It has been rightly stated by Margaret Chan that ‘after all, it’s really all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic’. In light of Coronavirus disease 2019, also termed as COVID-19, the legislature, the judiciary and the executive are performing their respective roles for the betterment and safety of society; but the action by these three pillars of democracy should be kept in check with respect to this pandemic.
The name COVID-19 is given by the World Health Organization in February 2020. This particular disease was started in Wuhan, China in around December 2019 and has been spread throughout the world in which around 208 countries, including India, are affected by this disease. This disease is not merely expanding worldwide on its own but by the contact of the people with each other. Basically, this disease is caused by a virus SARS-CoV-2 in the same manner as AIDS is caused by virus HIV. This virus is so deadly that it has claimed around 42,528 lives worldwide as on 1 April 2020. COVID-19 has been regarded as pandemic as it affected people worldwide.
In India, the legislative department has a major role to play from framing the rules to ensuring its implementation by the community and the officials working under executive respectively. The rules laid in Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 and National Disaster Management Act, 2005 are very much prevalent in today’s scenario. As per Section 2 of the Epidemic Disease Act central and state government can implement temporary restrictions which includes staying home and only to divulge if buying essential commodities. And as per Section 10 (2)(d) lay down guidelines for preparing disaster management plans by different Ministries or Departments of the Government of India and the State Authorities.
Recently, many videos are going viral in which the police officials seem to beat people who are not adhering with the rules laid down in the said act. Can police use such excessive force and beat people on such grounds? The answer is clearly no, as per Section 3 of Epidemic Disease Act if any person disobeys the regulations given by the government then he/she will be punished under Section 188 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 which states that an order promulgated by a public servant lawfully empowered to do so, and disobedience to such orders causes obstruction, annoyance or injury to any person will be punished with imprisonment which may extend six months and a fine of one thousand rupees. Here it is nowhere enshrined that the police shall use force upon individual not adhering with these rules, such officials may use force if the people are causing them a personal threat. The executives by working for the implementation of the notification laid down by Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution has further ensured the population with respect to the pricing of hand sanitizers and masks which comes under essential commodities. They ensured that the retailer is not selling those commodities beyond MRP as prepared by the Government.
As far as the judiciary is concerned District court has been temporarily closed but the High Court and the Supreme Court are restricted to hearings to urgent cases only via video conference. Recently, the Kerala High Court took suo motu awareness of reported incidents of police excessive force and the rights of the individuals. Do the individual right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India is infringed in these lockdown circumstances? Article 21 basically confers a fundamental right of life and personal liberty to every individual and here this right can be curtailed if the law which is laid down by the government is not followed as it becomes procedure established by law. No long ago Karnataka government promulgated address of thousands of international passengers who had returned to Bengaluru and also launched an app called Corona Watch which locates where the corona infected patients have been. Does the right to privacy of individual conferred under Article 21 get infringed? There is an ambiguity between 2 legislations one is Constitution of India and another is Epidemic Disease Act, as per Section 2 of Epidemic Disease Act is considered it gives wide ambit of power and discretion under which the government can enact a law so as to take measures of this epidemic but wide ambit of power has not been defined anywhere. And as per Article 21, it will be a clear infringement of the fundamental rights. Hence it cannot be clearly determined.
It is to be noted that the media has been recognized as the fourth pillar of democracy. Media ensures proper functioning of legislative, executive and judiciary. I am of the opinion that legislature should amend the Epidemic Act so as to reduce the ambiguity and mere lockdown will not satisfactorily prevent the spread of the virus, as a responsible citizen one should not infringe the procedure established by law. And as a democratic country, every individual has respective rights to raise voice against ill-treatment by the government with respect to his/her religion or wealth. It is not the time when people can directly go to the court and claim relief for infringement of their particular rights; it is the time to cooperate. It does not matter what religion you embrace or how rich or poor you are, under these circumstances solidarity prevails.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ashutosh Rajput is a first-year student of Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur.