Earlier this week, a 63-year-old woman from Kangra who failed to disclose her travel history following her return from Dubai, and who later tested positive for COVID-19, was booked under Section 270 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Another COVID-19 patient from Kangra, a 32-year-old who returned from Singapore, was also booked under Section 270, which covers persons who malignantly do any act which is likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life.
Last week, UP police booked Bollywood singer Kanika Kapoor under the same Section, as well as Sections 269 and 188 IPC, after she attended at least three gatherings in Lucknow, including a party where political leaders were present, and tested positive for the new coronavirus.
There have been other instances across the country where Sections 269 and 270 have been used to book persons defying quarantine orders for containing the spread of the pandemic.
Sections 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) and 270 (malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) come under Chapter XIV of the Indian Penal Code– ‘Of Offences Affecting The Public Health, Safety, Convenience, Decency and Morals’.
While Section 269 provides for a jail term of six months and/or fine, Section 270 provides for a jail term of two years and/or fine. In Section 270, the word ‘malignantly’ indicates indicates a deliberate intention on the part of the accused.
During the coronavirus outbreak, penal provisions, such as Sections 188, 269 and 270 of the IPC, are being invoked to enforce the lockdown orders in various states.
Both Sections have been used for over a century to punish those disobeying orders issued for containing epidemics.
In an 1886 case at the Madras High Court, a person was held guilty under Section 269 for travelling by train despite suffering from cholera. Another person who bought the train ticket was held guilty for abetment of the offence of the former.
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The Sections were similarly enforced by colonial authorities during outbreaks of diseases such as smallpox and bubonic plague.
Recent instances of invocation include one on March 2018, when the Health Ministry said that failure by clinical establishments to notify a tuberculosis patient to the nodal officer and local public health staff can be punished under Section 269 and 270. While tuberculosis was made a notifiable disease in India in 2012, there was no provision for penal action.
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In June 2015, a district court in Muzaffarpur directed police to register an FIR against two Nestle officials and film stars Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit and Preity Zinta, who had featured in the Maggi advertisements and arrest them if required. The case was filed under IPC sections 270, 273, and 420.
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