When States impose a curfew, they pass orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure , 1973 (Section 144). A curfew is imposed in districts and States to prevent the localized spread of Covid-19 based on the number of cases in that particular area. This is an administrate power that rests with Magistrates in a district and they even have the power to restrict services during a curfew be it entertainment, transport etc. For example, a curfew order may be for specific districts asking people not to move out of their houses after 7 pm. This is different from lockdowns, which are imposed by the Central Government and disaster management authorities to take action and give guidelines for States as well as the whole of India to control and reduce the impact during the outbreak of any epidemic or pandemic. For example, imposing a travel ban between states to prevent movement of people during the epidemic.
The District Magistrate, Sub-Divisional Magistrate or Executive Magistrate, who is empowered by the State, passes the Section 144 order when immediate prevention is required. Such orders or directions aim at preventing or trying to prevent:
- Any obstruction, annoyance or injury to any person
- Any danger to human life, health or safety
- Disturbance of public tranquility
- Riot or an affray (group fighting)
A Section 144 order can be directed either to a particular individual, group of persons residing in a place, or to the public in general when visiting a particular place.
Restrictions under a curfew
The aim of the restrictions under a Section 144 order can be to1:
- Prevent protests that can lead to unrest or riots.
- Prevent epidemics which affect public health.
- Restrict anyone from carrying any sort of weapon.
- Restrict movement of the public.
- Close particular educational institutions.
- Ban any kind of public meetings or rallies.
Violating curfew orders
- Negligently spreading infection of a disease. The punishment is jail time up to six months and/or fine.
- Disobeying an order issued by a public servant . The punishment is jail time up to six months and/or Rs. 1000.
- Being a member of an unlawful assembly. The punishment is jail time up to six months and/or fine.
- Rioting.The punishment is jail time up to two years and/or fine.
Punishment for Obstructing an officer or Government employee. The punishment is jail time up to one year and/or fine.1
- Section 144, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
- Section 269, Indian Penal Code, 1860; Section 188, Indian Penal Code, 1860, Section 143, Indian Penal Code, 1860, Section 147, Indian Penal Code, 1860, Section 55, National Disaster Management Act, 2005.