Typically, the Government response to an epidemic, such as Covid-19, involves two primary laws – the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, and the Disaster Management Act, 2005.
The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897
The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 (“Epidemic Act”) gives the Central Government as well as State Governments the power to take special measures and prescribe regulations to prevent the spread of a dangerous epidemic disease. However, there is no definition of the term ‘Dangerous Epidemic Disease’ under this law.
Throughout the lockdown in India, the Central and State Governments took several actions to control the spread of the disease by:
- Restricting spread and movement by enforcing lockdowns or curfews.
- Conducting Covid-19 checks at airports.
- Travel bans within and between States.
- Stopping non-essential activities like movie theatres, amusement parks etc.
- Stopping schools from opening and encouraging online teaching methods.
- Preventing mass gatherings at weddings, funerals etc.
- Stopping industries and construction activities.
- Shutting down offices and workplaces.
State Governments also have the power1 to take measures to prevent the outbreak of an epidemic, by prescribing regulations to be enforced with respect to any person or group of people. An example of this would be Delhi Epidemics Diseases, COVID-19 Regulations, 2020, continuously passed by the Delhi Government to restrict gatherings.
The Disaster Management Act, 2005
Since the Covid-19 outbreak is a “Notified Disaster”, the Disaster Management Act, 2005 applies to it and State Governments will get access to appropriate funds in order to respond and provide immediate relief to victims of the disaster. Through this law, the government can take/has taken action to manage the Covid-19 disaster by:
- Preventing its danger or threat of spreading. For example, by enforcing lockdowns.
- Mitigating or reducing its risk, severity or consequences. For example, researching and implementing vaccine trials in India.
- Capacity-building and preparing to deal with Covid-19. For example, opening Covid-19 testing centres and camps across states.
- Assessing the severity or magnitude of the effects of Covid-19. For example, taking surveys and tracking cases through applications such as Aarogya Setu.
The Government imposes periodical lockdowns by giving a set of directions to all Ministries/Departments of the Government of India, State/Union Territory Governments and State/Union Territory Authorities.2 These lockdown orders are published on the Ministry of Home Affairs website.