India under 21-day Lockdown: Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered his 2nd address to the nation within a week on COVID-19 epidemic. In his 30 minute long speech, PM Modi highlighted several steps initiated by his government as well as respective state governments to counter the spread of Coronavirus in India. During the speech, he also imposed a complete lockdown across the country for 21 days by invoking the Disaster Management Act, 2005 as well as Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897. While, COVID-19 being an epidemic, it is quite understandable as to why Government would Epidemic Diseases Act under current circumstances; however, the use of Disaster Management Act, 2005 has come as a surprise to many.
While we brace the the lockdown to help government efforts in bringing down the menace of Coronavirus in the country, it is also important to understand why did PM Modi choose to impose the lockdown via the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and Why? What are the specific powers that it provides the government and how it can “effectively manage disasters in India”.
So let’s find out!
What is a Disaster?
According to the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the term Disaster is defined as “a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence arising from natural or man-made causes, by accident or negligence”. The Act also says that in order for an incident to be termed as disaster, “substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to property and environment to such an extent that it is beyond the coping capacity of the affected area”.
Why did Modi Govt invoke Disaster Management Act, 2005?
While there is no official explanation has been given by the Central Government on this, experts believe that the Disaster Management Act, 2005 has been invoked by the Modi Government, as it allows them to certain financial freedom to tackle the growing epidemic in the country. By invoking the Disaster Management Act, 2005, Modi government has allowed or granted itself to access “National Disaster Response Fund”. Using this fund, the government will be better able to fund medical facilities and medical research to contain the immediate concern of rise in positive COVID-19 cases.
Financial Requirement to curb COVID-19 spread
Especially, when it comes to ramping up the daily testing capacity across the country, India lags behind several countries who have been hit hard by the Coronavirus epidemic. Using the National Disaster Response Fund, government will be able to ramp up the testing facilities to meet the rising requirements, which will mark the first step towards curbing the spread of epidemic. In addition to this, once the number of cases rises the government would also need to setup additional quarantine facilities, would need medical supplies and essentials like masks, sanitizers, ventilators and other equipment, which can all be funded by NDRF Fund.
Setting up of Agencies
Under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the central government is also empowered to setup a number of agencies to help manage the ongoing crisis. This includes setting up administrative authorities like the National Disaster Management Authority and the State Disaster Management Authority. These authorities can then work in tandem with the government to streamline operations at a national-level to counter the spread of COVID-19.
Couldn’t this be done under Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897?
The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 is one of the shortest laws in the India, which was enacted in response to the Bombay plague, which occurred at the end of the 19th century. The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 only consists of four sections which talk restrictive provisions that can be imposed by the Central Government in case of an Epidemic. Furthermore, the legislation also outlines the punishment or penalty that can be imposed on the violators of the Act. However, it doesn’t provide any other specific powers, especially in terms of financial or administrative control, to the government; which is the prime need of the hour to tackle Coronavirus outbreak.