During the period of COVID-19, the nation is under lockdown and by way of various provisions of the law the executive has restricted the movement and social gathering of people. So, below are the powers and legality of these provisions.
There are majorly four acts which are being used by the government authorities against the violators of lockdown, for not maintaining quarantine, running away of the infected people from hospital, fake news etc.
Does the authority have power to quarantine a person or family or his/her property?
Answer is yes, Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 gives the preventive jurisdiction to the District Magistrate, Sub-Divisional Magistrate or to any Executive Magistrate to issue an order whereby a person is directed to abstain from a certain act or relating to certain property in his possession/under his management. Idea is to prevent immediate danger to human life, health or safety, or a disturbance of the public tranquility, or a riot, or an affray. And if a person disobeys such direction in the Order is he said to have violated the Order.
It confers full powers on certain Magistrates to take prompt action in cases of emergency when immediate prevention or speedy remedy is desired. It requires the magistrate to issue the order in writing setting forth the material facts of the case and the order is to be served in the manner provided by section 134 of the Criminal Procedure Code. However, in case of grave urgency, such Orders can be passed ex-parte. Such order will remain in force for the period of two months unless extended by State Government and the State Government has power to extend it for maximum up to six months from the date of original Order. Such order can be rescinded or altered at any point of time. Nowadays, the Authority is quarantining the persons and their property with the aid of section 144 of Code of Criminal Procedure.
Can the order passed under Section 144 of CrPC be challenged?
Yes, the Order passed by the authority can be challenged before the High Court directly by way of writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution of India if the Order is not issued in a bona fide and reasonable manner or issued without authority. The following are the grounds used to test the invocation of section 144 of CrPC:
- Whether the Order was properly passed?
- Whether the Public Servant issuing such Order was specially empowered by the State Government?
- Whether the Order was vague or not issued to a specific person?
- Whether such Order was warranted by the circumstances?
- Whether the Order so issued specifically mentions the area on which the restriction is imposed?
- Whether the Order was circulated as per section 134 CrPC?
What is the punishment for violating Section 144 of CrPC?
Section 144 of the Code itself does not provide for any penalty or punishment for its breach. However, the punishment is prescribed under section 188 of Indian Penal Code.
What is Section 188 of IPC?
Section 188 of IPC provides that whoever disobeys any of the directions mentioned in the Order or creates obstruction, annoyance or injury or risk of obstruction, annoyance or injury then said person will be liable to simple imprisonment up to one month and fine up to rupees 200 or both. And if such disobedience causes danger to human life, health, safety or tend to cause riots or affray, then he will be liable for imprisonment up to six months or fine up to rupees 1000 or both.
The latter part of Section 188 deals with the kind of disobedience that is most likely to take place during these times i.e., disobedience which causes danger to human life, health or safety or causes or tends to cause riot or affray will be punished with an imprisonment term up to six months or a fine up to 1,000 rupees or both.
It can be observed that the former part is attracted when offence is committed against the lawfully employed person whereas the latter is attracted when the offence is committed against the general public. The offence committed under Section 188 is cognizable and bailable.
Further, the general rule in Criminal Law is that both guilty mind (Mens Rea) and commission of crime (Actus Reus) has to be present in order for the stages of crime to be fulfilled. However, Section 188 is an exception where Mens Rea to exist is completely irrelevant. The commission is sufficient for the attraction of penal laws of the Act.
Leaving the home for non-essential work
If the Order provides for staying at home but the person nonetheless goes out, then he is said to have committed the offence under section 188 of IPC.
What is the punishment when an infected person or the one suspected of having COVID-19 runs away from the hospital?
COVID-19 is considered as dangerous and a life-threatening disease which is contagious in nature and so a person can be booked under Sections 269, 270 & 271 of IPC as well.
- Section 269 of IPC states that if a person unlawfully or negligently does an act which he knows or has reason to believe that it is likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life, then he will be punished with imprisonment up to six months, or with fine or with both.
- Section 270 of IPC covers malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life and the violator of it shall be punished with imprisonment up to two years, or with fine, or with both.
- Further section 271 of IPC covers disobedience of quarantine of any vessel. (Does not apply to airplane or an individual)
So, if a person who is quarantined or kept in hospital under isolation and is found to run away then, the same is an act whereby he/she is knowingly spreading infections of disease which is dangerous to life and he can be booked under sections 269, 270 of IPC.
Is Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 useful & updated?
The title itself suggests that the act was enacted in the year 1897 which is completely outdated. The act contains only four sections out of which first section bears its name and second section gives power to the State Government & Central Government. Section 3 provides for penalty and section 4 immunes the people who have taken violative actions in good faith. Under this Act, the responsibility to prevent outbreak of any disease is with the State Government, whereas the Central Government only have powers as to inspection of any ship or vessel and persons on it. And further, the Central Government has power of detention of such ship or vessel.
Much has been published about how the Epidemic Diseases Act is an extremely strict law. But what is not in the public domain is the scope and extent of the punishment for violating the provisions of the instant Act.
Is there any punishment for disobeying directions issued under Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897?
This act does not provide for any separate punishment, only for disobeying any regulations or order made under this act a person will be held liable to have committed an offence under section 188 of IPC.
The Disaster Management Act, 2005
Leaving the home for non-essential work: Section 51 states that whoever obstructs any officer or employee in discharge of his/her functions or refuses to comply with any direction given by the Central Government/State Government/National Executive Committee/State Executive Committee/District Authority shall be punished with imprisonment up to one year or with fine, or with both. And, if such an obstruction or refusal to comply with the directions results in loss of lives or imminent danger, a person can be punished up to two years of imprisonment. If the Order passed under section 144 of CrPC instructs for staying at home but the person goes out or, does not follow the quarantined measures then he/she is said to have committed another offence punishable under Section 188 of IPC.
What is the provision against Fake news circulation?
Yes, Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act deals with circulation of fake news and provides that whoever makes or circulates a false alarm or warning as to the disaster or its severity or magnitude, leading to panic will be imprisoned up to one year, or fine.
Can FIR be registered against a person for violating the provisions of Disaster Management Act?
Section 60 provides that the Courts can take cognizance of offence committed under this Act only if complaint is made by the National Authority/State Authority/Central Government/District Authority/any other Authority or Officer authorized in this behalf by such Authority or Government. Therefore, the police cannot lodge an FIR under this Act if the government has not authorized the police for registration of such an FIR. However, the law says that only a complaint can be filed with the Magistrate and does not provide for registration of FIR.
Provisions for bail:
The Supreme Court in the case of Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar had directed the police to release the person on bail if the prescribed punishment for the offence is up to seven years. The police itself can release the offender on bail after registration of FIR and there is no to produce the offender before the Magistrates. All Disaster Management Act provisions are bailable and so there is no provision for anticipatory bail.
Is there any Legal remedy against the FIR lodged under the provisions of Disaster Management Act?
Yes, an aggrieved person by the registration of FIR, lodged under the provisions of Disaster Management Act, can file quashing petition under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure before the High Court on various legal as well as factual grounds. The High Court in many of the cases have held that when act specifically provides for filing of complaint before the Magistrate Court, an FIR is unnecessary and have quashed the same. But this is not universally accepted principle in the High Court.
Written by A. A. Ansari (Solicitor & Advocate),
Founder of Ansari Solicitor Firm,
Practicing Advocate in the Gujarat High Court.