Introduction

In light of the World Health Organization declaring the Novel Corona Virus (COVID-19), A high-level group of Ministers convened a meeting where it was decided to issue an advisory for all States/Union Territories to invoke Section 2 of the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897. The above-mentioned section entails that the Central Government shall have powers to enforce regulations during such time there is an outbreak or the threat of an outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease, and ordinary provisions of law prove to be insufficient to keep the spreading of such disease in check. Under this notification, several states such as Karnataka, West Bengal, Goa, and Maharashtra have already invoked the act in attempts to control and curb the spread of this disease.

It is a well-known fact that there is possibly no known vaccination, and the first vaccine may be at the very least, almost a year away from now, and prevention at this juncture, seems like the only feasible solution.

While various experts have already opined that social distancing may be an effective way to tackle such problems, and many other experts while questioning the efficacy of such methods, have said that this may turn out to be a futile exercise, at the end, it is the plight of the common man that hangs on the balance in such a scenario.

This paper shall aim to critically analyze a few issues relating to the topic in light of the invoking of the Epidemic Diseases Act, and sensitize the audience about some of the important provisions in it, as well as the offences and penalties that arise out of the said Act. 

History of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897

The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 came into force on 4th February 1897. This act was enforced in light of the plague epidemic that hit Bombay and aimed at confining the spread of the disease within the area by enforcing provisions, which entailed the prevention of gathering of persons in huge numbers.

The objective of the act is to provide for the better prevention of the spread of dangerous epidemic diseases.

A person who violates any regulation or order made under the Act may be charged with an offence under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code.[8] 

How is it relevant in our current scenario?

A few days back, multiple arrests were made under the Act.

Three persons were arrested and a fourth person was charged for the spreading of fake news on social media about the coronavirus.

The allegation arose as a result of a fake picture of a patient lying on a hospital bed being edited and forwarded claiming that the person had died of coronavirus in the Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad.

Rachakonda police charged another person with spreading messages on WhatsApp claiming that three persons from the area tested positive for the coronavirus. Upon launching an investigation by the police, it was found that such information was untrue.

If a person is found to be spreading such false rumours, he/she is liable to imprisonment up to one year.

Similarly, Binu Mahananda, a teacher in Kalahandi district of Odisha has been arrested for posting false information on social media.

All these scenarios of the commission of such offences are vastly similar with a lot of instances pertaining to the state of Sikkim, with a lot of the populace relying on social media platforms for news in the colloquial language.

On a different note, a woman infected with coronavirus escaped quarantine in Bengaluru, took a flight to New Delhi, and travelled to Agra. The father of the woman has been booked under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code for failure to comply with health authorities and knowingly spreading infectious disease, putting the community at risk.

Under such a scenario, a person can be charged under Section 269, and Section 270 of the Indian Penal Code.

Conclusion

It must be understood that while the Epidemic Diseases Act has been set up to control various contagious diseases that are lethal in nature, the above-mentioned provisions of the Indian Penal Code also aid in such control measures.

While we are a heavily populated nation, we must remember that the chances of passing it onto someone with a potential risk of dying are very high. Various jobs entail that they cannot avail the luxury of “Work From Home”. In the absence of socially responsible initiatives from the general population, the Government must undertake such stringent, yet necessary check measures to curtail the widespread outbreak of such diseases. Like the experts have said, the next few weeks is extremely crucial with regards to how the spread of this disease or the containment of it shall play out.

The writer is Lekden T. Basi. He can be reached at lekdenbasi@nujs.edu

Views/Opinions expressed in the article or write up is purely of the author or writer and not of the Sikkim Chronicle. For any queries or contradictions, the author can be contacted in his/her email id.



  [1] https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/coronavirus-states-to-be-asked-to-invoke-epidemic-disease-act-centre/article31043653.ece

[2] Section 2, Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.

[3] https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/coronavirus-west-bengal-invokes-epidemic-diseases-act/article31083238.ecehttps://www.bloombergquint.com/politics/maharashtra-declares-coronavirus-an-epidemic-in-mumbai-pune-nagpurhttps://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/goa-invokes-epidemic-diseases-act/articleshow/74620128.cmshttps://www.deccanherald.com/state/top-karnataka-stories/coronavirus-karnataka-becomes-first-state-to-invoke-provisions-of-epidemic-diseases-act-1897-amid-covid-19-fear-812850.html

[4] https://www.insider.com/what-does-social-distancing-mean-how-you-can-practice-it-2020-3

[5] Supra note 2.

[6] Continuing Challenge of Infectious Diseases in India, John TJ, Dandona L. Sharma VP, Kakkar M, Lancet 2011; 377:252-69.

[7] Epidemic Diseases Act, No. 3 of 1897, pmbl. 

[8] Indian Penal Code, No. 45 of 1860. 

[9] https://www.ndtv.com/telangana-news/coronavirus-3-arrested-in-telangana-for-spreading-fake-news-on-coronavirus-2195867.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] https://www.orissapost.com/kalahandi-teacher-arrested-for-spreading-coronavirus-rumours-on-social-media/.

[14] Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Leave a Reply