Analysis: Karnataka HC on Social Distancing Norms

Reading time: 8-10 minutes.

India went into a lockdown owing to the novel coronavirus on March 24th 2020. Since then we have seen that the number of COVID-19 cases does not seem to stop. With the passing time, the Government enabled a low transition to reopen after the lockdown. For the same, the Central Government laid down two National Directives for COVID-19 Management, one on May 30th and the other on June 29th. The Karnataka Government too issued guidelines called the Standard Operating Procedure, which listed social distancing and safety measures for various occasions during the pandemic. Violation of the aforementioned provisions is subject to legal action. There have been allegations of the violation of safety and social distancing orders by public and political figures in Karnataka. The same was questioned before the Karnataka High Court by the way of a Public Interest Litigation.

Facts of the Issue

The aforementioned Plea was filed as two applications by two advocates. The first by Advocate G.R. Mohan, and the second by Advocate Puthige Ramesh. There were three allegations highlighted in these applications.

First being, that the former Chief Minister, a highly influential man in the State of Karnataka, organised a marriage ceremony for his family member, without keeping in mind social distancing provisions. The alleged public figure in question was the former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy. Photos and videos of the wedding went viral, depicting a violation of the social distancing guidelines like not wearing masks and lockdown norms like large gatherings. However, Kumaraswamy claimed that no one from outside attended the wedding and also that the venue was shifted to a green zone, to adhere to the lockdown norms. This incident is noted to have taken place on April 17, 2020. In court, the Petitioner Advocate Ramesh argued that till date no legal action has been taken against politicians for violating COVID-19 safety norms.

Secondly, the Court was told that the ceremony conducted on June 27 to commemorate the erection of the 108-foot tall statue of Kempegowda, did not follow the necessary social distancing norms either. The ceremony in question is pooja and commemoration of the construction of the aforementioned statue, in front of the international airport in Bangalore.

Third, being the safety violations that took place during the cycle protest rally in Bangalore on June 29. The rally took place to protest the spike in petrol prices. There have been allegations of the rally violating gathering orders and non-compliance to wearing marks. It has been noted that a day after the aforementioned rally, Karnataka reported more than 1000 cases in a single day. Bengaluru alone saw more than 700 cases on Sunday. The party claimed to have obtained permission to gather 200 people while maintaining adequate social distancing and precautionary measures.

Another important observation made before the Court by Advocate Ramesh was that there were several inconsistencies in the written submissions filed by the State Government. This shows bias towards publicly and politically influential persons.

Legal Provisions Involved

The afore-stated examples by the Petitioner call for different guidelines and legal provisions. When India first went into lockdown for 21 days, the citizens were strictly forbidden to conduct any public gathering, except funerals with a capacity of twenty people, until the relaxation and release of further guidelines on April 20th, 2020.

While, from June 1st 2020, India went in “Unlock 1.0”. Ministry of Home Affairs issues guidelines to be followed till June 30, 2020. The Government allowed for gatherings limited to fifty people. These guidelines allowed for religious places in “non-containment” zones to open, but with maintaining a distance of a minimum of six feet between the worshippers.

Both of the aforementioned guidelines were issues under the Disaster Management Act, 2005. Non-compliance of these guidelines could call for legal action against the individual under Section 51 to 60 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. These Sections state in detail, offences and penalties for non-compliance with the directions laid by the State or Central Government under the said Act. These Sections impose a punishment ranging from one to two years of imprisonment or a fine or both.

Along with this Section 188 Indian Penal Code, which deals with disobedience to follow orders promulgated by public servants, will also be attracted for non-compliance of these orders. This section imposes a punishment of either a month of imprisonment, fine of Rs.200 or both.

The Government of Karnataka also issued precautionary measures of its own, under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. Sections 2 and 2-A of the Epidemic Diseases Act places powers among the State Governments to take certain actions when they are satisfied that the State is visited or threatened with an outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease.

Thus, came into the picture the Karnataka Epidemic Disease Ordinance, 2020. Sections 4, 15 and 17 of this Ordinance empowered the State Government to issue these guidelines. The measures imposed strict maintenance of social distancing of one metre along with wearing masks in “Public places”. Non-compliance of these said orders will be met with a fine of Rs.200 for violation in Municipal Corporation areas and Rs.100 in others. 

The Court was also made to look into Section 283 of the Indian Penal Code which dealt with a penalty for obstructing public ways or lines of navigation.

Critical Analysis

The Court opined that the State must enforce the adequate provisions in place irrespective of the influence of the individual in question. The Court mainly focused on non-violation of the guidelines issued under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

Another observation was made with regard to violation of the guidelines during the protest rally on June 29 2020. Instead of filing for action under the Disaster Management Act, the violators were only convicted under Section 283 of the Indian Penal Code. This said Section does not deal with a violation of COVID-19 guidelines but only deals with obstruction of public navigation. Only a fine of Rs. 200 was imposed on the violators.

The Court also directed the State to issue a summary of all the action being taken against the violators of the guidelines issued under the Disaster Management Act. These actions must be under Section 51 to 60 of the Disaster Management Act or Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code.

Conclusion

This judgement shows the reliability of India’s judiciary. It highlights the morals our judiciary stands on, that is, “Justice is blind”. This judgement also shows how serious India is about its fight against the novel coronavirus.

Author: Vidhi Basrani from O.P. Jindal Global University.

Editor: Astha Garg, Junior Editor, Lexlife India.

Explained: Disaster Management Act (DM Act)

Reading time: 8-10 minutes.

Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as sudden global nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of.

                                                                                                                     ~ Stephen Hawking

The people of India are going through a complete lockdown for 21 days started on 24th March 2020, in bid to stop the spread of coronavirus, that has claimed over 11,00,000 lives across the world so far and has been declared a global pandemic in nature by the World Health Organization (WHO). This lockdown has brought everything to halt in India except the essential services.

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose and no vaccination has been invented yet and thus, the most effective solution to control the spread is social distancing, as it is communicable and the symptoms may take around two weeks before they are clearly visible. Given the large demography of India, it was only wise to put a lockdown in the early stage of the pandemic.

The Union Home Ministry said that in an order under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 to declare 21 days countrywide lockdown to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 pandemic. Directions are issued that district and state orders should be effectively sealed. The states are directed to ensure there is no movement of people across cities or on highways. Only the movement of goods should be allowed and that, district magistrates and police superintendents would be personally responsible for the implementation of these directions.

Also, all offices of the Government of India and State Governments, and their autonomous bodies and corporations shall remain closed, except those dealing in defense, treasury, public utilities (including petroleum, CNG, LPG), disaster management, power generation, post office, national informatics center, water, sanitation, police, home guards, prisons, etc. Hospitals, medical establishments, clinics, dispensaries, laborites, and allied services will also remain functional.

There is no country that is totally impervious from any catastrophe. However, the magnitude of such catastrophes may vary. Therefore, various nations take measures to prevent a disaster and also to recuperate if such a disaster occurs. Disaster management can be referred to as the planning, organizing, and management of the resources in order to curb the calamity and lessen the impact of the disaster by responsibly acting on it.

Therefore, the need for management of disaster was realized by the State and The Disaster Management Act was enacted by the Parliament in the Fifty-sixth Year of the Republic of India on 26th December 2005. It was enacted as the central Act to deal with disaster management. Principally it provides for the effective management of disasters and for matters connected therewith or incidents thereto. This act foresees three categories of Disaster Management structure in India at National, States and District levels.

Significance of this development

As this disease is a contagious disease the major steps to be taken to curb the effect of it is to stop the infection and for that, it is advised by the WHO that ‘social distancing’ shall be maintained which will, in turn, lead to decrease the spread through sneezing or coughing. Social distancing here means that two persons must maintain a distance of at least 3 meters between them so that the infection does not spread.

In lieu of the guidelines of the World Health Organisation, the Government of India has imposed a nationwide lockdown and it also passed an order to seal the state and district borders to stop the exodus of migrant workers. This was an important step as the coronavirus has been deemed to be a pandemic and the cases in the country crossed the 5000 mark.

These steps were taken by the Central Government in conformation to the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. Section 35 of the Act states that the Central Government shall take all such measures as it deems necessary for the purpose of disaster management. It also states that the Centre must ensure that the state governments are also working towards the same goal.

Salient features of the DM Act

The Disaster Management Act was enacted in India on 26th December 2005 by an act of Parliament. The Act was enacted to provide for the potent management of disasters or matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

The following are the features of the Disaster Management Act, 2005:-

  • Disaster Management Act, 2005 comprises 79 sections and 11 chapters.
  • The Act covers all aspects of disaster management i.e., planning, avoidance, mitigation, response, and resurgence.
  • This Act was the first statute that defined the term ‘disaster’ and ‘disaster management’ in its whole sense under Section 2(d) and Section 2(e) respectively.
  • It provides an institutional structure for monitoring and implementation of policy for which the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) was established.
  • All the roles and responsibilities at all levels of government, starting from the Central Government right up to Panchayat and Urban Local body level is the matrix format.
  • The Act follows the regional approach; therefore, it will be beneficial not only for disaster management but also for developmental planning.
  • NDMA and SDMA perform their function to prepare for the disaster and lessen the menace at their respective levels.
  • District Disaster Management Authority is also established under this Act to work effectively at the district level.
  • As per the provisions of this Act, financial mechanisms like Disaster Response Fund and Disaster Mitigation Fund shall be created at the national, state and district level to reduce the severity of the loss incurred due to the catastrophe.
  • The developer of this Act also emphasized preparing communities to cope with disasters, so it also stresses on a greater need for information, education and communication activities.
  • It also focuses on vital affairs such as early warning, information dissemination, medical care, fuel, transportation, research and rescue, evacuation, etc. to examine, whether the agencies are active.
  • The provisions of this Act also prescribe the penalties to be imposed on any person in case of an offense (as provided in the statute) being committed by him.

The abovementioned features of the Act make it an exemplary statute that helps in the prevention of the disaster by readily preparing for it beforehand and also in successfully recovering from a disaster. The Act ensures that necessary steps are taken by various factions of the government for the prevention and reduction of disasters.

Its relevance W.R.T. COVID-19

On 24th March 2020, The Ministry of Home Affairs invoked Section 6(2)(i) of the Disaster Management Act and directed the ministries or departments of the Government of India, state and union territory governments and authorities to implement the measures laid down in the central order. Section 10 of NDMA authorizes the central authority to issue guidelines and directions to several state government with respect to addressing disasters.

Section 10(2)(1) of the Act allows the National Executive Committee to give directions to governments regarding measures to be taken by them. The Union home secretary, who is the chairman of the National Executive Committee, delegated power to the Union health secretary in this regard.

The offenses and penalties are provided in Section 51 to Section 60 of the Act.

Under the provisions of this Act, any person who refuses to comply with the directions of the Central Government shall be liable to imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine, or with both, according to Section 51 of the Act.

According to Section 53 of the Act, whoever misappropriates or appropriates for his own use the money or materials provided for disaster relief, shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to a term of two years or with fine, or with both.

According to Section 54 of the Act, any person who makes or circulates a false alarm or warning as to disaster or its severity or magnitude, leading to a panic shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or fine, or with both.

Earlier in March, the ‘misgiving’ of information on ‘chicken as a carrier of Coronavirus’ on social media, cost the poultry industry an estimated loss of Rs 1.6 billion per day, according to the reports of the All India Poultry Breeders’ Association. Despite the clarification by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), not only did the culling of chicken continue but also played havoc in the lives of chicken breeders, traders and allied sectors.

Recently a PIL was been filed by Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla IAS in a similar regard that deliberate fake news can cause panic in the society. Therefore, the Centre said that the creation of panic is an offense under the Act and an ‘appropriate direction from the top court would “protect the country from any potential and inevitable consequence resulting from a false alarm having the potential of creating panic in a section of the society’.

The central government has sought a direction from the Supreme Court that no media outlet should print, publish or telecast anything on COVID -19 without first ascertaining facts from the mechanism provided by the government. But if a person or channel does so then they’ll be charged under Section 67 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 which states the direction to media for communication of warnings, etc.

These are the major provisions of the Act which came into effect after the lockdown was imposed in the country. Many other provisions were also in effect which were deemed to be necessary for the containment of the corona virus disease.

Conclusion

The Disaster Management Act, 2005 has thus played an important role in a fight with the highly contagious novel COVID-19 or commonly known as coronavirus. It was passed to enable the central government to provide a legal framework for setting up a National Disaster Management Authority under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister of India.

While the tactic of the Act does not specifically allocate the control of a pandemic like COVID-19, the powers of the NDMA under Section 6 of the Act can broadly be expounded to give a unified command to the central government to effectively manage a disaster throughout India by making it mandatory for the government to take all such necessary measures which will help curb the disease.

Under the DMA, 2005, the COVID-19 outbreak is needed to be listed as a disaster, allowing broad powers of the central government to deal with the pandemic by setting policies, strategies and guidelines for disaster management to ensure timely and efficient response. Section 38 of the DMA imposes on the states the obligation to obey NDMA’s directions.

To conclude, whenever there is a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, an emergent measure such as Disaster Management Act in the current situation, needs to be taken for the interest of a larger public even at the cost of some inconvenience.

Authors: Dhanesh Desai from Amity Law School, Noida and Pragya Narang from The Northcap University,Gurugram.

Editor: Arya Mittal from Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur.

Analysis: Lockdown announced by Prime Minister

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

As we know our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has announced 21 days lockdown on 24th March 2020 due to the spread of novel coronavirus in our country. Considering the current situation PM has done a great job and a smart move was played by him to control the number of infected persons. As we know cases of coronavirus are increasing every day at a very rapid rate every citizen must cooperate and equally participate in fighting against this pandemic. Globally the confirmed positive cases as crossed half million now hence locking down the nation for 21 days and social distancing is necessary to break the chain of COVID-19. COVID-19 is a new illness that affects the human lungs and airways.

Centre and different states took various measures to protect their state from coronavirus they are as follows:-

States have been told to ensure timely payment of wages to laborers at their place of work during the lockdown. House rent should not be demanded from laborers for this period.

Orissa HC has instructed the state authorities to make apposite arrangements for providing food, shelter and ensure the medical screening for migrants.

  Andhra Pradesh HC directed the state government to ensure that the health workers have necessary personal protective equipment.

Jammu & Kashmir has passed a series of orders to ensure social distancing, to break the transmission cycle of the deadly virus.

A batch of 275 people evacuated from the coronavirus – hit Iran on Sunday, were taken to the Army Wellness Facility set up at Jodhpur.

Salient features of the lockdown

  • Social distancing is one of the major motives of the lockdown to break the chain of COVID-19.
  • The government notified that during 21 days lockdown the availability of essential commodities and things required for basic necessity will remain the same.
  • This lockdown is like curfew even more strict than ‘Janta Curfew’ because legal actions can take place if anyone violates the conditions of lockdown.
  • The facility of transport service- air, rail, and roadways are suspended during this lockdown.
  • Except for the government and private offices involved in essential services all the offices remain close.
  • The lockdown will lead to economic crisis in the country but the priority was given to save lives as rightly said by the respected Prime Minister Narendra Modi “Jaan hai to Jahan hai”

Sanctions against violation

The lockdown announced by the Prime Minister of India in order to control the increasing number of coronavirus patients and to break the chain shall be followed strictly. However, those who are not taking it seriously shall be liable for violating the lockdown orders given by the public servant under the following sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC):-

Section 269 – Negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life shall be punished for imprisonment up to six months, or fine, or both.

Section 270 – Malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life shall be liable for imprisonment up to two years, or fine, or both.

Section 188 – Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant shall be liable for imprisonment up to six months, and fine up to 1000 Rupees, or both.

While the punishment can vary from fact to fact and case to case, violators could be imprisoned for up to two years and fined up to 1000 rupees.

Legal provisions

19 states had announced complete lockdown. The Government of India is deriving powers to issue such directives and guidelines provided under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 (EDA) and Disaster Management Act, 2005 (DMA). These are the two acts that provide the statutory basis to the Centre and the State to act against the Coronavirus. These acts contain sufficient provisions to act in a manner to protect the country, due to which Centre found no necessity of declaring an emergency in the country.

The Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 is a small but important act containing only four sections giving power to both Central as well as State governments to take special measures and prescribe such regulation to prevent the spread of  ” dangerous epidemic disease”. Under Section 2A of the Act, the Central government has the power to take any measures or prescribe regulations to inspect any ship or vessel leaving or arriving in any port and to detain any person planning to leave or arrive in India. The revised travel advisory issued by a group of ministers, including the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, is an example of this.

State governments also have the power under Section 2(1) of the Epidemic Act to take measures to prevent the outbreak of dangerous epidemic disease by prescribing regulations to be enforced concerning any person or group of people. An example of this would be the order on March 16 under the Delhi Epidemics Diseases, COVID -19 Regulations, 2020, whereby the Delhi government has restricted gatherings with groups of more than 50 persons till March 31.

The Disaster Management Act, 2005:

The Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 does not provide any such guidelines and infrastructure to deal with such an Epidemic that’s why the Parliament in 2005 enacted the Disaster Management Act. The definition of a “disaster” in Section 2 (d) of the Disaster Management Act states that a disaster means a “catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man-made causes”.

 To address the current epidemic outbreak, the Central government has included the COVID-19 outbreak as “Notified Disaster” as a “critical medical condition or pandemic situation”. Through this act, the government gets access to the appropriate funds so as provide relief and other facilities in such worst conditions. There are three funds: the National Disaster Response Fund, the State Disaster Response Fund, and the District Disaster Response fund.

Under Section 46 of the act, the National Executive Committee and the National Disaster Management Authority can authorize the use of such funds for emergency responses, relief, and rehabilitation.

The State Disaster Response Fund is being used for multiple purposes, such as setting up quarantine facilities, establishing additional labs, covering the cost of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, procuring thermal scanners, ventilators, air purifiers and consumables for government hospitals including food, clothing and medical care to people isolated there. Besides, they are also used to cover the cost of consumables for sample collection, screening and contact tracing of positive persons.

Constitution validity

 As we know, our Constitution is supreme and consider as a grundnorm. Every enacted law derives its validity from the Constitution of India. Any provision or act which is in contravention with the Articles of the constitution is void ab initio.  The lockdown for 21 days announced by the prime minister is valid. As the constitution grants powers to the PM also Article 256 deals with the obligation of state and the union’s executive power and extending the power of Union of giving necessary directions to the State as may appear to the Government of India to be necessary for the purpose.

The pandemic that is affecting every country and India as a whole and the declaration of lockdown was in order to prevent the life of the people. Since there is no internal or external aggression the provision regarding emergency was not activate which means that fundamental rights cannot be suspended.

Here the Centre, the state and the citizens came together and agreed on wilfully waving of their right to movement and bound themselves in certain boundaries to fight against this pandemic disease i.e. Coronavirus collectively and it is completely valid as it is for the welfare of the society.

Conclusion

Corona Virus is pandemic in nature and it is widely spreading all over the world, destroying the economic conditions. The Centre has announced 21 days lockdown to control the disaster which is ready to knock down the country. The lockdown is constitutionally valid and it shall be strictly followed by the people otherwise the person shall be legally liable for his acts under IPC.

Author: Anushika Parashar from Mody University, Lacchamangarh.

Editor: Tamanna Gupta from RGNUL, Patiala.

Explained: Disaster Management Act, 2005

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

The manifestations of nature are boundless- what nurtures life and beauty, is perhaps the greatest source of destruction as well, when it unleashes its wrath in the form of natural disasters. The evolution of the human race, particularly progress in science and technology has resulted in aggravation of natural calamities as well as occurrences of ‘man- made’ disasters- ranging from global pandemics to chemical accidents. It is now more than ever that the concept of ‘disaster management’ has assumed relevance worldwide owing to the global COVID-19 causing Coronavirus outbreak.

Disaster management refers to the efficient management of resources and allocation of responsibilities aimed at lessening the impact of disasters. Simply put, it is the collective efforts undertaken towards saving as many lives and property as possible in times of calamity. It is a multi- faceted programme which includes social institutions as well as legal framework.

Disaster Management Act, 2005

Disaster management in India, leading up to 2005, consisted of a reactive, relief- centric and post disaster approach. However, the passage of the Disaster Management Act in 2005 caused a paradigm shift in the conventional regime of disaster management and ushered in an era of disaster control focussed on preparedness and mitigation.

Events preceding its introduction-

Originally, the Ministry of Agriculture of the Government of India was the designated nodal ministry for disaster management. The government simply called for the Armed forces during and after disasters. But even they were often left grappling for directions, since their mandates and priorities are, after all, starkly different.

The Orissa super- cyclone of 1999 is believed to be a turning- point in the development of the current disaster- management structure of the country. The devastating cyclone and the subsequent floods claimed approximately 10,000 lives and destroyed property worth US $ 4.5 million. The impact would have been far less, but for the lack of preparedness, and the unequipped state of the executive to undertake relief and rescue of the required scale. It jolted the state government of Orissa into action towards revamping its disaster- management system, which led to the constitution of the Orissa Disaster Management Authority (ODMA), the first disaster management authority centre established in India. Its focused approach, skilled manpower and well- developed infrastructure eventually served as a role- model for the Disaster Management Act of 2005.

The Bhuj earthquake of 2001, one the most devastating in recent times, prompted the Gujarat government to become the next Indian state to conceptualize a massive reconstruction and rehabilitation programme, followed by measures for long term capacity building of all stakeholders to fight future disasters.

The Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004, which claimed nearly 2,28,000 lives globally, and around 10,000 in India served as a major catalyst for the passage of a single, comprehensive act to address disaster management. The catastrophe was followed by a sweeping sense of urgency in the government to consolidate and revise its disaster management policies. Committees were formed, which gave recommendations on management of calamities of various magnitudes and laying the foundation for the Act

Scope and objective

The Disaster Management Act was passed with the primary objective of preparedness, prevention and early planning towards disaster. Its statement of objective reads that it is “An Act to provide for the effective management of disasters and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.

The Act received the assent of the president on 6th of January 2006 and is applicable to the whole of India. Briefly, it provides for a detailed action- plan right to guide the central government through to the district and local levels to draw, implement and execute disaster management plans.

Salient features

The Act designates the Ministry of Home Affairs as the nodal ministry for steering the overall national disaster management.

It puts into place a systematic structure of institutions at the national, state and district levels. Four important entities have been placed at the national level-

  • The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)- It is tasked with laying down disaster management policies and ensuring timely and effective response mechanism.
  • The National Executive Committee (NEC)- It is comprised of secretary level officers of the Government of India assigned to assist the NDMA
  • The National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM)-  It is an institute for training and capacity development programs for managing natural 
  • National Disaster Response Force (NDRF)- It refers to trained professional units that are called upon for specialized response to disasters.

The Act also provides for state and district level disaster management authorities responsible for, among other things, drawing plans for implementation of national plans. The Act further contains the provisions for financial mechanisms such as the creation of funds for emergency response, National Disaster Mitigation Fund and similar funds at the state and district levels. The Act also devotes several sections various civil and criminal liabilities resulting from violation of provisions of the act, including- punishment for wrongful claim of relief, assistance or any other benefit in consequence of any disaster; misappropriation of money/ materials allocated for providing relief in disaster struck regions, and raising false alarms in relation to severity of any disaster and causing panic.

Progress made under the Act

The Disaster Management Act incorporates the belief that investments in mitigation are far more cost- effective than expenditure on relief and rehabilitation. By laying down measures for strategic partnerships and drawing up blue- prints of action plans to counter catastrophes of various degrees, the Act has brought about significant progress in a number of areas, including-

  • Detailed directions to guide disaster management efforts
  • Capacity development in all spheres
  • Consolidation of past initiatives and best practices
  • Co-operation with agencies at national and international levels

In the wake of the scare caused by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which is fast gripping India, the Disaster Management Act has been invoked by the authorities. Given the nature of the crisis, the powers of the Ministry of Home Affairs have been delegated to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in pursuance of Section 10 of the Act. The section talks about monitoring the implementation of the national disaster management plan, in consonance with the plans prepared by the ministries or departments of the central government and gives overarching superintendence power to the officer executing it. Some of the measures taken to contain the spread of the disease in pursuance of the invocation of the act pertain to closure of schools, colleges, places of public entertainment etc, regulation of supply and price of masks, medicines and other medical equipments to ensure their steady availability and taking cognizance of acts amounting to circulating false/ incorrect information and creating mass panic.

Critical analysis

Although the Disaster Management Act has undoubtedly filled a huge gap in the scheme of governmental actions towards dealing with disasters, one cannot deny that it comes with its fair share of drawbacks.

One of the most glaring inadequacies in the Act is the absence of a provision for declaration of ‘disaster- prone zones’. Almost all disaster – related legislations in the world have mapped out disaster- prone zones within their respective jurisdictions. The state cannot be expected to play a pro- active role unless an area is declared ‘disaster- prone’. Classification helps in determining the extent of damages as well.

The Act portrays every disaster as a sudden occurrence and completely fails to take into account that disasters can be progressive in nature as well. The classic example is that of epidemics, which come and go, often taking with them thousands of lives without even being acknowledged as a ‘disaster’. In 2006, over 3,500 people were affected by dengue, a disease with a history of outbreaks in India, yet no effective mechanism has been put in place to check such an ordeal. Tuberculosis is known to kill thousands of people in the country each year but since its occurrence is not sudden or at once, it has not found a place in the Act.

The Act calls for establishment of multiple- national level bodies, the functions of which seem to be overlapping, making co-ordination between them cumbersome. Moreover, the local authorities, who have a very valuable role to play in the wake of any disaster as first responders, barely find a mention at all. There are no substantive provisions to guide them, merely a minor reference to taking ‘necessary measures’.

Added to that, delayed response, inappropriate implementation of the plans and policies, and procedural lags plague the disaster management scheme in India. Inadequate technological capacity for accurate prediction and measurement of the disaster result in large scale damage. The implementation of the act relies entirely on government actions and alienates the community and private sector enterprises.

Conclusion

Response to, and recovery from disasters is a major yardstick to determine a country’s internal strength and standing.  Countries like Japan and China have emerged as great role- models in this respect. India is a disaster- prone country and, owing to certain geographic factors and its demographic composition, is always grappling with some catastrophe or the other. It has shown immense improvement in its dealing with disasters over the years, particularly in pre- disaster mitigation, following the introduction of the Disaster Management Act of 2005. However, experts feel that there are still miles to go before the system is perfected and the authorities are equipped to deal with disasters of every kind and magnitude.

Laying down elaborate plans on paper doesn’t serve the purpose unless they are translated into effective implementation. Each disaster brings out new shortcomings in the Indian disaster management regime, and the 2020 coronavirus outbreak seems to be the most recent one, where the government is struggling to achieve containment of the virus.

New disaster management guidelines are underway and one can only hope it incorporates provisions to overcome dysfunctions of the current authorities and not oversee yet again the valuable role that the civil society, private enterprises and NGOs can play towards building a safer India.

Author: Adrita Biswas from ILS Law College, Pune.

Editor: Ismat Hena from Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia.