It was unbelievable for the government of most of the countries that a pathogen that was not even visible to the naked eye would prove to be the reason to put most developed countries to their knees and their economies to a virtual standstill. However, Legal measures play a very significant role in curtailing such infectious diseases. Not only in shaping the role of State’s action but it also revamps the relationship of the State and its subjects. Also, in controlling the inrush of communicable and non-communicable diseases, social measures employed by law are as advantageous as medical support, such as improving access to contraceptives and vaccinations.
With proper legal arrangements, infectious diseases can be controlled at a very early stage by creating awareness of screening, counselling, and education of the public.
As this further limit the contact of suspects of infectious disease with the public and also takes swift exigency measures if disease upsurges.
As unpremeditated the immunity system of our bodies was to the Novel Coronavirus, more unprepared were the legal systems of many countries including India to deal with a grave situation of a pandemic. But the India Government has tried to curb this deadly virus with its current legal framework.
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) embarked on the Indian government to refine out public health strategy provided under national laws and policies. The incidence and ubiquity of COVID-19 compelled the government to clamp the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, on March 11, 2020, by social distancing and the voluntary public curfew pattern in the country. The time-tested quarantine obligation under Sections 188, 269, 270, and 271 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, (hereinafter IPC) and Section 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 came under flak. The promises and deadfalls of the 160 years old Indian Penal Code, 1860, and 123 old Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 in controlling the frightful dimension of novel COVID-19, was considered at great length and breadth. It ultimately led the nation-wide Lockdowns-I (March 25, 2020, to April 14, 2020)  II (April 15, 2020, to May 3, 2020) , and III (May 4, 2020, to May 17, 2020)  by summoning Sections 6, 10, 38, and 72 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. The catastrophic COVID-19 pandemic declared a catastrophe believing it beyond the coping capacity of the community and necessitates emergency measures. It posed an unprecedented hurdle to the public health system and paraphernalia and put a plethora of public health legislation on trial in epidemic-pandemic syndrome. There are 1,36,86,073 confirmed cases and 1,71,089 deaths reported by the covid19india website by April 13, 12:10 AM IST on COVID-19.
The author will endeavour to critically examine the IPC provisions within which India is dealing with the said pandemic.
IPC PROVISIONS RELATED TO PANDEMIC
1. Section 188 of IPC provides “ Disobedience to order duly promulgated by the public servant.—Whoever, knowing that, by an order promulgated by a public servant lawfully empowered to promulgate such order, he is directed to abstain from a certain act, or to take certain order with certain property in his possession or under his management, disobeys such direction, shall, if such disobedience causes or tends to cause obstruction, annoyance or injury, or risk of obstruction, annoyance or injury, to any person lawfully employed, be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one month or with fine which may extend to two hundred rupees, or with both; and if such disobedience causes or trends to cause danger to human life, health or safety, or causes or tends to cause a riot or affray, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.”
Disobedience to order duly promulgated by a public servant. The foremost essential for Section 188 IPC is that the public servant must be legally empowered to promulgate the order. The offense committed under this section is cognizable. Because of which the Police Authorities had arrested many people who were violating the lockdown order directed by the Central Government during the phase of COVID-19. In cases where such disobedience causes danger to human life, health or safety then a punishment of simple imprisonment extending to six months or a fine extending to ₹1000 has been provided. Furthermore, when there is any violation of the provisions of Section 3 of the Epidemic Disease Act,1897 then a punishment under Section 188 IPC can also be directed. Section 3 of the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 is the penalty clause that provides that punishment can be given under Section 188 in case of any violation of its provisions.
2. Section 269 IPC – Negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life- “Whoever unlawfully or negligently 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 of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.”
To elaborate, under this section if a person unlawfully or negligently commits any act which can be a possible reason to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life would be punished with simple imprisonment extending to six months or with a fine or both.
3. Section 270 IPC – Malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life-“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 of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”
As per Section 270, anybody who does a malignant act which he/she knows is likely to spread an infectious disease dangerous to life can be punished with imprisonment for up to two years or with a fine. It is a cognizable and bailable offense. The only difference between Section 269 and 270 is that the activities envisioned under section 270 must be done with an evil motive or with knowledge of the harm. The punishment prescribed is imprisonment extending to 2 years or fine or both.
4. Section 271 IPC– Disobedience to quarantine rule - “Whoever knowingly disobeys any rule made and promulgated by the Government for putting any vessel into a state of quarantine, or for regulating the intercourse of vessels in a state of quarantine with the shore or with other vessels, for regulating the intercourse between places where an infectious disease prevails and other places, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.”
It is one of the provisions that necessitate the obedience to ‘quarantine’ orders imposed by the government. To have a better understanding, firstly the author will try to explain what is Quarantine? A Quarantine means the strict isolation that is imposed by the authorities/governments to stop the spreading of disease. Usually, Government’s use ‘quarantines’ to stop the spread of contagious diseases. These are made for the people or groups who are infected by the virus or who don’t have symptoms but were exposed to the sickness. A ‘quarantine’ keeps them away from others, so they don’t unknowingly infect anyone.
These may be used during:
· Outbreaks: When there’s an unexpected rise in the number of cases of a deadly disease.
· Epidemics: These resemble the outbreaks, but they are somehow considered larger and more widespread.
· Pandemics: these are Larger than the epidemics, which are usually global and affect more people. COVID-19 is also regarded as a pandemic. Therefore, the Indian government had also given quarantine orders to people who were either exposed to the deadly virus or were infected by the virus. Moreover, these quarantine orders had legal backing. This legal backing was done by Section 271 as it provided that if anybody knowingly disobeys any rule made with the object of isolating places where an infectious disease prevails from other places, then the person will be guilty under the provision. The section requires disobedience with knowledge of a rule made and promulgated by the government. The rule must be either for putting any vessel in a state of quarantine, or for regulating intercourse between quarantined vessels and shore or quarantined vessels and other vessels, or for regulating intercourse between places where an infectious disease prevails and other places. likewise, the quarantine orders also stated if a person tries to escape from the quarantine imposed upon him by the public health authorities and he escapes such quarantine then he can be booked under this section. He would also be liable for a punishment extending to 6 months of imprisonment or fine or both. It is a non-cognizable and bailable offense.
There have been several instances till now during this pandemic, where people have been charged under Section 269 and Section 270 for mocking the quarantine and lockdown rules. The history of such situations can be dated back to the year 1886, in which the Madras High Court sustained a person guilty for commuting by train despite suffering from cholera under Section 269. An alike case came up, Nadir Mal in the year 1902, wherein the accused was held guilty under Section 269 who negligently travelled by train after being in a plague-stricken house and coming in contact with a plague patient. Thus, it will be innocuous to say that any negligent or malignant act by any individual or the government, which has the potential of causing a mass epidemic or pandemic, can be reformed with the usage of Section 269 and 270 of IPC.
To a great extent, the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”) plays a crucial role in the proper implementation of EDA. Moreover, both the IPC and CRPC fulfil the aspect of penalty if any provision of or any order or regulation originating from EDA is violated. Various provisions of IPC and CRPC are in line with accomplishing the fundamental function of the public health law. For instance, section 144 of CRPC talks about prohibiting public gatherings for enforcing lockdown, and Section 269 of IPC deals in the negligent act of spreading infectious disease dangerous to life, Section 270 of IPC deals in a malignant act of spreading infectious disease dangerous to life, and Section 271 deals in disobedience of the quarantine rule. Further, the EDA makes a literal mention of Section 188 of the IPC which talks about the disobedience of order duly promulgated by a public servant. This depicts the dependency of EDA to ensure the obedience of its orders and regulations made during the time of emergency on the Indian Penal Code.