Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Covid-19; Curfew - Sec 144 - Social distancing - all in our interests only


Covid 19 is threatening and Govt is taking strong measures rightly.  Epidemics and diseases are not new – centuries ago plague haunted the humanity. Very little was known about the disease at that time. It was said to be transmitted by a bacteria, but it was not known where it emanated from.

In an effort to control the spread of coronavirus, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami, on Monday, announced that prohibitory orders under section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) will be imposed in the state from 6pm on March 24 till March 31. He also announced that all the district borders in the state will be sealed. Essential services will be exempted.
File photo of famous Mahabalipuram deserted (pic Ramanujam Pillailokam)

Put simply, the administration is empowered under Section 144 to impose restrictions on the personal liberties of individuals. This means the fundamental right of peaceful assembly provided under Article 19 of the Constitution is curtailed by the administration, which is a rightful measure.   Restriction under Section 144 is different from curfew. In the areas where curfew is imposed, all public activity is barred. Civilian traffic is also stopped. Curfew warrants much graver situation posing bigger danger of rioting and violence.

This is preventive jurisdiction, urgent in their character, of either nuisance or apprehend danger. The nuisance referred to is public tranquility, or riot, or affray.
Section 144 in The Indian Penal Code :  deals with : Joining unlawful assembly armed with deadly weapon; the one referred to here is *Sec 144 of Code of Criminal procedures 1973 (CrPC)*

This Section provides for power to issue  order in urgent cases of nuisance of apprehended danger.  This written order   directs people  to abstain from a certain act or to take certain order with respect to certain property in his possession or under his management.  This is an emergency order directed against persons residing in a particular place or area, or to the public generally when frequenting or visiting a particular place or area.

The Govt Order issued by the State Govt specifically states ‘any congregation of more than 5 persons in public places is prohibited’ – to understand this better, the GO allows a tea shop to remain open and sell tea but will prevent people (more than 5)  assembling there.  The GO also specifies which services are deemed essential and exempt under the directive.

Interestingly the GO cites an age-old statue of 1897, called the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 which primarily states that  any person found violating the  measures shall be deemed to have committed an offence punishable under section 188 and other relevant sections of Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860).

British Govt used the provisions differently is not relevant now.  In 1897, the year the law was enforced, freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak was punished with 18 months’ rigorous imprisonment after his newspapers Kesari and Marathaa admonished imperial authorities for their handling of the plague epidemic.

The Govt is forced to this extreme step in protecting us – it is our duty to be at home, cooperate with Govt in all possible manner and help them fight the dreaded disease – it is in our interests and of the Nation too

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
24.3.2020.

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