Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a 21-day countrywide lockdown from midnight Tuesday to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Those violating the lockdown orders can face legal action under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, which lays down punishment as per Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, for flouting such orders.
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 public servant).
Section 188, which comes under the Code’s Chapter X, ‘Of Contempts of the Lawful Authority of Public Servants’, reads:
“Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant.—
Whoever, knowing that, by an order promulgated by a public servant lawfully empowered to promulgate such order, he is directed to abstain from a certain act, or to take certain order with certain property in his possession or under his management, disobeys such direction,
shall, if such disobedience causes or tends to cause obstruction, annoyance or injury, or risk of obstruction, annoyance or injury, to any persons lawfully employed, be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one month or with fine which may extend to two hundred rupees, or with both;
and if such disobedience causes or tends to cause danger to human life, health or safety, or causes or tends to cause a riot or affray, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.
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.”
Why have governments in the country imposed these curbs?
The novel coronavirus, which is known to spread mainly person-to-person, first emerged in China’s Wuhan late last year, and has since 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, and the like were ordered shut or cancelled around the world, including in many Indian states.
On March 11, the World Health Organisation (WHO) asked governments to take action to prevent transmission at the community level for reducing the epidemic to manageable clusters– thus flattening the trajectory of cases from a sharp bell curve to an elongated speed-bump-like curve.
To this end, a nationwide ‘Janata Curfew’ took place on March 22, and several states announced lockdown orders in its aftermath.
What happens if you violate the lockdown orders?
Under Section 188, there two offences:
–Disobedience to an order lawfully promulgated by a public servant, If such disobedience causes obstruction, annoyance or injury to persons lawfully employed
Punishment: Simple Imprisonment for 1 month or fine of Rs 200 or both
–If such disobedience causes danger to human life, health or safety, etc.
Punishment: Simple Imprisonment for 6 months or fine of Rs 1000 or both
According to the First Schedule of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), 1973, both offences are cognizable, bailable, and can be tried by any magistrate.
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These are extraordinary times, but under what circumstances is Sec 188 IPC invoked normally?
To be punishable under S. 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.
The Illustration (example) to the Section 188 of IPC reads:
“An order is promulgated by a public servant lawfully empowered to promulgate such order, directing that a religious procession shall not pass down a certain street.
A knowingly disobeys the order, and thereby causes danger of riot. A has committed the offence defined in this section.”
An order commanding an assembly of five or more persons to disperse is held to be a valid order under Section 188.
According to the book ‘The Indian Penal Code’ by authors 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.”
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