A 123-year old law has come to the rescue of the Government in its efforts to tackle the Coronavirus challenge.
On March 11, the Centre advised all States and Union Territories to invoke provisions of Section 2 of the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897.
The decision was aimed at ensuring that all advisories of the Union Health Ministry and State Governments on the COVID-19 crisis were enforced.
Besides this, the government also invoked the Disaster Management Act to enforce the 21-day nationwide lockdown that started on the midnight of March 24.
Combined, these two acts empower the government to enforce all the actions to battle the crisis.
The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897
One of the shortest legislation in India, The Epidemic Diseases Act has four sections. It is aimed at ‘providing for better prevention of the spread of Dangerous Epidemic Diseases.’
The act was first enacted in the British colonial era primarily to control the Bubonic Plague outbreak in the late 1800s. It has remained relevant ever since.
Section 2A of the Act allows the Centre to prescribe regulations to inspect any ship or vessel leaving or arriving in any port and to detain any person planning to leave or arrive into India.
The government’s decisions on restricting international and domestic travel to and from India fall under the provisions of this Act.
The Act also empowers State Governments under Section 2(1) to prescribe regulations with respect to any person or group of people to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 gives the penalties for violating the regulations. Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code states that it will be six months imprisonment or Rs 1000 fine or both.
The Disaster Management Act, 2005
The Disaster Management Act was enacted to tackle disasters at both Central and State government levels.
Section (2) defines a disaster as a “catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man-made causes”.
On March 14, the Central Government termed COVID-19 as a ‘notified disaster’ as a “critical medical condition or pandemic situation”
The Act enables the Centre and States to enforce a lockdown and restrict public movement. It allows the Government to get access to the National Disaster Response Fund, the
State Disaster Response Fund and the District Disaster Response Fund. It also has provisions for allocation of resources for prevention, mitigation, capacity building etc.
Sections 51 to 60 of the Act prescribes the penalties for the violators.
The Law describes the offence as obstructing any officer or employee from performing their duty or refusing to comply with directions.
Violators can be jailed for up to 1 year or fine, or both.
In the case of dangerous behaviour, the jail term can be extended to two years.
Section 144 of IPC
Along with these two Acts, several state governments are also invoking Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code. This prohibits a gathering of four or more people in a particular area. By using this provision, the administration aims to control crowding and prevent the spread of the virus.