The situation of COVID-19 also has a legal impact on society. COVID-19 has affected all three organs of the state namely, Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary. The Supreme Court has announced that from 16 March 2020, will be hearing only important matters. The SC has also directed that the lawyers acting on the matters for making the arguments, along with one litigant will be allowed in the courtroom. The Bombay High Court, Delhi High court, Karnataka High Court also announced the same restrictions. The courts have also asked for a potential thermal screening of people visiting the court. The government has also suspended all the visas except visas of diplomatic, project visas. All the foreigners already staying in India, visas will remain valid and they are advised to connect to nearest FRO for extension of their visas. Also, any citizen visiting India will need a certificate of having tested negative for COVID-19. Also, all the travellers coming from other countries need to be quarantined for 14 days. They should self-monitor and do`s and don`ts as given by the government.
The Government of India issued several advisories related to COVID-19 pandemic. On 11 March 2020, the Indian Government issued an order under Section 69 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 giving its power under Section 10 of this act to Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Further, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare advised the people to avoid public gatherings. Also, under the Epidemic Disease Act,1897, enacted to provide for better protection of spread of disease, the central and state government are to take certain actions to control the outbreak of this dangerous epidemic. Several states have issued advisories to control COVID-19, invoking provisions of the epidemic Disease Act, 1897. All hospitals should have separate areas for treating the people suspected COVID-19 and hospitals are required to record the history of the travel plan of the person where COVID-19 was reported. Information of all the reported case should be given to local municipal commissioner immediately. Special quarantine measures need to be taken. Also, the order has been passed that no press media will print the information related to COVID-19 without permission of the Department of Health and Welfare, if found will be treated as punishable offence under COVID-19 regulations. If any person found violating the provisions of COVID-19 Regulations will be punished under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, which penalises disobedience of order announced by a public servant.
Also, the disruption in the supply chain has legal implications, the performance of many contracts will be delayed, interrupted, or cancelled because COVID-19 has legitimately prevented the people from performing their contractual obligation. On the other hand, companies are not able to perform their obligations under customer agreements because of their suppliers` non-performance. Force majeure, in section 32 and 56 on the Indian Contract Act, 1872, protects the party from liability for its failure to perform a contractual obligation. It is an exception to what would otherwise amount to a breach of contract. The court would check whether COVID-19 prevented the party to perform its contractual obligation.
India has invoked powers under the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 to control COVID-19. The objective of this act was to prevent the spread of dangerous pandemic. Any person who disobeys any regulation passed under this law shall be punished under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code. Under this section a person does not need to intent to produce any harm, disobedience is sufficient. On 11 March, the Cabinet Secretary of India enforced Section 2 of Epidemic Disease Act in all states and Union Territories to control COVID-19 pandemic. It empowers the state to take some special steps and make some special provisions.
Also, some laws are prevailing under which people can be prosecuted to protect the health and safety of others. In India, misconduct to quarantine rule is punishable under Section 271 of the Indian Penal Code with imprisonment or fine, or both. Also, failure to take proper precautions after knowing the outbreak of disease is punishable under Section 269 and 270 of the Indian Penal Code. Disobedience of norms like social distancing, coughing without nose and mouth, loitering on street in a group, etc. are all punishable under Section 270 of the Indian Penal Code. The application of these laws was to control the spread of this infectious disease.
The Supreme Court of India, in the case Municipal Council Ratlam V. Vardichand, has given its interpretation in the matter of public health safety, decency, convenience by connecting Section 268 and 188 of the Indian Penal Code with Section 133 of CRPC. As per the courts, such a proposition is justified under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code. Besides these provisions, the procedural rigours of Section 133 of CRPC are more unconditional, although it reads voluntarily. The important tone of Section 133 of CRPC read with the disciplinary mode of Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code makes the preventive act as an obligatory duty. The judgement illustrates the modification of seemingly dull legislation into powerful legislation to protect the citizens from epidemic and different pandemics. It is quite regrettable to note that despite its vast perspective, the judgement remains underutilised. The penultimate analysis of the colonial law and its technological interpretation seems highly relevant in the wake of the current lock-down situation.
- LEGAL HUMMING
(CO-AUTHOR NISARG TRIVEDI)