The oldest method to reduce the rapid spread of bacterial and viral infections is Quarantine. The first law was passed in 1377 by the Great Council regarding medical isolation of the plague struck European countries. Initially, the isolation was for 30 days and was called ‘trentino’ nut when the isolation period was increased to 40 days the term shifted to ‘quarantine’ deriving its origin from the Latin word ‘quadraginta’.
Living in the present conditions of the lockdown the first thing that comes in our mind is that, is it even constitutionally legal or valid to put the citizens of the state under quarantine? The second question which comes in our mind is that what about the freedoms and rights which have been constitutionally bestowed upon us, and can that be curtailed to such an extent? According, to the famous dissent of Justice Khanna in the ADM Jabalpur case, the Right to life is a right under the natural law. If it was a government introduced emergency under Article 352, it would have had made much more sense. But after the 44th amendment even the term “Internal Disturbance” was also substituted with “Armed Rebellion”. Because of which a Nationwide Emergency can also not be called upon. So, how is it that we all are placed under quarantine even in our homes? Globally there have been quarantine and travel prohibitions. India has also subjected people residing in the State to quarantine or self-quarantine which is enforceable by law and therefore in this context it is of utmost importance to mitigate and control the outbreak of COVID-19 in India.
Societies have been practicing isolation since the ancient period, enforcing a travel or transport restriction and returning to the maritime quarantine of people. In response to the novel Coronavirus disease outbreak that has forced all nations to a standstill, several countries from all over the world have been legally authorized for the protection and regulation of public health and disease transmission respectively. It is caused by the virus SARS-CoV2. The utmost suitable environmental host for SARC-CoV-2 are bats. Earlier this virus used to transmit between animals, but consequentially this virus jumped into humans and now it has affected a large number of people. Ever since its first outbreak in Wuhan China, it has spread widely and almost no part of the world has been left untouched. In public health practice, ‘Quarantine’ and ‘isolation’ are used interchangeably, but have two distinct definitions and are two separate mechanisms. Quarantine will isolate and restrict the movement of individuals who may, but not yet known to be diseased, have been exposed to infectious disease. Isolation, however, is a complete separation from another person recognized or suspected to be infected with transmissible diseases.
The Legality of Quarantine Powers
Historically speaking India has generally abided by the common law remedies regarding quarantine enforcement which has even proved to be effective during the times of such epidemics and pandemics. Reviewing the earliest case Gibbons v. Ogden, where the state’s power to impose the quarantine laws and health regulations with respect to health emergencies, viral infections, and dangerous diseases were justified. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) includes crimes that impact public health comfort, morality, and moral values, and that can be divided into two main components: public nuisance and the quarantine regime. In accordance with Section 268 of the IPC, a public nuisance provides for an individual to be found guilty of an act which would cause any public harm, obstruction, danger. The punishment for public nuisance is the fine of 200 (INR) under Section 290 of the IPC. Notwithstanding the injunction and the persistence of public nuisance is a case of ongoing and continuous nuisance. This kind of nuisance shall have six months, a fine, or both in compliance with Section 291 of the IPC. In the present scenario of the COVID-19 pandemic and lock-down orders, Section 188, 269, 270, and 271 of the IPC and Section 133 CrPC is of crucial relevance. The applicable provision pertaining to a negligent act probable to distribute life-threatening disease or infections is Section 269 of the IPC. Whoever acts unlawfully or negligently to spread the infection of any life-threatening disease shall be punished with six-month and fine imprisonment or both. Section 270 further states that for any malignant act capable of transmitting life-threatening disease or infection shall be punished for two years in jail. Section 271 also states that disobedience to the law of quarantine is subject to imprisonment for six months, or a fine. Section 133 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) eases the operation of the IPC.
The magistracy, however, is not completely reliant either on police reports or other sources of knowledge, but it may suo moto take such evidence as deems fit. In Municipal Council Ratlam v. Vardichand, the Supreme Court of India provided an interpretation in the sense of public health protection, ease, dignity, and morality, relating logically Sections 188 and 268 of the IPC to Section 133 of the CrPC.
Applicability of the Epidemic Diseases Act
The Epidemic Diseases Act is complementary in nature to the IPC Statute. The 1897 legislation was first enacted in the former British India period to counter bubonic disease outbreaks in Bombay. Section 2 of the Epidemic Diseases Act was applied to all states and Union territories in India by the Indian Cabinet Secretary on March 11, to control COVID-19. It empowers the government of the State to take special measures and prescribe regulations concerning dangerous epidemic diseases. The Act gives the Central Government the power to take steps and prescribe regulations for inspecting any ship and detaining a person who intends to sail and arrive at any port. Section 3 of the Act allows for 6 months imprisonment or a fine, or both. For the implementation of the law, the officials acting in good faith are protected from any legal proceedings in accordance with Section 4. Previously, this colonial rule was used in India for the prevention of cholera from spreading in Gujarat and Malaria in Chandigarh, it was also applied during the dengue fever and swine flu outbreaks in Delhi and Pune respectively. An interesting modern application is the application of this historical law to control the containment of pandemic COVID-19.
Article 21 of the Constitution of India also guarantees the right to life but without life, there will exist no right in the first place. Interpreting it in broad manner health is a significant part of the right to life and the government is obligated to provide such health care, as stated by Supreme Court in State of Punjab v. Mohinder Singh Chawla. Thereby it is only logical that the government protects the lives of its people during such a pandemic outbreak. The quarantine curtails several of our rights granted to us under Article 19 including our right to roam freely throughout the territory of India provided under Article 19(1)(d) and our right to practice any profession or to carry any occupation, trade or business under Article 19 (g). But if Articles 19(5) and (6) are read, they clearly state that reasonable restrictions can be imposed for the interest of the public as in the present case of emergency regarding public health. The reasonableness of the restriction is dependent on the situations prevailing when the restrictions were imposed as was held in the case of Narendra Kumar v. Union of India. Again, in the case of Bannari Amman Sugars Ltd. v. CTO, it was held that a restriction cannot be declared unreasonable just because it is harsh in manner. It can be further observed that in accordance with Article 47 of the Constitution of India, the State has a significant duty to ensure nutritional protection, quality of living, and better public health.
The courts are entitled before the compliance of the Law to interfere on the basis of justice and procedural preparation. This issue was raised in the public interest litigation between Alakh Alok Srivastava v. Union of India, the document highlighted the plight of thousands of migrant workers who walked hundreds of kilometers from the workplace in violation of the COVID-19 lockout order, along with their families. Employee workers and migrant workers in the midland are stuck without any form of transport. The actions of the police under Section 188 of the IPC are legitimate; however, they have led towards the people in need being abused. In addition, State border screening has disrupted the freedom of movement and hindered the distribution of vital goods.
The quarantine principle requires social isolation to prevent the spread of the virus and takes steps to safeguard vital services and supplies. The present situation in India with COVID-19 is the result of the Quarantine Law Enforcement and Health Protection Sections 6(2)(1) and 10(2)(1) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
Although the effects of the virus have shown more negative effects than positive to mankind, it has however evidently been a blessing to the environment. The shutdown of the whole world has allowed mother nature to heal itself. The air quality index in most parts of the world has become better and even the most polluted cities now are on the verge of losing their titles too. This seems like a sign of goodness for everyone. The outbreak of the virus has been heavy and affected every person’s life however, the consequences of this outbreak have been heavier on some particular section of the society. This section consists of people who cannot even afford a single meal a day. Some are stranded away from home with no roof over their heads, some have taken refuge under the empty bridges.
Humanity has however not been compromised. Humans have been doing their part in this time of crisis. People have come out forward of their safe homes to provide for the betterment of the society. All the workers on the frontline and also all the other people who have taken the initiative to feed and help the needy are truly the heroes who have restored the faith in humanity. Also, everyone who is abiding by the guidelines issued by the government and simply staying home is contributing just as much in the fight against this virus.
This pandemic has definitely taught us that we must be willing to trade our freedom for the greater good of the people. In humanity lies the greatest good and not battle has been left undefeated by the unity of humanity. Whether it’s America, Italy, Spain, India or any of the other countries each of them are suffering in aspects like emotionally that is by losing their family members, financial growth of every country is fluctuating cause of this, psychologically people are getting tensed everyone is in the pressure of what will happen next and everything is paused just because of one virus.
- Gibbons v. Ogden  22 US 1: https://www.lexisnexis.com/community/casebrief/p/casebrief-gibbons-v-ogden
- Municipal Council Ratlam v. Vardhichand  AIR 1622: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/440471/
- State of Punjab v. Mohinder Singh Chawla  AIR SC 1225: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1569214/
- Narendra Kumar v. Union of India  AIR SC 430: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1276331/
- Bannari Amman Sugars Ltd. v. CTO  1 SCC 625: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1890994/
- Alakh Alok Srivastava v. Union of India  SCC OnLine SC 212: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/140831979/
Aditya Singh and Ananya Singh | Symbiosis Law School Noida and Alliance University Bengaluru