Where the nation was united on the orders of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 22nd March 2020, the screens all over the country, on that day witnessed billions as one. The very first approach to fight the Covid- 19 virus, which was then and even now responsible for taking numerous lives, was initiated on 22nd March, 2020 when the Central Government announced Janta Curfew to briefly give a hint that the nation would soon come across an emergency phase.
In no time, a complete shutdown was announced nationwide, on 24th March 2020. But that could not be called an ‘emergency’, as what was declared then is what we call 'lockdown'. This declaration imposed a complete stop on what we used to call ‘our normal’. The public places, the schools & the colleges, the universities & the offices, the malls & the cinemas, the food joints & the restaurants, the parks & the gyms, the temples & the mosques, all were closed to prevent public gatherings and thereby prevent the community transmission of the deadly novel corona virus. Every movement that was more than regular and casual was prohibited and was made punishable under the law. Nothing except essential stores, grocery, medical shops were seen with shutters wide open. The public officials, police authorities risked their lives just to ensure that no law was taken lightly.
The district collectors were to be ‘incident commanders’ in each district who would also decide, who should be issued exception passes for necessary and emergency movements. Downstream, in several states, competent authorities issued orders under Section 144 of the CrPC, prohibiting more than five people from assembling in public places.
This lockdown which was initially imposed for 21 days, was extended time and again to stop the spread of virus and to save the people of India from getting infected. The nation is still dealing with the challenges this virus has to present, and we all are still leading our lives with necessary restrictions imposed by the government and the state machinery.
Meanwhile, the validity of this lockdown faces a question as to its constitutionality. With 100% surety, can we say “is it constitutional”?
How lawful is it for the Central Government to simply announce a lockdown without measuring the difficulties of others?
The constitution did provide provisions for emergency if the nation faces war, external aggression or armed rebellion. The reason of imposing shutdown nationwide was not either of these. A deadly virus that was uncontrollably spreading all over the world, forced the government to put the entire human mechanism in pause. This however certainly is not a justified reason to declare a national emergency in India as per the provisions of the Indian Constitution. Hence, the only options left with the Government, was to make recourse to the provisions of the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 and the Disaster Management Act, 2005. These two statutory enactments provided a lawfully established base to the central government to impose strict order to restrict movement of the people in India, as and when required.
The Epidemic Diseases Act clearly specify that the central government may take required measures or restrict freedom of movement or notify other public authorities to do the same in order to prevent outbreak of any such disease that might result in loss of human life and simultaneously prescribes punishment for anyone who voluntarily or in any other manner fails to comply with the regulations imposed by the government in order to prevent such outbreak.
On the other hand, the Disaster Management Act clearly provides that as and when required, the public authorities may be directed to or may direct others to restrict in any affected area, any vehicular movement, to prevent spread of such disaster. It also prescribes the punishment for any violation of such restriction.
However the DMA, in its title itself clearly states that the same is meant for 'disasters'. The government upon realising that the Corona Virus which is the resulting in countless deaths is no less than a disaster declared that the provisions of DMA shall be widely and strictly applied to this pandemic situation as well.
Written by: Pranita Raj, Student, SNIL, Bhubaneswar
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