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Imposition of Section 144 amid COVID-19

The Covid-19 Pandemic has brought about many unprecedented ordeals for the government, and has forced the State to adopt various measures to deal with the spread of the virus. Imposition of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, is one such measure adopted by the Indian government.

By- Shubham Khurana, JEMTEC SCHOOL OF LAW, IP UNIVERSITY 2nd Year.

Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) empowers the Executive Magistrate to issue an order prohibiting people to gather at one place or to organise any such event which involves a gathering of five or more people in any particular area. There is also a restriction on carrying weapons in that area.  According to this section, there shall be prohibition on the movement of public establishments like schools, offices, public transport, excluding the emergency services and essential items. This section also empowers the authorities to block internet access. 

According to this section, there shall be prohibition on the movement of public establishments like schools, offices, public transport, excluding the emergency services and essential items. This section also empowers the authorities to block internet access. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic, with over 4.53 million confirmed cases and 308 lakh deaths, the level of panic is increasing across the globe. Many restrictions have been imposed till now, cancellation of flights, shutdown of public places and closing of industries and businesses have caused a great disruption across industries worldwide. 

Many countries are severely hit by COVID-19 such as Italy, China, Germany, US, India and they are preparing to the greatest extent possible. Many countries such as China have built new hospitals in a very short time and other countries are also following the same strategy. Similarly, in India also the primary concern of the government is to protect the health and safety of all the citizens. Along these lines, Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed Section 144 in India.  This section is imposed in an area in emergency situations or cases of nuisance or perceived danger of some event which has the potential to harm people or property. This time it is imposed in wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

In India, Janta Curfew was imposed on 22nd March, 2020 as a preventive measure, but the situation started deteriorating. Hence, section 144 was imposed to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Other countries like Denmark, Norway and Germany also adopted the same approach. But this order created confusion among the public as they assumed it to be an imposition of section 144 of Indian Penal Code, 1860, pertaining to unlawful assembly. But the same was later clarified by the Prime Minister that the order was specific in nature, applicable to ‘Tour Operators’ and not the public in general. The order was to seal the borders to ban the trade activities from the international market. The basic purpose of section 144 of CrPC for the current scenario is to maintain social distancing and to slow down the spread of the virus. 

The order was to seal the borders to ban the trade activities from the international market. The basic purpose of section 144 of CrPC for the current scenario is to maintain social distancing and to slow down the spread of the virus. 

The number of cases are increasing with each passing day but there is a rise in the recovery rate, so many restrictions are being lifted now and markets, offices, etc have reopened in places not so severely hit by the virus. However, people need to understand that this imposition is meant to prevent the spread of virus from one person to another. This means not stepping out of the house except for buying necessities, reducing the number of trips outside. As the situation got worse, leading to huge loss of human lives, imposition of section 144 became necessary. Section 144 has been in news since December for being imposed in various parts of the country, in the wake of anti-CAA protests. 

This move is always imposed for the well-being of the public at large in situations like terrorist attacks, riots, etc. When the situation comes under control, this section is removed. During anti-CAA riots, the situation turned quite violent and in order to control the situation, it became the need of the hour to impose this section. Section 144 has always been the one rule that fits all and it has proven to be an efficient tool to deal with emergencies. However, it is sure that the role of the Code of Criminal Procedure would be much less when it comes to a situation that we are facing as the spread of COVID-19 to such a large extent. 

For the time being, Section 144 of the CrPC seems to be adequate to control the movement of targeted groups that are either more prone to the outbreak or are a major threat for spreading the virus.

For the time being, Section 144 of the CrPC seems to be adequate to control the movement of targeted groups that are either more prone to the outbreak or are a major threat for spreading the virus. This section can always be invoked to prevent worsening of any situation of panic among the general public. Thus, it can be concluded that imposition of section 144 is very well within the legal competency and can be effectively imposed to tackle various problems including this pandemic, while the world impatiently awaits for the vaccine.

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