No one had ever imagined that 2020 is going to be ‘A Survival Year of Human Race’. Indians too never imagined that there will be time when all of them have to confine to their home for more than 1 month at least. At the time of writing this, as per official figure issued by Ministry Of Health, there are more than 96 thousand confirmed cases of coronavirus and three thousand people have lost their lives. Considering India’s population right now it can be safely assume that rate at which coronavirus is spreading across nation is slow and it’s good news. India took active measures to contain this disease much before it was declared as ‘Pandemic situation’ by World Health Organisation’.
But the actions taken by the government during this whole phase at times felt without a concrete plan, protocol and are whimsical. As citizens, we cannot completely blame government and law because we did not anticipate this kind of serious situation. The word pandemic and related term is nowhere mentioned in any Indian Law and how to deal with it. The governments at Central and state level are practically relying on three existing laws which were enacted in last century. There is only one law which was enacted in post Y2K was The National Disaster Management Act, 2005 (NDMA). In this act, only the term ‘disaster’ is defined and its scope has been explained. According to section 2(d), the term ‘disaster’ means a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in area, arising from natural or man made causes or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, degradation of, environment and is of such a nature that is beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area. Chapter II and III of the said act explain functions of National and State Disaster Management Authority in times of disaster and to prepare plan to mitigate disasters. The most important provision under this act which provides some sort of guidance to the government is provided under section 35 which deals with measures taken by the government for disaster management and includes coordinated action between ministries and governmental departments, ensure the integration of measures for prevention of disasters, allocation of funds for prevention and mitigation disaster, coordination with UN agencies and international organizations etc.
The scope of term ‘Disaster’ definitely needs to be widened so to include pandemic and any future catastrophic event and the measures taken by the government in case of crisis needs to be more inclusive like a national plan with regard to movement, employment, providing basic resources like food and shelter to those in need during such natural emergency etc.
Another law that deals with epidemic is The Epidemic Act of 1897 recently amended by way of Ordinance. The new amendment act provides for the prevention of the spread of dangerous epidemic disease. The motive behind bringing an ordinance is to protect the lives of healthcare personnel who are carrying out their public duty to contain pandemic situation from any harm, injury, hurt and danger to life. The new epidemic Act fails to include the term ‘pandemic’ and anything related to it.
Section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code is third and last legal provision that the Central Government has strictly enforced on the people including non-citizens. Section 144 prohibits gathering of more than 5 people in public places failing which a person shall be liable to be punished up to 3 years of imprisonment. But even this legal provision is proving to be ineffective especially after first phase of lockdown. Migrants from various states of India were seen protesting in big numbers in public place demanding basic needs and many of them in big numbers are moving on foot to reach their native place. Even after gathering at worship place is banned including opening and entry, at few occasions worshippers were gathering to mark festival or religious event.
India isn’t the only country who doesn’t have legal framework to deal with such catastrophe. Many developed nations are also doesn’t equipped with special or separate law to deal with this type of virus disease which globally has created a havoc. This critical time apart from misery has given us an opportunity to prepare and equip ourselves to face similar event in future if need arise.
After India successfully achieves flattening curve in controlling this disease and once life goes on with normal routine. The government must look into serious loopholes our legal system has with regard to health emergency and health care and come up with a separate law to deal with pandemic diseases or events in exhaustive manner. It must also include measures to be taken regarding continuous employment of those who cannot work from home and are in dire need of earning basic financial resources for themselves and those who are dependent on them. Government has recently announced huge financial relief for all sectors of economy but now India is in phase where life is eventually becoming normal from standstill.