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Life, Law And The Pandemic

Disclaimer:
Driving your vehicle without mask and helmet will make you liable for penalty.

Isn't it?
The consciousness of law for a common man is narrow and cramped to the legal principle of 'Ignorantia Juris non excusat' (Ignorance of law is no excuse) and hence, he who is unaware and knows little about law cannot envisage its comprehensiveness and uses it only as a resistant tool to prevent the breach.

Amid the pandemic, the need to comprehend the law has considerably increased.

The pandemic opened the eyes, widened the purview and changed the perspective manifold towards law. Additionally, when one magnifies his ambit of learning, he finds not only the objectives encapsulated in it but also the emphasis it lays on the contemporary situation. The matters which arose during the pandemic alarmingly awaken the unopened acts of the statute.
Ask me how?
In 2020, I would foremost quote the worst affected group and its dimensions. To begin with, the matter of migrant workers and the multiple hardships faced by them is still at the first place, following up but not limited to the disruption caused by the physical closing of courts leading to delayed justice, 4G mobile speed internet issue in the Union territory of Jammu & Kashmir, the barbaric custodial deaths, PM cares fund not being a public authority are among the others.

Now let us discuss some 2020 major concerns which devastatingly affected the people of the country during the spread of the rampant virus. Let us also determine how the matters have been dealt by the judicial system and which legal provisions are adhered to them.

Migrant workers struggle amid of the pandemic

The lockdown during the pandemic severely affected and worsen the conditions of migrant workers. Starvation and unemployment shaken their faith in the system. It was in question whether the workers who walked home during the lockdown should be prosecuted and punished for the obstruction caused or not. The Disaster Management Act lays down punishment for such obstruction. [1]

Supreme Court held the judgement in favour of the workers. The bench was led by Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice SK kaul and Justice M R Shah. The prosecution/complaints were called off by the states under the order of the court. Court gave directions to the railways, the states and worked to facilitate the transport services for them, provision for food and rehabilitation were also made.

4G Internet Ban in Jammu & Kashmir

The pleas were presented to the court for restoration of 4G mobile internet services in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The petitioners alleged deprivation of access to education [2], health care [3], livelihood [4] and their right to access information [5]. The opposition however stated that such services could disseminate information and propagate terrorism. The court asked the special committee headed by Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, to examine the issues in a matter before court [6].

In another significant matter over the same issue, the Supreme Court held that orders for internet shutdown must satisfy the tests of necessity, proportionality and indefinite suspension of internet services would be illegal. [7]

The administrating authorities are exploring the possibilities to restore 4G internet speed in the territory.

Custodial death during Covid-19

The horrific and brutal custodial death of a father son duo was widely criticized and caused a public outcry on social media. Both of them were mercilessly killed in police custody for keeping their mobile shop open in the Sathakulam town of Tamil Nadu. The police booked them for disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant [8], use of force to deter public servant [9], negligent act likely to spread infection of diseases dangerous to life and punishment for criminal intimation [10]. The Tamil Nadu State Human Rights Commission took suo motu cognisance of the offence.

PM CARES Fund is not a public authority

A law student filed an application seeking disclosure of the information regarding the constitution of PM CARES Fund under Right to Information Act [11]. PMO refused to disclose such information stating that PM CARES Fund is not a public authority. It was also provided in the reply that relevant information about the Fund can be seen on the official website pmcaresgovt.in.

Recently, the apex court observed in the Public Interest Litigation [12] that there is no requirement for audit of PM CARES Fund by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India as it is a public charitable trust and not a government fund.

Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra stayed due to the threat of Covid-19

Secularism is the basic feature of the Indian Constitution [13]. In the wake of novel coronavirus, Supreme Court stayed the Rath Yatra at Puri's Jaggannath Temple in the interest of public health and safety. The bench was headed by S A Bobde.
In another similar petition raised before the court [14], It was decided by the courts to prioritize protection of public health over religious expressions. The hon'ble Court refused to allow such gathering throughout the year.

SC guidelines on video conference hearings

Supreme Court adjudicated over 15000 cases via video conferencing mode since the onset of covid-19 and successfully disposed of 4300 cases approximately. Though, There were technical glitches which hindered the justice delivery systems.

In order to smoothen and facilitate the process for advocates, SC established seven dedicated helplines. Around 200 advocates opposed the reopening of courts until the discovery of the vaccine. SC has appointed 7-Judge committee to address the issue. In 1980, The Right of speedy trial was recognised as a fundamental right by Supreme Court [15] under Article 21 of Indian Constitution [16].

There are some important amendments in the legislations which though, not directly related with the pandemic but control the trade cycle in economy significantly. These legislations hold much importance because they act in aid of professionalism and a prerequisite in the field of trade and commerce. Some of these legislations are recently altered and welcomed immense functional changes in them such as:
  1. The Aadhar and Other Laws (Amendment) Act 2019:

    It was introduced in Lok Sabha by the Minister of Electronics and Information Technology, Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad. The key highlight of the bill allows offline verification of individual's identity. Additionally, the bill amends the Telegraph Act, 1885 and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002.
     
  2. Right to Information Amendment Bill, 2019:

    It was introduced and passed by the both the houses. The act monitors, keeps a check on government authorities, bureaucrats and prevent their arbitrary acts. The bill confers the power on central government to determine the term, salary and deductions for chief information commissioners (CIC) and information commissioners (ICs).
     
  3. The Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2019:

    It was introduced in Lok Sabha by Minister of Finance, Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman. The act amend the Companies Act, 2013. The key changes are Issuance of dematerialised shares, Re-categorisation of certain offences, mandatory provisions for Corporate Social responsibilities etc.
     
  4. The Consumer Protection (Amendment) Act, 2019:

    The act was introduced by the Minister of Consumer Affairs, Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan. The bill replaces the old Consumer Protection Act of 1986. The definition of consumer now covers the consumer for online purchases also.

    The jusrisdiction has also been amended in such a way that District Consumer Disputes Redressal Commissions (CDRCs) entertains the complaints where the value of goods and services does not exceed Rs One Crore whereas In case of State, the value can be more than one crore but less than ten crore and the complaints over ten crores will be entertained by National CDRC.
     
  5. Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020:

    The code has been amended three times since its original draft. The amendment was done due to the economic distress caused by the covid-19 pandemic. There has been a change in the time limit for resolution application. In a recent case it was held by National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) that the time limit of 14 days is only being directory and not mandatory [17]. Also, the time bound for the completion of CIRP has been increased to 330 days.

Other bills are Arbitration and Conciliation Bill, 2019, The Taxation Laws Bill, 2019, The Direct Tax Bill, 2020 etc.

Postscript:

Once the bill gets approval by the legislature, it becomes an act.

Amidst the highs and lows of the economy, there are some legislations which grew as a part of existing laws and holds public importance. These acts are beneficial piece of legislation and were made in the interest of public:
  1. The Code on Wages, 2019:

    It was introduced in Lok Sabha by the Minister of Labour, Mr. Santosh Gangwar. The act has given immense power to Central Government to decide the floor wage rate and other similar regimes. It has replaced four Laws namely:
    • The Payment of Wages Act, 1936
    • The Minimum Wages Act, 1948
    • The Payment of Bonus Act, 1965
    • The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976
       
  2. The Motor vehicles (Amendment) Act, 2019:

    The act was introduced by Mr. Nitin Gadkari. The act amends The Motor Vehicle act of 1988. Offenders will face stricter penalties in cases of violation of driving regulations. The act came into effect from September 1, 2019.
     
  3. The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020:

    The ordinance was introduced by the Ministry of Health on April 22nd, 2020. It amended the act of 1897. The act provides for protective measures for healthcare personnel like doctors and other health workers. Also, the act expands the power of central government to take decisions related to prevention of the spread of diseases.
     
  4. Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019:

    The act was introduced by the Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Amit Shah, it was passed by both the houses. The act divide the state into two Union Territories, namely the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir, and that of Ladakh. The UT of Ladakh will comprise the districts of Leh and Kargil. President will appoint the lieutenant governor who will administer the territory of Jammu and Kashmir. [18]

Other important laws are The Unlawful Activities Amendment Bill, 2019, Protection of rights of Transgender Persons bill, 2019, The Constitution 124th Amendment Bill, 2019, Taxation and Other Laws (Relaxation of certain Provisions) Bill, 2020.

The modern era actively calls for awareness and amendments in law. Likewise many acts are repealed due to their obsolescence. However it is hardly possible for an individual to have a thorough understanding of all the existing laws and acts. But nevertheless, awareness about recent legislations is necessary.

About the supreme law

The supreme law of India is unquestionably the Constitution of India which governs the country. Any law inconsistent or in derogation of the constitution is void. It is interesting to know that Indian Constitution is the lengthiest constitution in the world with 448 articles, 25 parts and 12 schedules. The constitution of India was adopted on 26th November, 1949 and the same was enacted on 26th January, 1950.

The drafting committee took almost three years to build a strong and exhaustive constitution. Indian constitution is a Federal constitution. Some features of the Constitutional law are Fundamental Rights, Directive Principle of State Policy, Adult Suffrage, Independent Judiciary, Secular State, Judicial Review, Fundamental Duties etc. The Constitution has subsumed in itself the provisions for The Supreme Court, High Court, Union and the states.

There are more than 1200 central laws in India. Moreover, each state has its own set of laws for its administration.

In a nutshell, life without law is unimaginable. Life in absence of the binding rules of law would be chaotic and will follow arbitrariness and injustice.

Simply, when one is accountable for his acts, integrity and objectivity follows. Therefore, every action and transaction by man must be governed by the rules of law. Apprehending law is in itself a duty of man toward society. For Instance, a person abreast with law would never enter into the premises of another to intimidate, insult or annoy as he is vigilant of the repercussions that such an act will lead to criminal trespass. [19]

Laws do provide for punishments and penalties not to deprave the people but for the administration of justice. Legal acts are passed to protect our rights and ensures safety from the abuses. In order to avail the goodness of it, one must be aware of it!

References:
  1. Section 51 of Disaster Management Act, 2005
  2. Article 21A of The Constitution of India
  3. Article 21 of The Constitution of India
  4. Article 19(1)(g), 21 of The Constitution of India
  5. Article 19(1)(a) of The Constitution of India
  6. Foundation for media professionals v. Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir
  7. Anuradha Bhasin V. Union of India
  8. Section 188 of Indian Penal Code, 1860
  9. Section 353 of Indian Penal Code, 1860
  10. Section 506 of Indian Penal Code,1860
  11. Section 2(h) of Right to Information Act, 2005
  12. Centre for Public Interest Litigation vs. Union Of India
  13. M. R. Balaji And Others v. State of Mysore (1963)
  14. Hiteshkumar Vittalbhai Chavda v. Shri Jagannathji Mandir Trust
  15. Hussainara khatoon & Ors. v. Home Secretary, State of Bihar.
  16. No person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to procedure establishes by law.
  17. J. K. Jute Mills Co. Ltd v. Surendra Trading Co.
  18. Article 239A of the Constitution of India.
  19. Section 447 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

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