A nation-wide ‘Lockdown’ or ‘Janta-Curfew’ has been imposed in India, although this isn’t a legal term.
It imposes restrictions on the free movement and non-essential services;
Under this constitutional framework, two laws that provide the Centre and the States the statutory basis for acting against the Coronavirus are-
- The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and,
- The Disaster Management Act, 2005.
EPIDEMIC DISEASES ACT, 1897
The Act is very short and permits the government u/s 2: When “satisfied” that there is a threat of “the outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease” to take any necessary measures for containing the outbreak of the disease.
These measures include the ‘segregation, in hospital, temporary accommodation or otherwise, of persons suspected’ by the inspecting officer.
But, there is no provision for the confinement of the entire population at their residence.
DISASTER MANAGEMENT ACT, 2005
The Act provides for the establishment of a National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) for laying down the policies, plans, and guidelines for disaster management.
From the perspective of the legislator, a “disaster” is not to be confused with a “law and order” or “security” problem.
The basic function of the NDMA is to recommend guidelines for minimum standards of relief and loan repayment, while that of the National Committee is to prepare a national plan that includes measures to be taken for the prevention and mitigation of disasters, for the integration of mitigation in development plans, and for preparedness and capacity building.
It is only “in the event of threatening disaster situation” that the State Executive Committee or the District Authority may control and restrict vehicular traffic or entry of any person to, from or within, the vulnerable or affected area.
Although, there is no use of the terms “lockdown”, “isolation”, “distancing” or even “quarantine” in the entire Act or any provision for the confinement of all the citizens.
The case of the government perhaps is that these two laws arm it with sufficient powers and there is no necessity to fall back on the “emergency provisions” of the constitution.
The law indeed gives wide powers to “take, or require or empower any person to take, such measures and, by public notice, prescribe such temporary regulations to be observed by, the public or by any person or class of persons as it shall deem necessary to prevent the outbreak of such disease or the spread thereof, and may determine in what manner and by whom any expenses incurred (including compensation if any) shall be defrayed.”
The Validity of the Orders passed by the Govt.
The Central Govt. invoked the DMA, 2005 to order a lockdown of the country.
Similarly, the State Governments invoked other Acts to address the concerns pertaining to the spread of COVID-19.
The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, empowers the State Govt. to prescribe temporary regulations to be observed by the public or any person to prevent the outbreak of such disease or the spread thereof, and may determine any expenses incurred (including compensation if any) shall be defrayed.
Prohibitory orders have also been passed under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.