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Here’s how not following govt orders on COVID-19 can land you in jail

Several states and 80 cities are under lockdown as central and state govts issue orders to help prevent spread of coronavirus. And if you don’t obey, this is what could happen.

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New Delhi: As the number of coronavirus cases in India crossed the 400-mark Monday, multiple states and at least 80 cities across the country have gone into lockdown mode until 31 March.

Several states have announced a slew of measures to check the outbreak, with the central government asking them to strictly enforce the lockdown and take “legal action” against violators.

Authorities in several parts of the country, including Delhi, have already invoked Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure that prohibits the assembly people. Additionally, Section 188 of the IPC requires obedience of orders passed by a public servant.

Violating orders issued by a public servant can lead to a fine of Rs 200 and simple imprisonment of one month for violating an order of a public servant. The penalty of Rs 1,000 and imprisonment of six months can also be imposed, if the disobedience causes danger to human life, health or safety.

But apart from these two provisions, there are a few other provisions that the government can take recourse to if people don’t take precautions against the coronavirus pandemic.

Also read: Modi govt is using two laws to tackle coronavirus spread. But one of them needs changes

What are the other provisions?

The first provision that authorities can take recourse to is Section 269, which says, “Whoever unlawfully or negligently does any act which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe to be, likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.”

It, therefore, seeks to punish an unlawful or negligent act which could spread a dangerous disease, with imprisonment up to six months or fine. The offence is cognisable, meaning that the police can arrest the accused without a warrant, but is bailable.

Section 270 can also be invoked. It reads, “Whoever malignantly does any act which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe to be, likely to spread 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.”

It therefore deals with a “malignant act” to spread the infection of a disease dangerous to life and punishes it with a two-year imprisonment or fine. This is also cognisable and bailable.

The FIR lodged against Bollywood singer Kanika Kapoor, who had attended parties after returning from London and tested positive for coronavirus, mentions these two provisions.

People can also be booked under Section 271, which criminalises disobedience of quarantine rule. It says that whoever disobeys any rule by the government to regulate the conduct of places where an infectious disease prevails shall be punished with six-month imprisonment or fine.

Also read: India locks down to prevent COVID-19 spread — here are restrictions imposed in your state

What have the courts said?

Sections 269 and 270 have often been invoked in medical negligence cases and food adulteration cases.

For instance, a doctor was accused under the two sections after it was alleged by the petitioner that the doctor negligently severed his wife’s intestine while performing her tubectomy operation. The court, however, set aside the FIR, citing lack of negligence on the doctor’s part.

The Supreme Court spoke about Sections 269 and 270 in a 1998 case, in which an HIV+ man had filed a case against a hospital that had disclosed that he was HIV+, leading to his marriage being called off.

Opining that the disclosure saved the petitioner’s fiancé, the court also took note of the two provisions and observed, “Therefore, if a person suffering from the dreadful disease “AIDS”, knowingly marries a woman and thereby transmits infection to that woman, he would be guilty of offences indicated in Sections 269 and 270 of the Indian Penal Code.

“The above statutory provisions thus impose a duty upon the appellant not to marry as the marriage would have the effect of spreading the infection of his own disease, which obviously is dangerous to life, to the woman whom he marries apart from being an offence,” it added.

But in 2017, the Rajasthan high court set aside the criminal proceedings launched under Section 269 IPC against a spice and wheat mill. The complainant had alleged that his family members had suffered from several diseases because of the use of heavy-duty machines by the mill.

The court, however, did not agree with this logic and observed, “The legislative purport of Section 269 IPC was to contain the acts, which could spread infection or diseases dangerous to life, attributable to a single person. It is apparent on the face of the record as well as the impugned order that the act of the petitioner does not amount to spreading infection or diseases dangerous to life.”

Also read: 1 cleared, 7 to go as govt rushes clearance for India-made COVID-19 testing kits


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