After the Janata Curfew, Delhi and many other states took the Centre’s advice to enforce a full lockdown in districts to contain the spread of COVID-19.
- The orders issued to curb the spread of the coronavirus have been framed under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, which lays down punishment as per Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, for flouting such orders - leading to imprisonment of up to 6 months or fine up to Rs 1000 or both.
- In the past, the Act has been routinely enforced across the country for dealing with outbreaks of diseases such as swine flu, dengue, and cholera. Its penal provisions are currently being invoked by states to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code?
- Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897: Provides penalties for disobeying any regulation or order made under the Act. These are according to Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (Disobedience to order duly promulgated by a public servant).
- Section 188, reads:
- Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant - Whoever, knowingly disobey an order directing people to abstain from a certain act and promulgated by a public servant lawfully empowered to promulgate such order, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term of one month or with fine of two hundred rupees, or with both, if such disobedience causes or tends to cause obstruction, annoyance or injury.
- If such disobedience causes or tends to cause danger to human life, health or safety, or causes or tends to cause a riot, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.
- According to the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), 1973, both offences are cognizable, bailable, and can be tried by any magistrate.
- Conditions for invoking: To be punishable under section 188, the order has to be for public purposes by public functionaries. An order made in a civil suit between two parties does not fall under this Section.
Explanation - It is not necessary that the offender should intend to produce harm, or contemplate his disobedience as likely to produce harm. It is sufficient that he knows of the order which he disobeys, and that his disobedience produces, or is likely to produce, harm.
According to the book ‘The Indian Penal Code’ by Ratanlal and Dhirajlal (19th edition)
- There must be evidence that the accused had knowledge of the order with the disobedience of which he is charged.
- Mere proof of a general notification promulgating the order does not satisfy the requirements of the section.
- Mere disobedience of the order does not constitute an offence in itself, it must be shown that the disobedience has or tends to a certain consequence.
Need for imposing these curbs:
- The novel coronavirus, which is known to spread mainly person-to-person, has spread to at least 177 countries and territories, infecting thousands. The virus has shown community transmission in many areas of the world.
- To counter its outbreak, several states in India enforced measures aimed at reducing public gatherings - called “social distancing”.
- Offices, schools, concerts, conferences, sports events, weddings were ordered shut or cancelled around the world, including in many Indian states.
- The World Health Organisation (WHO) has asked governments to take action to prevent transmission at the community level for reducing the epidemic to manageable clusters.
- As a result, a nationwide Janata Curfew took place recently in India and several states announced lockdown orders in its aftermath.