Medical workers attend to a suspected coronavirus patient as he is shifted to the isolation ward of Gandhi Hospital, in Hyderabad
Medical workers fighting Covid-19 (representational image) | PTI
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New Delhi: Circulating fake news on Covid-19 during the 21-day ‘complete lockdown’ announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi Tuesday can lead to a trial, and punishment of up to one-year imprisonment.  

In its lockdown order, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) refers to Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, which says, “Whoever makes or circulates a false alarm or warning as to disaster or its severity or magnitude, leading to panic, shall on conviction, be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to one year or with fine.” 

The NDMA, which is chaired by the PM, has directed the central and state governments and union territory administrations to take effective measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in India. It has also issued guidelines on the measures to be taken, along with penalties for its violation, as under the 2005 Act. 

Also read: Countries are starting to hoard food, threatening global trade

Punishes obstruction, fake claim for benefits

Sections 51 to 60 of the Act talk about offences and penalties, which would be applicable to PM Modi’s lockdown order. Under the legislation, obstructing government servants from carrying out their duties or refusing to comply with any directions issued by the Centre, state governments or the NDMA attracts a one-year jail sentence, along with a fine. If your actions lead to a loss of lives, the sentence could be up to two years and a fine, according to Section 51 of the Act. 

The NDMA guidelines also state that disobeying an order by a public servant to abstain from an act, or dealing with their property in a certain way, can result in the invocation of Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code as well. 

The punishment under Section 188 is imprisonment up to one month, along with a fine of Rs 200. But if the disobedience causes danger to human life, health or safety, the culprit could be punished with a six-month jail term, along with a fine of Rs 1,000.  

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Making a false claim to get relief, assistance, repair or some other benefit from the Centre/state governments or the NDMA is punishable under Section 52 of the 2005 Act. It can attract a two-year imprisonment along with a fine.  

Section 53 makes it an offence to misappropriate any money or materials meant for relief efforts for your own use or for sale. This can lead to imprisonment of up to two years, along with a fine.  

The 2005 Act also allows the NDMA to requisition any resources, vehicles or buildings it needs for carrying out its work in response to the disaster in question. Failure to comply with such an order entails a penalty of one-year imprisonment and a fine. 

If govt officers refuse to carry out duties

The 2005 Act also provides for punishment of government officers who refuse to perform their duties that they have been entrusted with during the lockdown period. They could end up with a one-year jail sentence and a fine.  

If an offence under the Act is committed by a government department, it is the head of the department that would be held responsible, unless it is proven that the offence had been committed by the consent, connivance or due to neglect of any other officer. 

Who can complain

According to Section 60 of the Act, a complaint under these provisions can be made by the national or state authorities. Any other person can also file a complaint before the national or state authorities under the Act or the central and state governments, but they first have to give a minimum 30-day notice to the authorities. 

Also read: India’s perfectly-timed lockdown & wartime efforts to find Covid-19 cure


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