Coronavirus Act
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This article is written by Srijita Adak, pursuing a Diploma in Advanced Contract Drafting, Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from Lawsikho.

Introduction 

The novel coronavirus which originated in China’s city, Wuhan, has now spread to the entire world. Due to the rapid spreading of this virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 as a pandemic on March 12, 2020. The UK was no exception to this virus. The virus started affecting the country from late January 2020. The United Kingdom enacted the Coronavirus Act, 2020 on 25th March 2020 after receiving royal assent to handle the pandemic situation. This Act has special provisions of emergency registration of healthcare professionals, temporary closure of educational institutions, audio-visual facilities for criminal proceedings under part 1, strict punishment for social gatherings under Schedule 21 and 22, financial assistance for industry under Section 75, and many more. The way the Coronavirus is increasing in the world is in the question that like the UK, India should enact the Coronavirus Act in India as well or not.

Impact of coronavirus in India

In India, the coronavirus outbreak started in Kerala from late January 2020. Empty streets have become normal due to lockdown, stores shut down, public gatherings banned, travel restrictions and physical distancing imposed to slow down the COVID-19. It has affected India in many sectors such as economy, health, education, and personal life and liberty.

  • Economy 

When there is any pandemic, the economic situation of a country goes down. The reluctance on part of consumers and businesses to spend has resulted in subdued demand. The agriculture sector contributes nearly $265 bn to GDP and employs 60% of the workforce that has been severely impacted. Because the outbreak has come at a critical time when the crop is ready to be harvested and then sold. The absence of labor force and transportation problems will have serious implications on the rural economy of India. Lockdown has worsened the struggle of the real estate sector which is very crucial for the Indian funding crunch. In Care ratings, automobiles could see their volume decline by 15%-16% in FY20. A slowdown in the automobile & real estate sectors has impacted the steel manufacturing industries. No export and import as international trade has ceased. The revenue generated from the airlines has also ceased as all the flights to and from are cancelled. The laborers (migrants specifically) are suffering as they do not have any protection for their jobs. The daily wage workers are suffering as there is no work.

  • Health

The healthcare system has taken a hit. Indian health care system is facing challenges in the diagnosis and treatment of suspected or positive COVID-19 patents. It creates a heavy burden on existing medical facilities and overlooks other patients who have other diseases and health problems. It creates an overload on healthcare professionals and they are at the highest risk of getting an infection from their patients. Many doctors, nurses, and technicians are dying to treat citizens which creates irreversible damage in the whole health care system. Medical shops are overloaded because of demand but the whole supply chain is disrupted due to the pandemic situation.

  • Education

The govt. of India decided to close all educational institutions from playschool to post-graduation universities to prevent infection among students who are the future of the nation. According to UNESCO’s estimation, more than 32 crores students are affected directly or indirectly by the coronavirus situation in India. To solve the issue, the government of India came with an idea of e-learning which is somehow the best solution to treat this situation and many students across India welcome this type of teaching method compared to the conventional classroom-based system.

Although it’s a great system of learning and teaching, there are many complications too to implement it in every corner of the country, Tier 2 & 3 cities and especially rural villages are still struggling to provide internet connectivity and technology to their residents and that is expensive too for the people who are living below poverty level. Sometimes it leads to high chances of dropout rate among the students who can’t afford a tech-based education system; the reason may vary from family background, financial condition, or overall understanding of this system. Private educational institutions are having a smaller number of admissions which creates difficulty to sustain their presence in this industry and many faculty faced salary cuts and sometimes they were simply fired for cost-cutting.

  • Personal life and liberty

In this pandemic situation, the personal life and liberty of an individual has been significantly affected. States are trying their best to flatten the curve by taking necessary actions like lockdown, stopping international and national travelling, and impose a restriction on family events like marriage ceremony, birthday party, etc. This had a significant impact on the fundamental rights spectrum. Article 21 of the Indian constitution gives citizens the right to life and liberty which can’t be abrogated at any cost. Although the severity and scale of this pandemic creates some restrictions on human rights like imposing quarantine or isolating some of the people, limiting freedom of movement and at the same time violating non-discrimination, transparency, and respect of human dignity. Most of the population goes through undue stress for reasons of social distancing with their family members, relatives, and friends. Traditional entertainment mediums like movie/play theatre, sports clubs, gyms are closed to maintain lockdown. Peoples are literally stuck in their homes.

Need for Coronavirus Act, 2020

The Epidemic Disease Act is a 123 years old Act of the British era. The motto of the British Parliament was to punish freedom fighters for arranging public gatherings at that time. The Act was clearly misused. The Act was just to prevent the spreading of the disease but not to dismiss them completely. There is nowhere mention of the definition of the term epidemic or disease. The Act simply empowers to give some notifications if the existing laws are not enough. Also, the Epidemic Act does not provide guidelines for the formation of a special committee or a disaster management team. There is no provision related to isolation which is the basic need for the present situation. The Act does not cover the distribution of drugs and vaccines by the government.

The law needs to be changed or amended as per the needs of the society for better development. Though the ordinance 2020 has been enacted as the society is moving faster towards the severe situation there is a need for a new law that can ensure the abatement of risk in such a pandemic situation.

Infectious Disease Regulation Act 

To control an infection, a strict law should be implemented. It will empower the Director of Medical Service to order all kinds of examination, and treatment of a suspect. The Act will give ultimate provisions to DMS as the closure of food establishments or private or public property. DMS will also have the power to prohibit or restrict any public or private meeting to prevent infection. And during this process, a stay order will be published by the court which will suspend all legal proceedings until the whole situation is over. The infected persons or who are at the risk of getting infected will be sent to a govt institution where their diagnosis and treatment will start. The government will need to take all precautionary measures to treat them and stop the infectious disease. All kinds of accommodation and basic human needs shall be supplied by the govt side only. If anyone violates the law or is found guilty during proceeding the punishment will be given as per the Indian penal code.

Special provisions of the Epidemic Disease Act 

Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 is also a 123 years old law. When in a particular area of India epidemic disease happens then to prevent the disease Epidemic Act can be enacted. In the British era, it was first implemented to curb Bubonic Plague in Bombay. The Epidemic Act has four sections, and when required it has been amended timely. The significant provisions of the Act are as follows: Under Section 2, the state government can impose some regulations at the time of any dangerous epidemic. The regulation can be inspecting traveling persons or separation of suspected or diagnosed people. Under 2A, the central government has the power to inspect or detain ships and vessels coming or going in the area of India. Under Section 3 there is punishment for whoever disobeys the regulation created by the government under Section 2 and Section 2A.

Section 188 of IPC has a fine of ₹200 to ₹1,000 or imprisonment of one to six months for those who violate the regulations. Section 4 protects the government employees or officers from civil or criminal proceedings for doing anything in good faith. For the changing needs of the society in the Covid-19 situation, the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 was made on April 22, 2020. 

Provisions under CrPC

Under Section 188 of the IPC, the punishments of violating the regulations are very mere. Moreover, there are some sections of IPC- Section 269 of IPC which gives punishment for negligent actions which may cause of spreading any infection of disease which can threaten the human life, Section 270 provides punishment to anyone who spreads any disease dangerous to life and Section 271 gives punishment for disobeying quarantine rule for vessels.

It is important to note that criminal proceedings must be stricter for this COVID-19 situation. A complaint must be filed by the concerned public officer under Section 195 of the CrPC, the imprisonment should be for at least 7 years, fine should be up to Rs. 50,000.

Conclusion

In many places in India, the provisions of the Epidemic Act have been implemented. But during this spread of the pandemic, the Act failed to create certain restrictions because the Act does not give specific measures or directions to the government. The Act is very old and back then, the organizations like World Health Originations and United Nations were not even established. The Act has not achieved its implementation of the guidelines issued. It is the need of the hour for the legislature to amend the century-old law to be ready for any kind of epidemic. National Health Bill 2009 is still pending to be enacted. If the National Health Bill is enacted then during the epidemic, very positive and appropriate measures can be taken. Undoubtedly the COVID-19 is a massive challenge for us. In this crisis, our legislature should consider and understand the difficulties faced by the government today and accordingly enact new and effective legislation.  

References


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