prohibitory orders?
The central government on Monday also issued a direction to states to strictly enforce the lockdown and take legal action against violators.Updated: Mar 23, 2020 18:21 IST
The central and state governments on Sunday placed 80 districts in the country under lockdown to deal with the coronavirus threat.
The central government on Monday also issued a direction to states to strictly enforce the lockdown and take legal action against violators.
The lockdown has been imposed by various state governments under the Epidemic Diseases Act, which is a colonial law enacted in 1897.
Section 2 of the Epidemic Diseases Act empowers state governments to prescribe measures and regulations to deal with outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease.
Such measures include inspection of persons travelling by railway or other modes of transport, and segregation, in hospitals, temporary accommodation or other places, of persons suspected by the inspecting officer of being infected with any such disease.
Various states governments have invoked this law to impose regulations and take measures to deal with the threat of coronavirus.
The violation of any rule or regulation under the Epidemic Diseases Act is punishable as per Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Section 188 of the IPC states that any person who disobeys an order given by a public servant will be punished with imprisonment upto 1 month.
Thus, the Epidemic Diseases Act combined with Section 188 of IPC can result in 6 months imprisonment.
Besides the Epidemic Diseases Act, the IPC itself has enough standalone provisions to punish those who indulge in negligent acts which are likely to spread infectious diseases or those who break quarantine.
Section 269 of the Indian Penal Code squarely covers cases where a person commits a negligent act which is likely to spread an infectious disease dangerous to life.
It states that anybody who does any unlawful or negligent act which he/she knows is likely to spread an infectious disease dangerous to life can be punished with imprisonment upto 6 months. Besides, a fine can also be imposed on such person.
Thus, violation of lockdown orders of the government authorities is punishable under this provision.
The significance of the provision is that the act which the person commits need not be unlawful per se. All that the provision requires is that the person committing the act should be aware that it is likely to spread coronavirus and yet went ahead with his act.
That is, there is no need of a law or government order declaring that anybody with coronavirus should not escape quarantine or that a person who has come in contact with a person who has coronavirus should quarantine him/herself.
The person can be booked under this provision, if he/she had reason to believe that such an act could lead to the spread of coronavirus and yet acted negligently.
Thus, even organsing large parties and events during such epidemic can also be brought under this provision.
In the 1902 case of Nidar Mal, a person who had stayed in a plague-stricken house and who had come in contact with a plague patient, travelled by train to a neighbouring city. He was held guilty under this provision.
Section 270 of IPC deals with an aggravated form of the offence discussed under Section 269. As per Section 270, anybody who does a malignant act which he/she knows is likely to spread an infectious disease dangerous to life can be punished with imprisonment upto two years or with a fine.
Thus, what differentiates this offence from the one under Section 269 is that the accused who does an act with a deliberate intention to cause harm is punishable under this provision.
Section 271 of IPC is another provision which is likely to come into play, particularly when a lockdown is in operation.
It makes flouting of quarantine rules punishable with six month imprisonment.
It states that if anybody who knowingly disobeys any rule made with the object of isolating places where an infectious disease prevails from other places, then the person will be guilty under the provision.