With the outbreak of COVID-19, a lockdown has been declared for the entire country as a precautionary measure to curb the transmission of the pandemic. These orders are imposed invoking the powers under Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and the enabling provisions under Disaster Management Act, 2005.
However, there are reports of several instances on non- adherence to the clampdown orders. However, there are several penal provisions that may be invoked against an individual seen to violate state orders.
PROVISIONS UNDER INDIAN PENAL CODE:
- Section 188- Disobedience to Order Duly Promulgated by Public Servant
Section 188 deals with two sub-divisions of an offence of disobedience of order promulgated by an empowered public servant. The first division deals with disobedience causing or tending to cause obstruction, annoyance or injury, or risk of obstruction, annoyance or injury, to any person lawfully employed whereas the second division deals with disobedience causing or tending to cause danger to human life, health or safety, or causing or tending to cause a riot of offence.
The second division of the offence is punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both. Furthermore, as per the Explanation appended to the section, it is not necessary that the offender should intend to produce harm, or contemplate his disobedience as likely to produce harm. It is sufficient that he knows of the order which he disobeys, and that his disobedience produces, or is likely to produce, harm. The offence is cognizable and bailable.
It is also pertinent to note that per section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, violation of the regulations issued by State Governments under the Act will attract the offence under section 188 IPC. However, for the Court to take cognizance of the offence ( including abetment, attempt or conspiracy for the commission of the offence), there has to be a complaint in writing by the concerned public officer as per Section 195(1)(a) Code of Criminal Procedure.
In Shiv Charan Das v. State Through D.B Meerut (Cr. Ref. No. 156 of 1956), the Allahabad High Court held that section 195(1)(a) Cr.P.C provides an absolute prohibition against the taking cognizance by any Court of any offence punishable under section 188 except on complaint in writing of the public servant concerned. The Court further enumerated that since section 2 of the Epidemic Diseases Act authorizes the Government not only to promulgate a regulation itself but also to require or empower any other person to take such measures as may be necessary. It would therefore be permissible for the Government to authorize officers to issue necessary regulations which would in turn ensure that there is no difficulty in strict compliance with section 195(1)(a).
- Section 269 – Negligent act likely to spread disease dangerous infection of to life
This provision is framed in order to prevent people from doing acts which are likely to spread infectious diseases. The offence is cognizable and bailable. As per the provision, any person who unlawfully or negligently does any act which such person knows or has reason to believe to be likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months or with fine or both.
In Naidar Mal (1902) PR No. 22 of 1902, the accused resided in a plague stricken house and was in contact with a plague patient. The accused left the shed against orders and travelled by rail to a neighboring town and from there, to another village. It was held that he was guilty of an offence under this section as he had sufficient reason to believe that his act was dangerous and likely to spread infection of a disease dangerous to life.
- Section 270- Malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life
This is an aggravated form of the offence punishable under section 269 and the offence is cognizable and bailable. As per this section, whoever malignantly does any act which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe to be, likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
In M. Vijaya v. The Chairman, Singareni Collieries and Ors. 2001(5)ALD522 , the AP High Court observed that a person can be punished for negligent act of spreading infectious diseases under section 270.
In Wallaiti Ram v. State of H.P. (1985) 1 Crimes 598 (HP), the Himachal Pradesh High Court held that the most important ingredient of the offence under section 270 IPC is that the act attributed to the accused which constitutes the offence must be shown as likely to spread disease which is both infectious and dangerous to life.
- Section 271- Disobedience of quarantine rule
The offence under this section is non-cognizable and bailable. As per this section, whoever knowingly disobeys any rule made and promulgated by the Government for regulating the intercourse between places where an infectious disease prevails and other places, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.
From the terminology employed in the provision, it can be inferred that the motive for disobeying any rule is quire immaterial and the disobedience is punishable whether any injurious consequence flows from it or not.
PROVISIONS UNDER DISASTER MANAGEMENT ACT
This is the legislation that provides the enabling framework to take measures to contain the spread of the virus in the nation. Violation of the lockdown attracts penal provisions under this Act. However, as per the mandate of section 60, no court shall take cognizance of any offence under this statute unless a complaint is made by the authorized authority or officer or by any person who has given notice of not less than thirty days, of the alleged offence and his intention to make a complaint to the authorized authority, government or officer.
- Section 51- Punishment for obstruction, etc.
This provision punishes any person who, without reasonable cause, obstructs any officer of Central/ State Government or a person authorized by the National/State/ District Authority in the discharge of his functions or refuses to comply with direction given by or on behalf of the Central/ State Government or the National/ State Executive Committee or the District Authority under this Act, with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine, or with both, and if such obstruction or refusal to comply with directions results in loss of lives or imminent danger thereof, shall on conviction be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years.
- Section 58- Offences by Companies
Section 58 provides that whenever an offence under the Disaster Management Act has been committed by a company or a body corporate, every such person who was in charge of and was responsible to the company for the conduct of the business of the company, at the time the offence was committed shall be deemed to be guilty of the contravention and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.
In recent times, an FIR was registered under section 188 IPC against the owner of a soft drink manufacturing factory in Himachal Pradesh for running the factory in violation of a lockdown order issued to check the spread of coronavirus. The Uttar Pradesh police also recently registered an FIR against a reputed singer under sections 188, 269 and 270 IPC for having violated the lockdown orders.
Apart from these instances, scores of people have been booked for violation of lockdown orders in the past few days. The Centre has also directed the State Governments to strictly enforce the lockdown orders and take legal action against violators.