How would a Coronavirus Act look like ? | UPSC

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IASbhai Daily Editorial Hunt | 8th May

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Dear Aspirants
IASbhai Editorial Hunt is an initiative to dilute major Editorials of leading Newspapers in India which are most relevant to UPSC preparation –‘THE HINDU, LIVEMINT , INDIAN EXPRESS’ and help millions of readers who find difficulty in answer writing and making notes everyday. Here we choose two editorials on daily basis and analyse them with respect to UPSC MAINS 2020.

EDITORIAL HUNT 73:“India needs to enact a COVID-19 law

       SOURCES:   THE HINDU EDITORIAL/EDITORIALS FOR UPSC CSE MAINS 2020

Manuraj Shunmugasundaram

 Advocate at the Madras High Court, and Spokesperson, DMK

      HEADLINES:

India needs to enact a COVID-19 law

      CENTRAL THEME:

Ad hoc and reactive rule-making reveals the lack of co-ordination between the Union and State governments

SYLLABUS COVERED: GS 2:3:Disaster Management: Governance

      MAINS QUESTION:

If India had to frame a COVID-19 Act then it would need more legislative leadership and quick response team. Discuss -(GS 3)

      INTRODUCTION: 

  • The nationwide lockdown has been central to the government’s strategy to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • With businesses closed, supply chains disrupted, timelines extended and contracts terminated, this exercise has caused the organised sector unprecedented economic losses.
  • In the unorganised sector, there has been a complete breakdown with little or no legal recourse for those who are affected.
  • While the lockdown has helped contain community spread of the disease, a legal and legislative audit of this exercise has evaded scrutiny so far.

      BODY: 

LAWS GOVERNING LOCKDOWN

DISASTER MANAGEMENT ACT OF 2005:

  • The lockdown has been carried out by State governments and district authorities on the directions of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs under the Disaster Management Act of 2005, which was intended “to provide for the effective management of disasters and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.
  • On March 24, 2020, the NDMA and NEC issued orders directing the Union Ministries, State governments and authorities to take effective measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and laid out guidelines illustrating which establishments would be closed and which services suspended during the lockdown period.

EPIDEMIC DISEASES ACT OF 1897 :

  • The State governments and authorities exercised powers under the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 to issue further directions.

For instance, the Health and Family Welfare Department of Tamil Nadu issued a government order on March 23, 2020, to:

  • Impose social distancing and isolation measures which directed “suspected cases and foreign returnees
  • To remain “under strict home quarantine” and people
  • “To stay at home and come out only for accessing basic and essential services and strictly follow social distancing norms”.

CRIMINAL PROCEDURE CODE : 

  • SECTION 144 : District authorities have consequently issued orders to impose Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code in public places.
  • DISOBEDIENCE TO PUBLIC ORDER : Another serious failing is that any violation of the orders passed would be prosecutable under Section 188 of Indian Penal Code, a very ineffective and broad provision dealing with disobedience of an order issued by a public servant.

The invoking of the Disaster Management Act has allowed the Union government to communicate seamlessly with the States.

  • However, serious questions remain whether the Act was originally intended to or is sufficiently capable of addressing the threat of a pandemic.
  • Epidemic Diseases Act reveals the lack of requisite diligence and responsiveness of government authorities in providing novel and innovative policy solutions to address a 21st century problem.

In contrast, the U.K. enacted the Coronavirus Act, 2020;Singapore has passed the Infectious Diseases Regulations, 2020 .

CORONAVIRUS ACT, 2020

  • Emergency registration of healthcare professionals,
  • Temporary closure of educational institutions,
  • Audio-visual facilities for criminal proceedings,
  • Powers to restrict gatherings,
  • Financial assistance to industry.

INFECTIOUS DISEASES REGULATIONS, 2020:

  • STAY ORDERS : Which provides for issuance of stay orders which can send ‘at-risk individuals’ to a government-specified accommodation facility.
  • NATURE OF LAWS : Both the U.K.’s and Singapore’s laws set out unambiguous conditions and legally binding obligations.
  • PENAL PROVISIONS : As such, under Singaporean law, the violators may be penalised up to $10,000 or face six months imprisonment or both.

CONTRAST : 

  • FINE : In contrast, Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code has a fine amount of ₹200 to ₹1,000 or imprisonment of one to six months.
  • Proceedings under Section 188 can only be initiated by private complaint and not through a First Information Report.

      IASbhai Windup: 

UNION-STATE CO-ORDINATION

  • In India, both Houses of Parliament functioned till March 23, 2020, when they were adjourned sine die.
Worryingly, a consolidated, pro-active policy approach is absent.
  • EFFECTIVE RULE BOOK : In fact, there has been ad hoc and reactive rule-making, as seen in the way migrant workers have been treated.
  • RESOURCES : Thousands of migrant workers to be handled by district administrations with inadequate resources.
  • CO-ORDINATION : This has also exposed the lack of co-ordination between the Union and State governments.
  • LEADERSHIP : These circumstances call out for legislative leadership, to assist and empower States to overcome COVID-19 and to revive their economic, education and public health sectors.

Offences arising out of these guidelines and orders have a weak basis in terms of criminal jurisdiction thereby weakening the objectives of the lockdown.


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