Here I will discuss certain reforms in the legal system
to deal with emergencies like COVID-19. COVID-19 also draws our attention to
the chances of biological war.
Beginning with constitution this pandemic makes the case for bringing the Public
under the concurrent list of the Indian constitution (it will
enable both parliament and state legislature to frame law on the subject.) and
in future if any untoward situation like this pandemic will arise then, it will
be easier to frame a nationwide policy.
Now, A comprehensive legal enactment is necessary
to deal with any such inevitable emergency. Every other democracy of the world
whether UK or USA have already enacted
the legislation to deal with any such situations. It is not that Indian
Parliamentarians never thought of enacting any such legislation.
In 2017 Public Health (Prevention, Control and Management of Epidemics,
Bio-terrorism and Disasters) Act was brought in parliament but due to some
unascertained reasons, it was not passed. This law has comprehensively dealt
with all the aspects relating to any emergency like this pandemic. It has
explicitly defined certain terms such as isolation, quarantine, biological war,
pandemic and other necessary terms.
Under section 3 of the draft bill, all the state governments and local
administration are authorised to make rules for the time being. The Central
government is authorised under section 4 to issue guidelines. Penalties have
been differentiated on two grounds viz. Penalty for the
negligent act (punishable with fine) and a penalty for the
malignant act (punishable with a fine and in case of repeat offenders it
may extend to a punishment of 2 years).
Constitution of appellate authority has been permitted under the act,
and offences are made compoundable.
This legislation of 2017 is detailed one but now since we are facing the crisis,
we have become more familiar with the ground realities that
will arise in future, so here I am suggesting certain more provisions that are
required to be included in the law:
- There must be a provision for a National authority for
Pandemics having persons with special knowledge in public health, police
department and other concerned Researches.
- It must be explicitly provided that the person punished for the
negligent act, no disqualification shall be attached, as is the
case with children in conflict with law under the Juvenile Justice Act,
2015. Otherwise, it will harm the prospects of the offender. E.g. if a boy
of 20 years violates rules under that law negligently, he will thereby be
debarred from contesting in any
government exams or applying for a passport.
- The necessary amendment should be made to protect the
front-line public officers as is done by an amendment in the Indian Epidemic
Act through the ordinance.
• Since we are in the world with technologies, proposed Act
must include stringent punishments for dealing the problem of fake news and rumours,
this can also be done via amendment in IT Act, 2000.
- All the Proceedings must be adjudicated in time bound manner by an
- Lord Acton quoted Power Corrupts and
Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely So During any Such emergencies when vast
powers are vested in public officials their accountability needs to be fixed
explicitly in the legislation itself.
Besides this, after the pandemic, there is a need for a nationwide database of labours. Awareness should
be created among the labours for their registration in that database
and law must make it compulsory for the owners of
the enterprises to register the labours.
This will serve the dual purpose:
- If any emergency as this pandemic will happen in future this database
will make it easy for the governments to identify who is in need and
thereby policy will be framed accordingly
- It will augment the effort of the government to convert the
informal sector into the formal sector.
One of the major components of
the administration of Justice is access to justice,
and COVID-19 has provided an opportunity for Indian courts to connect virtually
via video-conferencing and other electronic means. It was a long-pending reform
which becomes possible due to COVID-19.
Now an encyclopedic guideline is necessary to continue this
virtual court functioning. After the crisis, courts will be flooded with the
business litigation (especially cases of cheque bounce and invocation of
force majeure clause
or doctrine of frustration
). An alternate
dispute resolution mechanism must be prepared at the earliest by
the courts and government to deal with it.
While I am writing this article, the Central Government has extended the
lockdown for 2 more weeks with
certain relaxations while segregating the entire country into three zones that
are red zone, orange zone and green zone. Till then, stay home and stay safe.
- You can also visit my blog:
- You can access the draft of Public Health Bill, 2007 here: https://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/draft/Draft%20PHPCM%20of%20Epidemics,%20Bio-Terrorism%20and%20Disasters%20Bill,%202017.pdf