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Jail Term, Fine for Offenders as MHA Invokes Disaster Management Act to Fight COVID-19 During Lockdown

A man wearing a protective mask walks on a bridge at a railway station during lockdown by the authorities to limit the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New Delhi. (Reuters)

A man wearing a protective mask walks on a bridge at a railway station during lockdown by the authorities to limit the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New Delhi. (Reuters)

The order directs ministries/departments of the governments of India, states and union territories to take effective measures and will be in force in all parts of the country for 21 days from March 25.

New Delhi: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) invoked the Disaster Management Act, 2005, on Tuesday to effectively implement social distancing measure to prevent the spread the COVID-19 in the country.

The order issued under Section 10 (2)(l) of the Disaster Management Act directs ministries/ departments of the Government of India, state/union territory governments and state/ union territory authorities to take effective measures and will be in force in all parts of the country, for 21 days with effect from March 25.

The Act was invoked soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a first-of-its-kind three-week lockdown of the country to fight the coronavirus outbreak that has claimed 10 lives and infected 536 people in India.

According to sections 51 to 60 of the Act, there will be penalties for specific offences. Anyone found obstructing any officer or employee from performing duty will be imprisoned for a term which may extend to one year or fined, or be both.

And if such obstruction or refusal to comply with directions results in loss of lives or imminent danger thereof, the person shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend up to two years.

Sections will also be invoked to punish those making false claims, indulging in misappropriation of money or materials. “One found guilty can be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, and also with fine.” For issuing false warnings, there could be imprisonment for a year or fines.

In case of an offence by ‘Departments of the Government’, the head of the department shall be deemed guilty and liable to be punished accordingly unless he proves that the incident happened without his knowledge or that he exercised all due diligence to prevent the commission of such offence.

If it is proved that the offence has been committed with the consent or connivance of, or is attributable to any neglect on the part of, any officer, other than the head of the department, “such officer shall be deemed to be guilty of that offence and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.”

Failure of an officer in duty or his connivance at the contravention of the provisions of this Act would mean “imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine” under Section 65 of the Act.

Those committing offences under the category of “Offence by companies” shall face punishment accordingly.

No court shall take cognisance of an offence committed under this Act, except on a complaint made by “the national authority, the state authority, the central government, the state government, the district authority or any other authority or officer authorised in this behalf by that authority or government, as the case may be” or “any person who has given notice of not less than thirty days in the manner prescribed, of the alleged offence and his intention to make a complaint to the national authority, the state authority, the central government, the state government, the district authority or any other authority or officer authorised.”