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India's Structured Approaches to Combat COVID-19: An Analysis

The world was first introduced to the novel coronavirus on December 31, 2019, the day WHO was alerted about a cluster of pneumonia patients in the City of Wuhan, China. Unfortunately one week later, identification of a novel coronavirus as the main cause of the pneumonia was confirmed by the Chinese authorities.[1]

Since the reporting of first case, WHO and global experts started working with concerned Chinese authorities to gain more about the novel virus, popularly known as COVID-19. They have been learning to know how it transmits, the ambit of clinical disease, and the most efficacious ways to contain the virus.

WHO also made indications that the present outbreak may be combated while studying modes utilized during previous similar outbreaks due to other corona viruses in past. Epidemiological evidences show that COVID-19 can be transmitted from human to human. The most effective strategies to contain the virus are: to rapidly scaling up country preparedness by identifying the infected person; diagnosing the symptoms; treating the person; accelerating priority research and innovation to support development of vaccines.

India currently does not possess enough kits to test majority of its population for the novel coronavirus. The nation is relying on the power of its people rather than anything else. More than thousands of health-care workers are working out across the country to detect and quarantine those who test positive with COVID-19 or might had closeness with those affected with the virus. India's approach to mass-surveillance could achieve success in containing the virus despite having shortage of kits.

On March 19, 2020, the Prime Minister of India urged the 130 crore people of India to abide by people's curfew (Janta-Curfew) beginning from 7 AM until 9 PM on March 22, 2020 during which no one shall move out of their premises unless it is essential.[2]

The Prime Minister of India during the address to the country on March 24, 2020 decided to put the entire nation under complete lockdown initially for 21 days. Since then the lockdown has been put under extension on several occasions in the interest of the society, and to contain the pandemic.[3]

Constitutional and legal framework to manage epidemic and health emergencies:
India, comprising of twenty-eight states and eight union territories, is a constitutional division of legislative duties among the union and state governments which is also enumerated under Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India.[4]

As per the Constitution of Indian the union as well as state government is empowered to legislate on public health matters. The union government and the states have a concurrent responsibility to prevent transmission of contagious or infectious diseases affecting living beings or plants from one territory to another.

To contain the pandemic of coronavirus India implemented a complete lockdown since March 22, 2020 as was declared by the Prime Minister. It has been extended several times in wake of the global reports which suggested that the spread of virus may rise by transmission from one individual to another as a result of close contact of humans.

The lockdown never seemed to be an easy task neither for the governments nor for the people as it resulted in chaos amongst the people and concerned authorities in order to adapt to the situation.

During lockdown India invoked two laws majorly, the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and the archaic Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, to curb and mitigate the COVID-19 outbreak.[5] The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 is a 125 year old statute which may be called as a pre-constitutional law.

Through implementation of lockdown at the national level, it emerged to be the key legislative framework at the union level to contain the spread of pandemic. The Act which has only four sections was first enacted to fight the epidemic of plague that erupted in Bombay state at that time. As per Section 2A of the Act the union government is empowered to carry out imperative measures and declare regulations to combat the outbreak of coronavirus at ports of its entry and exit.

The States are also empowered to take necessary steps and prescribe regulations under Section 2A in order to deal with epidemics within their jurisdictions.

Therefore, any such state government, when contended that any area of its territorial jurisdiction is threatened with the outbreak of a life threatening disease, and upon ascertainment that ordinary existing law is not sufficient to deal with the situation, may accept or allow all necessary measures, inter-alia, inspection of traveling persons and quarantine if required, to control the spread of epidemic disease. Section 3 provides for punishment under the provisions of Indian Penal Code, if anyone found violating any regulation or order made under the Act.

Section 4 of the Act stipulates for no suit or legal proceeding to be initiated against any person or authority for anything done, or in good faith intended to be done, under the Act.

The Disaster Management Act which defines disaster' as a catastrophe, mishap, or calamity. It sets forth provisions for the establishment of National as well as State Disaster Management Authority which shall have the responsibility to lay down the policies, plans and guidelines for disaster management for ensuring timely and effective response to disaster.

The Act also enumerates provisions to constitute National Disaster Response Force and National Disaster Response Fund, whereas the former shall provide specialist response to a disaster situation which emerges to be threatening, and the latter shall constitute a fund for meeting any disaster situation which emerges to be threatening.

Whoever, without reasonable cause obstructs any concerned officer of the Central or State Government authorized by the National or State Authority while discharging his functions under this Act, or refuses to obey any instructions given in this regard shall on conviction be punished imprisonment or with, or with both as per the Act.

The Act also puts forth the delegation of powers amongst the National Executive Committee and State Executive Committee. It may be delegated to the Chairperson or any other member or concerned officer as deemed necessary, by general or special order in writing.

Measures taken by the central government to contain the virus:

On the directions of the Hon'ble Prime Minister of India a top level Group of Ministers was formed to review, monitor and evaluate the readiness and measures developed for containment of the pandemic throughout the country. The Prime Minister reviewed the condition on COVID-19 and the actions taken by the various Ministries.

He directed that an immediate exercise be initiated to identify sufficient locations for quarantine and also for critical care establishments in case the disease spread. He also mentioned that in opinion of the experts', people are needed to be advised to avoid mass gatherings in most possible manner, and be made aware of Do's and Don'ts.[6]

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) has been making all its efforts to mitigate the impact of the corona outbreak in the whole country. It was on March 11, 2020, the Group of Ministers finalized that MoHFW should set forth advisories to every State and Union Territories in order to invoke provisions of the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897, so that MoHFW's every advisory is fully enforceable.

On the very day, the Union Government invoked its powers provided under the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, to further delegate Home Secretary's powers, who also perform as a chairman of the National Executive Committee, which is a monitoring and coordinating body for disaster management in the country, to the secretary of the Ministry of the Health and Family Welfare.[7]

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), chaired by the Prime Minister, under Section 6(2)(i) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, had issued Order no. 1-29/2020-PP (Pt.II) dated 24.03.2020, directing the Ministries/ Departments of Government of India, and the State/Union Territory Governments and State/ Union Territory Authorities to carry out effective measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country.[8]

In acquiescence of the said Order, the Ministry of Home Affairs had issued Order no. 40-3/2020-DM-I(A) under Section 10(2)(1) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, directing the Ministries/ Departments of Government of India, State/ Union Territory Governments and State/ Union Territory Authorities to carry out effective measures to ensure social distancing in order to prevent the spread of Coronavirus in Indian territory. Primarily, the Order was made to remain effective in the whole country, for a period of initial 21 days with effect from 25.03.2020.[9]

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had issued guidelines on the measures to be carried out by the Ministries/ Departments of Government of India, State/ Union Territory Governments and State/ Union Territory Authorities for containment of the pandemic in the country.

These guidelines were annexed to the Order no. 40-3/2020 dated 24.03.2020 which envisaged the following:

  • Offices of the Government of India, its Autonomous/ Subordinate Offices and Public Corporations to be remained closed with some exceptions.
  • Offices of the State/ Union Territory Governments, their Autonomous Bodies, Corporations, etc., to be remained closed with some exceptions.
  • Hospitals and all related medical establishments, including their manufacturing and distribution units, both in public and private sector to remain functional.
  • Commercial and private establishments shall be closed down with some exceptions.
  • Industrial Establishments to be remained closed with some exceptions.
  • All transport services air, rail, roadways to be remained suspended with some exceptions.
  • Hospitality services to be remained suspended with some exceptions.
  • All educational, training, research, coaching institutions etc. to be remained closed.
  • All places of worship will be closed for public. No religious congregations will be permitted, without any exception.
  • All social/ political/ sports/ entertainment/ academic/ cultural/ religious functions/ gatherings will be barred.
  • In case of funerals, not more than twenty persons will be permitted.
  • All persons who had arrived into India after 15.02.2020, and all such persons had been directed by health care personnel to remain under strict home/ institutional quarantine for a period as decided by local Health Authorities, failing which Sections 188 of Indian Penal Code will be enforced.

The Union Government also directed that all enforcing authorities shall ensure that these aforesaid strict restrictions relate to movement of people, and not to that of essential goods. Any person infringing the containment measures shall be liable to be prosecuted against as per the provisions of Section 51 to 60 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, besides legal action Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code.

The above containment measures shall remain in force, in the whole country, for a period of initial 21 days with effect from 25.03.2020.[10]

Unfortunately, the pandemic forced many people to fall back to their home places which majorly included the migrant workers who have been facing economic hardship due to the spread of coronavirus. Regarding the aforesaid the Ministry of Home Affairs had issued Circular to restrict the movement of migrants across the nation in violation of the complete lockdown.

The Chairperson, National Executive Committee, in exercise of the powers conferred under Section 10(2)(I) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, directed the State/ Union Territory Governments and State/ Union Territory Authorities to take required action and issue necessary orders in this regard.[11]

Measures considered by the state governments to suppress the virus:

After strict advisories of the Union Government and concerned ministries, majority of the States and Union Territories issued guidelines on emergency measures and regulations for their own jurisdictions pursuant to the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 to combat spread of the pandemic.

In ensuing measures, some States and Union Territories have also directed emergency regulations in their own jurisdictions to curb spread of the pandemic. These regulations and measures may vary during their application in different territories, but should include strict provisions on duties and obligations of hospitals, powers conferred on district administrations to implement containment measures, and curbing false information relating to spread of pandemic.

The Karnataka State was the first state to issue regulations in accordance with the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1987 to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been reported that the State Government had notified the Karnataka Epidemic Diseases, COVID-19 Regulations, 2020, on 11.03.2020, in order to contain the spread of coronavirus. The aforesaid regulations have been issued with immediate effect, for a period of a year from the notification.

In exercise of the powers conferred under Sections 2, 3, & 4 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, the Lt. Governor of Delhi issued The Delhi Epidemic Diseases, COVID-19 Regulations, 2020 through a notification dated 12.03.2020.

It was strictly notified that these regulations to be implemented immediately and will be remained valid for a year from the date of publication of the notification.[12] It emphasized on several measures for containment, but not restricted to these, to curb the spread of pandemic: Sealing of the territorial area; Banning entry and exit of population from the containment area; Closure of educational institutes, offices and banning public gatherings;

Banning movement of vehicles in the area; Initiating surveillance of corona infected cases; Isolation of hospital with all suspected cases; Converting required Government building into containment unit to isolate the cases; Any other measure as directed by Department of Health & Family Welfare, Govt. of NCT of Delhi.

The Maharashtra Government also decided to invoke provisions of Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 vide Notification No. Corona 2020/CR 58/Aarogya-5, dated 13.03.2020, from the date of notification. Therefore, in exercise of the powers conferred under Sections 2, 3 & 4 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, this Government was pleased to frame Regulations for prevention and containment of Coronavirus Disease-2019 (COVID-19) on 14.03.2020[13].

These regulations may be called the The Maharashtra COVI-19 Regulations, 2020, under which all hospitals (Government & Private) should have separate corners for screening of COVID-19 suspected cases, and in case of that suspect being found asymptomatic, he/she must stay put in home quarantine or Government provided quarantine facilities as may be the case.

Amid the growing scare over the deadly Coronavirus, the Punjab Government announced Emergency Measures to Combat Coronavirus Menace on 02.03.2020. The Cabinet, at a meeting chaired by the Chief Minister of Punjab, confirmed the approval of The Punjab Epidemic Diseases, COVID-19 Regulations, 2020' under the scope of Sections 2,3, & 4 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, to combat the spread of COVID-19.[14]

On 11.03.2020, the Governor of Himachal Pradesh had also notified that the State is threatened with outbreak of pandemic i.e. COVID-19 and that the ordinary provisions of law, for the time being, are incapable of surveillance, prevention and control of the epidemic.

Therefore, in exercise of powers conferred by Section 2 read with Section 4 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, the Governor, Himachal Pradesh made the The Himachal Pradesh Epidemic Disease (COVID-19) Regulations, 2020.[15] However, the Himachal Government, in partial modification of its aforesaid notification, the Governor, Himachal Pradesh made the The Himachal Pradesh Epidemic Disease (COVID-19)(Amendment) Regulations, 2020.[16]

But, the first case in India was reported from the State of Kerala on 30.01.2020 in the Thrissur District when a student from Wuhan University was tested positive on arriving Kerala. Kerala Government notified the Epidemic Ordinance[17] on 27.03.2020 which focuses on the unification and consolidation of laws dealing in prevention of epidemic diseases. The Ordinance is seen to be stronger gear to take necessary state actions in order to curb the outbreak of coronavirus.

Apart from the aforementioned, the other States/ Union Territories which issued notifications and orders concerning the unfortunate situation created by the novel coronavirus in the country are the following: Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Puducherry, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal.

Travel and visa restrictions imposed by India during pandemic:

India for the first time issued its travel advisory on 17.01.2020[18] as Travel Advisory to Travelers Visiting China which emphasized on precautionary steps to be carried out by the travelers going to China during the period.

On 11.03.2020[19] the Government of India issued a Consolidated Travel Advisory for Novel Coronavirus Disease' to suspend all existing visas (except diplomatic, official, and etc.) till 15.04.2020.

The advisory put forth the guidelines as:

Visas of all foreigners already in India to be valid and can be extended/ conversed through contacting concerned authorities; any foreign national who intends to travel to India for compelling reasons may contact the nearest Indian Mission; incoming travelers, including Indian nationals visited China, Italy, Iran, Republic of Korea, France, Spain and Germany after 15.02.2020 will be quarantined for a minimum period of 14 days, and etc.

In the latest guidelines the Government of India provided for Domestic as well as International travels/ arrivals. On 24.05.2020[20] the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued Guidelines for domestic travel (air/ train/ inter-state bus travel) which made available all the necessary measures to be considered strictly during domestic travel such as:
All travelers be advised to download Arogya Setu app on their mobile devices; The State/ UTs to ensure that all passengers undergo thermal screening at the departure point and only asymptomatic passengers shall be allowed to board the flight/ train/ bus.

On the same day MoHFW also issued Guidelines for International Arrivals' which laid down the advisory as: Before boarding, all travelers to provide an undertaking to undergo mandatory quarantine for 14 days if needed, out of which 7 days paid institutional quarantine at their own cost, followed by 7 days isolation at home while self-monitoring of health, inter-alia, only for exceptional reasons as assessed by the receiving states, home quarantine may be permitted for 14 days.[21]

Violation or a protection of fundamental rights due to the approaches:

As soon as the information of pandemic came to the notice of International authorities it was spread all over the world by the WHO and concerned authorities on priority basis. With the information in hand Indian Government acted upon to handle the situation with immediate effect, the intimation of complete lockdown in the whole country by invocation of the dual statutes viz. the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

However, the increasing attempts by the Indian Government to flatten the curve seemed to be ineffective, considering the violation fundamental rights provided by the Constitution, in the garb of complete lockdown with limited excess to essential commodities/ services.

Unfortunately, the fundamental rights provided by the Constitution in its Part III, with Article 21 (Right to life and Liberty) being a right which cannot be abrogated in any circumstances, was violated time and again. Several landmark judicial pronouncements or Legislative amendments have encompassed a few rights under Article 21 viz. Right to Health, Right to Food, Right to Privacy, Right to Livelihood and Right to Education. Although, the Government claims to protect right of every citizen while providing records, but the ground reality is contrary, considering the media reports and other public observations/ claims.

As per the Census 2011, India retains 41 million interstate migrants and 5.1 million migrants from out of the country.[22] Recent reports have shown the condition of migrant workers which has arisen due to the nationwide lockdown, neither are they permitted to leave the city nor are they provided access to food by the concerned Governments.

This is going completely against several Supreme Court judgments which protect the fundamental rights of the citizen. The obligations upon the State under the Directive Principles of State Policy are considered to be the fundamental in smooth governance, but the present scenario placed by the Government seems to be contrary.

Conclusion:
Emergence of the COVID-19 as a pandemic will never be forgotten by the society. Concurrently, the frontline warriors viz. doctors, policemen, nurses, safai-karmacharis and many more who participated in this social cause, not for any personal gain, but for the humanity, many of whom lost their lives while serving due to the spread of deadly disease.

International as well as National authorities acted promptly to curb the outbreak of COVID-19. On one hand the WHO being the international body which is mainly concerned with the protection of society from diseases by offering early awareness, and encouraging new developments in this concern. The Government of India divined the repercussions of the outbreak very early, hence, put the country under complete lockdown which is still subsisting with minimal relaxations.

Moreover, the support of people during national lockdown has been applaudable which was welcomed and supported by the Prime Minister as well as other class of the society.

Nevertheless, such an uncertain condition prepares every society and their concerned governments/ authorities to put control on unnecessary demands of exploiting the natural resources which create such havoc. Moreover, the modern research laboratories working in the garb of development seems to be more or less a rivalry between the nations to move ahead from the other, which needs to be overlooked due to the current situation faced by every living being on the planet earth.

End-Notes:
  1. Strategies, plans and operations, who.int, available at https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/strategies-plans-and-operations (Last visited on May 21, 2020)
  2. Prime Minister Speech, pmindia.gov.in, available at https://www.pmindia.gov.in/en/tag/pmspeech/?query (Last visited on May 20, 2020)
  3. See supra text accompanying note 1
  4. India at a glance/Profile, India.gov.in, available at https://www.india.gov.in/india-glance/profile (Last visited on May 17, 2020).
  5. Ministry of Home Affairs Order dt. March 24, 2020, mha.gov.in, available at https://www.mha.gov.in/media/whats-new?page=2 (Last visited on May 25, 2020)
  6. Prime Minister Releases dt. March 07, 2020, pib.gov.in, available at https://pib.gov.in/PMContents/PMContents.aspx?menuid=1&Lang=1&RegionId=3 (Last visited on May 26, 2020).
  7. Travel Advisories dt. March 11, 2020, mohfw.gov.in, available at https://www.mohfw.gov.in/index.html (Last visited on May 27, 2020).
  8. NDMA Order on lockdown dt. March 24, 2020, ndma.gov.in, available at https://ndma.gov.in/en/covid-19-advisories.html (Last visited on May 28, 2020).
  9. See supra text accompanying note 5
  10. Guidelines of MHA dt. March 24, 2020, mha.gov.in, available at https://www.mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/Guidelines_0.pdf (Last visited on May 30, 2020).
  11. MHA Order restricting migrant movement dt. March 29, 2020, mha.gov.in, available at https://www.mha.gov.in/notifications/circulars-covid-19 (Last visited on May 30, 2020)
  12. Notification Epidemic Diseases Act dt. March 12, 2020, delhi.gov.in, available at http://web.delhi.gov.in/wps/wcm/connect/DoIT_Health/health/home/covid19?WCM_Page.ResetAll=TRUE&CACHE=NONE&CONTENTCACHE=NONE&CONNECTORCACHE=NONE&SRV=Page (Last visited on May 30, 2020)
  13. Korona Regulation Notification dt. March 13-14, 2020, Maharashtra.gov.in, available at https://www.maharashtra.gov.in/1150/Acts-Rules (Last visited on May 31, 2020).
  14. Emergency Measures to Combat Coronavirus Menace dt. March 02, 2020, diprpunjab.gov.in, available at http://www.diprpunjab.gov.in/?q=content/punjab-govt-announces-emergency-measures-combat-coronavirus-menace (Last visited on May 31, 2020).
  15. Government Notification dt. March 11, 2020, himachal.gov.in, available at https://himachal.gov.in/showfile.php?lang=1&dpt_id=19&level=1&lid=20068&sublinkid=19621 (Last visited on May 31, 2020).
  16. Amended Government Notification dt. March 14, 2020, covidorders.hp.gov.in, available at http://covidorders.hp.gov.in/frontend/web/writeData/Shimla/e33a077beb79e18cadc1056456051fe6ea20b269.pdf (Last visited on May 31, 2020).
  17. The Kerala Epidemic Diseases Ordinance, 2020, compose.kerala.gov.in, available at https://compose.kerala.gov.in/kgSearchfiledownloadpdf?gztnotemp=&gztyeartemp=&partdeptId=&partid=&department=&part1id=&part1aid=&part1bid=&part2id=&part3id=&part4id=&searchpdfid=2987&eognohdn=&eogdatehdn= (Last visited on May 31, 2020).
  18. Travel Advisory to Travelers Visiting China dt. Jan 17, 2020, mohfw.gov.in, available at https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/TraveladvisorytotravelersvisitingChina17012020.pdf (Last visited on May 31, 2020).
  19. Consolidated Travel Advisory dt. March 11, 2020, mohfw.gov.in, available at https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/ConsolidatedTraveladvisoryUpdated11032020.pdf (Last visited on May 31, 2020).
  20. Guidelines for domestic travel dt May 24, 2020, mohfw.gov.in, available at https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/Guidelinesfordomestictravel(airortrainorinter-statebustravel).pdf (Last visited on May 31, 2020).
  21. Guidelines for International Arrivals dt. May 24, 2020, mohfw.gov.in, available at https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/Guidelinesforinternationalarrivals.pdf (Last visited on May 31, 2020).
  22. Migration as per Census 2011, censusindia.gov.in, available at https://censusindia.gov.in/Census_And_You/migrations.aspx (Last visited on May 31, 2020).

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