Lessons from lockdown:
Laws needed, but civic sense sits at the heart of the fight against the Covid-19

Ahmed Raza

For the first time, post independent India has been witnessing any deadly epidemic disease which has traumatized the whole world like a war situation as every nation remains affianced to deal with the disease tactically and strategically. The way India has grounded itself against the epidemic by initiating persistent efforts towards health care management, social distancing, breaking chains of transmission etc., deserves to be applauded as every measure is being enforced accordingly. Although, implications of the laws required to fight against the Covid-19 would be an inherent in India as other issues such as poverty, unorganized sector, migrant workers, daily workers, homeless people etc always kept on hitting the Indian economy. The decision for 21 nationwide lockdown along with other strict measures required for containing Covid-19 have been necessitated by invoking several laws of the land, namely Epidemic Diseases Act 1897, Disaster Management Act 2005, Essential Services Maintenance Act etc, which have drawn full cooperation at all levels.

But the laws are lacking an empirical validity in the several parts of the nation due to other associated challenges such as mobility of migrant workers and daily wagers, insensitivities towards social distancing etc. which may compromise with the battle against the Covid-19. Although, the governments showed ripeness by coordinating other state governments and agencies immediately for sorting out the issues occurred after 21 days nationwide lockdown. Other than the laws, the spread of the corona virus may also be combated with people’s civic sense as all kinds of health measures are associated with individual’s behavior such as sanitization, hand-wash, social distancing, use of masks etc. Both the laws and civic sense collectively would act as a weapon against the Covid-19.   

Laws wisely used against the Covid-19
India as a whole country began to fight against Covid-19 by formulating unified policies and courses of actions in which Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 (EDA) facilitated the central government to act and instruct the state governments. In this process, enforcement of social distancing as a significant remedy against Covid-19 has been mandated by applying the provisions under EDA 1897 which is a prerequisite condition to combat the spread of Covid-19. Keeping in mind the huge and densely population of India, enforcement of social distancing could be accomplished by imposing nationwide lock-down, curfew and other legal measures such as IPC 144, sealing of borders etc. Though, several essential and basics services such as medicines, health emergencies, grocery marts, milk shop, fruits shop etc have been fully functional as per the provisions of the Essential Services Maintenances Act (ESMA) of the respective states. Imposition of the laws and other legal measures with the purposes of ensuring social distancing started losing its objectives when a large number of migrant workers, daily wagers and homeless people were seen moving around the streets making an effort to reach their home. Neither, they were following proper social distancing nor using masks as a huge bunch of misinformation of losing their employment along-with persistent ambiguities on the fate of lockdown have compelled them to migrate on their foot, which created kiosk in the border areas particularly in Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border. Such consequences of implementation of the laws may be accounted as an offshoot of lack of preparedness at institutions level and centre-state levels along-with civic sense absenteeism among the people. Following the national news headlines, the government has acted quickly by coordinating state governments and other agencies, arranging foods and shelter to the needy people so as to comply the nationwide lock down effectively. Despite of these institutional efforts as required for combating the spread of Covid-19, citizens need to be highly careful of their civic sense during the ongoing battle against the epidemic, but, there have a number of incidences of the violations of social distancing in isolations centers, and quarantine.

Covid-19 as a ‘notified disaster’
With the declaration of the Covid-19 as a “notified disaster” under the Disaster Management Act (DMA) 2005, flexibilities, decentralization and specialization to deal with the epidemic disease have been prioritized by delegating authority from union home ministry to the union health secretary. The DMA 2005 has authorized the union health ministry to proceed and initiate any suitable and relevant action with regard to combating the spread of Covid-19. Though, breaking the chain of transmission of Covid-19 has been accounted one of the most effective measures, which may be accomplished by decentralizing the governance. Under the purview of the DMA 2005, all Frontline worriers including doctors, nurses, para-medical staffs, police and securities have been delegated with required jurisdictions to fight against the deadly virus and they deserve to be applauded and sought cooperation from all stakeholders. Though, the DMA 2005 deals strictly with the offenders who create an obstruction or hindrances during their duty for containing spread of the epidemic. The laws of the land have been equipped appropriately to deal any epidemics and proper abidance of the laws will help victory over the Covid-19. But, the first phase of nationwide lockdown of 21 days has witnessed irresponsible incidences which have shown civic sense absenteeism among the people. The doctors and other health assisting staffs were targeted and attacked during their duty periods who are working hard fight against the Covid-19. Such kinds of inhuman attitudes of the suspected persons or any citizen seem to be an invasion of humanity and society.

Civic sense leads to fight against the Covid-19
With coming to an end of the first phase of 21 days of nationwide lockdown, the transmission of Covid-19 could not be fully restricted but the gradual rising number of infected persons including causalities appears to be under control and  manageable as compared to other developed nations. The chain of transmission of the deadly disease may be broken up with maintaining social distance following the government guidelines. Laws always will act as a facilitator for the battle against the Covid-19; it is the ultimate civic senses of the people through which victory over the epidemic may be achieved. People must forward as a responsible and law-abiding citizen by cooperating with the administration and the frontline warriors in the fight of the Covid-19. The battle against the epidemic may be won comfortably if people will be gesturing their civic sense by maintaining social distancing, using masks and gloves, frequently hands-wash and sanitization etc. Hence, civic sense must prevail on people’s habits and behavior which is a prerequisite condition to combat the Covid-19. To conclude, it may be argued that laws needed, but civic sense sits at the heart of the fight against the Covid-19.

Dr. Ahmed Raza, Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, MANUU (a central university), SASS Building, Gachibowli, Hyderabad, India – 500 032        

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Apr 16, 2020

Ahmed Raza

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