Honey Chandnani, Vivekanand Education Society’s College of Law, Mumbai
Covid 19 and Government
As the world deals with Covid-19 which was officially declared by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020, as a “pandemic” it has already caused a lot of shock waves across the globe causing serious disruptions of air and sea traffic and closure of vital air routes. This pandemic has led to the collapse of stock markets around the world and decline in the overall global economic activity. The Covid-19 virus is right now trending in all parts of the country and our India being the 3rd most-affected country our Government of India has tried every way possible to keep the Country safe from this virus through Nation-wide lockdown to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Today while we all are dealing with this global pandemic the importance of health has been felt. Having no cure and vaccine, the best possible prevention is social distancing and isolation of infected persons. The governments are often in a dilemma about whether to respond or not to a safety threat.
Lockdown in India- Government’s step to fight coronavirus
On 25th March 2020, the whole of India was put under lockdown for 21 days which was going to end on 14th April 2020. However, considering the spike in the cases the lockdown was increased and India was under complete lockdown till 31st May 2020. While the Ministry of Home Affairs and Government of India introduced few relaxations in particular to balance the financial burden on the companies. Previously all shops, industrial establishments, private establishments had to be completely closed or work from home only, school and all educational institutions were also shut. Only essentials like banks; insurance offices; telecommunications, internet services, e-commerce delivery of goods and food were exempted from this. The Ministry of Home and Government of India classified the districts to be as Red zones or hotspot zones, green zones, orange zones, containment zones. The Central Government had restricted the following services:-
● Domestic and international travel, inter-state buses for public transport;
● All cinema halls, shopping malls, gymnasiums, sports complexes;
● All religious place/ places of worship shall be closed for the public;
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India and Indian Council of Medical Research has issued various guidelines and advisories for social distancing protocol, diagnosis and do’s and don’ts. The National Directives have been issued for Covid-19 Management which applies to public and workplaces such as wearing of face mask in compulsory, marriage related gathering has been limited to 50 persons, for funerals the maximum number of the person can be extended to is 20 and work from home to be encouraged by employers as much as possible these are the few and general guidelines issued which if not followed can be dangerous and appropriate actions would be taken against the persons. The central government has recently allowed ease in the restrictions and also has announced various reliefs for migrants and people below the poverty line due to financial stress caused by this pandemic.
Look at the measures taken by Government amidst this crisis:-
● The Government introduced the Aarogya Setu mobile application for the citizen’s safety before stepping out and help them make informed decisions amid the crisis.
● Immediate release of Rs.18,000 crores in tax refunds to individuals and businesses was introduced by Finance Minister.
● Financial support is given under the Building and Construction workers fund which is worth Rs.3066 Crore.
● Under the National Assistance Programme, Rs.1,400 crore has been released for 2.82 crore old age people, widows and disabled people.
● The government had released 12 million MT of food grains under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Ann Yojana for April-June which has now been extended till November as announced by Shri. Narendra Modi Ji and our Hon’ble Prime Minister have released and its extension will cost 90 Crore rupees.
● The Health Department has made the wearing of masks mandatory for everyone in Public places. A fine would be imposed on the person who is seen not following the rules. It is decided state-wise. Talking about Delhi, if a person who is not seen wearing the mask and spitting Tobacco at public places will attract a legal penalty of Rs.500 and the if repeating the offence the penalty would be Rs.1000/-
Analysis of Legal Actions taken by the Government to combat Covid-19
Disaster Management Act, 2005
The Government of India has declared the Covid-19 as a notified disaster to make it fall under the Disaster Management Act, 2005. Section 6(1)(ii) empowers the National Authority to lay down the policies, plans and guidelines for ensuring timely and effective responses to disaster. Section 35 of the Disaster Management Act empowers the central government to take all such necessary measures to control the disaster. The central government has extended its support to many courtiers i.e. it has exported the drug hydroxychloroquine which helps in fighting corona to 55 countries including the USA, France, Netherlands.
Epidemic Disease Act, 1897
This Act came into force to legislate diseases and plague that happens in the country. The central government’s power under this Act is very less, state governments have been given immense power under this Act.
An ordinance to amend the Epidemic Disease Act 1897
The ordinance to amend the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 was approved by the President of India on 22nd April 2020 in order to provide punishment to the attackers of healthcare workers. The punishment shall range from 3 months to 5 years imprisonment and fine shall range from Rs.50, 000 to 2, 00,000 and if the injury is of a grave nature the imprisonment may extend to 7 years.
Essential Commodities Act, 2005
The Government has notified an order to declare hand sanitizer, N95 masks, 2 ply and 3 ply masks as essential commodities up to 30th June 2020 by amending the schedule of Essential Commodities Act, 2005. This decision would help the government to keep a check on the production and pricing of the masks and would help to take actions against people who are involved in black marketing.
Indian Penal Code, 1860
Section 21 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 defines Public Servant as the very officer of the government whose duty is to prevent the commission of the offence or to bring the wrongdoer to the custody and the protect the public health safety whereas Section 188 punishes any person for disobeying the orders given by Public Servant. The order by the Government stated, “As during the lockdown period only people are allowed to step out for permitted activities strictly observing social distancing norms”. All those who have been directed by healthcare officials to stay home or hospital quarantine have to follow the rules and regulations. Violation of Section 188 of Indian Penal code, 1860 attracts jail term of one month or fine up to Rs.200, or both. If the "disobedience causes danger to human life, health or safety", the person can be punished with six months' jail term and a fine of Rs.1, 000 or both under the section.
Aircraft Public Health Rules Act, 1954
Government is taking recourse to Aircraft Public Health Rules Act, 1954 that warrants the Health care officials to check the citizens who have recently travelled from abroad and to screen them at the airport. As per rule 30(2), the Aircraft can be considered infectious when any person in it has been affected. The health officer appointed by the Government has the authority to check all the people coming from abroad at the airport under rule 31.
Criminal Procedure Code, 1973
Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code imposes a power to the Magistrate executive to restrict a particular or a group of persons residing in a particular area while visiting a certain area or a place. However, the role of the Criminal Procedure Code would be less when it comes to a situation that we are foreseeing as the spread of COVID-19 to such a large extent. It was adequate to control the movement of the targeted people that are a major threat to spreading the virus.
Certainly, COVID-19 has become a huge threat for India, however, due to steps taken by the Government and looking at the legislative aspects as a whole the government is trying to make changes according to the changing situations and as per the need of the hour by bringing amendments and ordinances to the already existing frameworks and acts. The government is trying it’s best to protect the citizens from this deadly virus. Now it’s our responsibility to act as a responsible citizen and abide by the rules and regulations of the Government which are made for our safety. As our nation is known for its unity and fighting all the problems together. Let’s come and fight this together