• Lex Valorem

Legal Ramifications of COVID-19

Updated: Jul 30, 2020

The novel coronavirus i.e. The COVID – 19 has spread across the globe infecting more than 1.26 crore people across the world and has caused the death of more than 5 lakh people, although the whole world has come together to fight this virus there does not seem any end to this chaos.

Many different Governments are working to create a vaccine but there has been no success reported lately although the CDC has come up with new symptoms there does not seem to be any information about a vaccine.

According to an article, more than one-third of the population of the planet is under some kind of restriction due to this virus, and most of the economic activities are on a complete halt on a global scale which is likely to cause an economic recession in the upcoming days.

Although this virus has forced people to stay at home, quarantined, there has never been a sense of unity among people across the world, people have united to help those in need and to thank those heroes working during this global pandemic to safeguard and protect us from the spread.

But like everything each situation has two sides and the worst side of this pandemic are people who are deliberately causing the spread of the virus, there have been reports about people who are deliberately trying to spread this deadly disease in the community

India has a set of laws, to combat and prevent the spread of such deadly diseases governed by the Epidemic Disease Act 1897 but what could be the legal repercussions for someone who is deliberately trying to spread this deadly disease?

A person can be charged under the following sections for spreading the virus either through his negligent act or through his deliberate actions during the state of lockdown –

SECTION 269 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 states that whoever spreads a disease that is known to be dangerous to human life through his negligent or unlawful act will be sentenced to imprisonment for up to 6 months or a fine or both. Therefore, if a person spreads this virus because of his negligent act causing harm to other individuals may be imprisoned and fined.

SECTION 270 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 states that any person who spreads a disease which is life-threatening by an act which is done intentionally with the motive to cause death due to the spread of the disease shall be sentenced to imprisonment for up to 2 years or fine or both. In the act, the use of word malignantly specifies that the act is done with the intention to cause harm to human life thus making it different from sec 269.

Any person who disobeys any regulations or orders made under THE EPIDEMIC DISEASE ACT 1897 shall be deemed to have committed an offence under SECTION 188 of the Indian Penal Code. Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code in this state is to safeguard the purpose of the lockdown, it states that any person who is directed to abstain from a certain act by a public servant, in this case going outside without any due cause, disobeys any order from the public servant which may cause risk to health safety will be punished with imprisonment up to 6 months or a fine of One thousand rupees or with both.

In a recent case of the spread of the virus the Tablighi Jamaat leader Muhammad Saad Khandalvi was charged with manslaughter under SECTION 304 of the Indian Penal Code – Culpable homicide not amounting to murder, although Mr. Saad has denied any wrongdoing, the numbers say something totally different, there have been more than 1000 cases linked to this event.

Due to the rise in cases of coronavirus related to the Tablighi jamaat, India has also seen a rise in islamophobia due to this incident, people are spreading fake news and videos on social media platforms to increase this hatred that has birthed into the minds of Indians due to the event, but can there be legal ramifications of spreading misinformation in these challenging times?

Even though India does not have a specific law to combat misinformation but there are some legal provisions for this which are as under –

SECTION 505(1) of the Indian Penal Code states whoever makes, publishes or circulates ant statement or rumor with intent to cause fear or alarm to the public whereby any person is induced to commit an offence against the state or public tranquillity or against any other class or community shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend up to three years or fine or both.

SECTION 54 of the Disaster Management Act 2005 which states that any person who makes or circulates a false alarm or warning as to disaster or its severity or magnitude, which may cause panic shall be punished with imprisonment extending up to 1 year or fine.

SECTION 66D of Information Technology Act states that any person, by any means of communication device or computer resource, cheats by impersonating shall be punished with imprisonment up to 3 years and fine up to 1 lakh rupees.

This sharing of misinformation can be held responsible for spreading the “infodemic”, a word coined by the WHO which defines it as “an overabundance of information, some accurate and some not, that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it”. The Law enforcement agencies seem to be monitoring social media platforms for such spread of misinformation which can cause a legal suit against you or land you in jail.

It seems the problem of deliberate spreading and misinformation or hate speech is global, In foreign countries like USA any person who intentionally spread the COVID-19 could be charged as a terrorist under the current US anti-terrorism laws as reported by the second-highest official of the Justice Department, The official, Rosen warned: “Because Coronavirus appears to meet the statutory definition of a ‘biological agent’… such acts potentially could implicate the Nation’s terrorism-related statutes”.The USA charging its people for purposeful exposure with terrorism laws seems like a perfect way for refraining people to indulge in such acts.

According to reports in Iran an official calls to deliberately spread the coronavirus to bring messiah, Ali Reza Banahyan is a Shia cleric and head of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s ‘think tank for universities’, he was recently quoted in Shafaq News saying that the coronavirus pandemic is a prelude to the emergence of the expected Mahdi (Muslim Messiah). Banahyan called on the Iranian people to actively spread the virus, “because it will accelerate the emergence of al- Mahdi.”

There have been reports of people allegedly spitting on others to deliberately spread coronavirus in Beijing, China. CCTV footage was released showing infected patients coughing and spitting on objects, these reports also suggest that infected people were deliberately placing things that were in contact with their bodily fluids at public places in China.

As much as there is need to be kind and humane in these trying times there are people testing the unity of the people, their resilience is being tested by these people to the extent that this may hurt health safety and public tranquillity, the Government, the public health workers, and the public servants are doing their duty without a care about their own life towards the fulfillment of one goal which is to eradicate the virus and contain the spread, these people are the backbone in our fight against this virus.

There may have been cases of inhumane behavior or hate speech but there were more cases of people being kind to each other being united as one and fight this fight together as one. At last, I would request you to just STAY HOME STAY SAFE.

by Suryansh Goyal

Amity Law School, Noida

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