Law and lockdown

People must strictly adhere to the duties mandated by Article 51A and help state mitigate the emerging situation

Published: 27th Mar 2020   12:33 am

There was an overwhelming response to the Janata Curfew on March 22 and we stood together to express our solidarity to those putting their lives at risk to save ours. Unfortunately, post the Janata Curfew, we are witnessing people coming out of their homes as usual defeating the very purpose of the entire exercise – ie, social distancing.

Even in Hyderabad, at Hitec City, the hub for IT professionals, roads clogged with automobiles. The same was true of other so-called progressive cities where people were out in large numbers. Some places in the metropolis even saw panic buying with ‘educated’ people crowding supermarkets and shops, giving scant regard to the social distancing call given by the government to check the spread of Covid-19.

This shows people are coming out despite warnings by the government. Italy and other countries are facing the consequences of not heeding the warning of the governments. That should be an alarm bell for us.

Article 51A

When fundamental rights are guaranteed under the Constitution, we are equally obligated to abide by the duties specified under Article 51A of the Constitution.

Article 51A was incorporated by the 42nd amendment in 1976 w.e.f, January 3, 1977. It contemplates fundamental duties, ie, various types of duties obligated to be followed by the citizens of the country. It means every citizen has to abide by the laws and the directions issued by the state in the interest of the public. These are all constitutional obligations cast upon the citizens to help promote the spirit of patriotism and uphold the unity of India.

The government has every right to give appropriate directions in such time of calamities and we, the citizens, are obliged to follow them. In case we do not discharge our obligations in relation to fundamental duties as contemplated under Article 51A, the state is entitled to register cases against us under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code, more particularly under Sections 269 and 270 of the IPC.

Government’s Rights

Section 269 of IPC

This Section contemplates that whoever unlawfully or negligently does any act in such a manner likely to prevent spread of the infection of any disease dangerous to life shall be punished with imprisonment up to six months.

Section 270 of IPC

This envisages that whoever malignantly does any act in such a manner likely to prevent spread of 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.

Epidemic Disease Act, 1887

The government may also invoke the Epidemic Disease Act, 1887, for better prevention of spread of dangerous epidemic diseases. The Central government may take measures as warranted and any violation of the same constitutes an offence under Section 188 of the IPC.

Section 188 of IPC

This Section stipulates that any disobedience of an order promulgated by a public servant is an offence and shall be punished with one-month imprisonment.

What Article 360 Says

If the State governments are unable to channelise financial resources, in the light of the present calamity, which is having an enormous adverse effect on the economy, the Central government may invoke Article 360 of the Constitution and impose financial emergency.

Most of our economy is dependent on small businesses and also daily wage earners. In view of total lockdown, the state has to take care of the daily wage earners who are deprived of their livelihood and would find the going very tough.

Article 360 says that if the President is satisfied that the situation has arisen whereby the financial stability or credit of India or any part thereof is threatened, the President may declare a financial emergency.

During the period of such proclamation, the executive authority of Union is empowered to give directions to the States to follow the same. Any such direction may also include a provision requiring the reduction of salary allowances of all or any class or persons serving a State or Union.

There is also a provision requiring all money bills and other financial bills to be reserved for the consideration of the President after they are passed by the legislature of the State. A proclamation issued under Article 360 shall remain in force for two months unless before the expiry of the period it is approved by both the Houses of Parliament. Once approved, it remains in force until revoked by the President. Till now no such financial emergency has been imposed under Article 360.

Financial Emergency

At present, almost 80% of the major financial centres of the country are under lockdown, including commercial cities such as Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad and Kolkata. On the other hand, positive cases of Covid-19 is only on the rise.

In these circumstances, there may be a necessity for the Central government to take appropriate decision to invoke Article 360 or else the State governments may face a severe financial crunch. It is an appropriate time for the Central government to take a decision in this regard. All the citizens are obligated to heed the advice and warnings given by the State and Central governments in this regard by confining themselves at home.
It is time for us to realise the seriousness of the pandemic and follow the instructions of the government.

(The author is Advocate, High Courts of AP and Telangana)


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