As the Covid -19 is spreading around the globe and in these difficult times we continue to hear the word quarantine .So what does this word mean ,how it is defined in law and what are the acts related to it ,will be discussed in this article.
The word “quarantine”which was derived from Italian word “quaranta giorni”which means 40 days and evidences suggest that this practice began during 14th century to save coastal cities from plague epidemics .Thus, quarantine in legal terms can be defined as “the restriction of activities and/or separation of suspect persons from others who are not ill or suspect of baggage, cargo, container, aircraft or conveyances facilities, goods and postal parcels in such a manner as to prevent the possible spread of infection or contamination .
Quarantine and legislation in India
What are laws and regulations governing quarantine ?
Epidemic diseases act ,1897
A 123 year old British colonial era law which was enacted to tackle the epidemic of bubonic plague that broke out in the Bombay state of that time ,is the main legislative framework at the central level to prevent the spread of epidemic diseases .It has been used to prevent the spread of various diseases such as swine flu,cholera,malaria and dengue
Section 2 A of the act empowers the union govt. to take necessary measures and prescribe regulations to deal with dangerous epidemic diseases at ports of entry and exit.
Under section 2 states are given power to take special measures to deal with epidemic within their jurisdictions thus ,any state at any time is satisfied that (the state) or any part of its territory is threatened with an outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease and when it feels that the ordinary provisions of the law are insufficient for the purpose may adopt all measures including quarantine to prevent the outbreak .
Sec 3 specifies that any person disobeying any order under 1897 act shall be deemed to have committed an offence punishable under Sec 188 of Indian penal code (IPC) and a person is liable upon conviction to a sentence of imprisonment for one month , a fine or both .Sec 4 states that no suit or legal proceeding will be initiated against any person or authority for anything done in good faith .
This law has also been defined as “ archaic”as it places emphasis on quarantine but it is silent on various scientific methods of outbreak prevention such as vaccination and public health response .
Disaster management act ,2005
As the central govt has declared covid-19 as a “notified disaster” this law also comes into picture .
The disaster as explained under Sec2(a) means a catastrophe ,mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area arising from natural or man made causes or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to and destruction of property or damage to or degradation of environment and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area .
This law allows the govt.to access “National Disaster Response Fund” .Using this fund the govt will be better able to fund medical facilities and will be empowered to set up a number of agencies to manage the ongoing crisis
Sec 10 (2)(1) of the act allows national executive committee to give directions to govt. regarding measures to be taken by them it is also mentioned that any person violating these containment measures will be liable to proceeded against as per the provisions of Sec 51 to 60 of Disaster Management Act ,2005 besides legal action under sec 188 of IPC
This act is also being used in circulation of fake news ,Sec 52 of the act states that people intentionally making false claims to get benefits from the govt can be imprisoned upto 2 years
Sec 58 of the act further holds that if an offence is committed by a company or body of corporate the person who was incharge at the time of offense committed will be held liable .This provision can also be used to ensure that work places allow employees to work from home or that they pay employees their due wages.
National Health Bill ,2009
This bill was introduced to recognize health as a fundamental human right and states that every citizen has a right to the highest attainable standard of health and well being .
It places obligations on the govt. to ensure health for all .Chapter 3 of this bill elaborates rights to health care ,including terminal care for everyone however it lacks the ethical framework for the protection of human rights during such a epidemic. A reference can be taken from Public Health Emergency Response Act of Mexico which clearly describes the individual civil rights of a person who is quarantined in the midst of a health emergency .
Some other laws
Now in these testing times it is our duty to take all the reasonable precautions and most of the people are unaware of the laws under which they can be prosecuted for such actions that are dangerous to the health and safety of others .
In our country disobedience to quarantine rule is punishable under Sec271 of IPC ,1860 with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months or fine or both.
Failure to take requisite precautions despite being aware of the possibility of the spread of such infection or disease is also punishable under sec269 and sec270 of IPC.
Under Section 269, whoever unlawfully or negligently does any act which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe to be, likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description up to six months or fine or with both fine and imprisonment.
Under Section 270, Whoever malignantly does any act which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe to be, likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both. Malignancy is characterized in diseases that are highly virulent, infectious and life-threatening. Disobeying the norms prescribed for social distancing, coughing or sneezing without covering the nose and mouth, not wearing masks in public, disregarding norms for social isolation, loitering on the streets in groups, socializing in disregard of the prescribed regulations, etc. Are all punishable offences under Section 270.
There are also some laws which focus on quarantine of visitors such as Aircraft act and Indian Aircraft rules which empower health officers appointed by govt.to keep check on people entering the country from abroad .The officers can check the aircraft,its passengers and crews and can subject them to medical examinations .They must follow the precautions with regard to period of quarantine ,when there is a spread of such epidemic .There are also some laws which deal with port quarantine such as Port Health rules 1995 following the Indian Port Act.
Quarantine laws in other countries
In 1824, the US Supreme Court through a landmark judgement recognized quarantine power as unlimited state based power and as per the centre for disease control and prevention (CDC) the power of quarantine is given broadly to states, countries and cities to protect public health whereas looking into British laws related to quarantine, the parliament of England added the “Health Protection Regulation ,2020 in which under Sec45R of the public health (control of disease ) act,1984 empowers police,public health and immigration officers to detain suspected people and keep them quarantined.
while looking into North Korea a official who returned from Wuhan,China has reportedly been executed for going to a public bath in violation of his quarantine and the country has vowed to “rule by military law”
It has been seen that there are various laws and regulations which govern the quarantine but this legislation is somewhat inadequately framed as it has been derived from various combination of laws such as Epidemic Diseases Act ,1897 which has been described as “archaic” and these laws are also silent on various quarantine mechanisms and home based quarantine during such pandemic. There must be proper guidelines for implementing quarantine and set up of tribunals which can help to deal with such health calamities and there should also be some set of rules for individual civil rights during such crisis .Thus we hope that after coping up with these crisis there should be visit to the quarantine laws and make them more clear and intact so that public health can always be at priority .