TODAY -

Manipur Epidemic Diseases (Enforcement of COVID-19 Guidelines) Regulations, 2020
- Observations of a few budding legal minds -

*



Incoherent government orders and guidelines, only to be modified or dropped the following day, has become the norm rather than exceptions since the beginning of Covid-19 crisis in the state. General public have become so despondent that none would come forward to raise any question, even if they had serious reservations.

It’s not a good sign at all for astatereveling itself to be a vibrant democracy – perhaps more of a sign of dysfunctional democracy and censored freedom of expression. We seem to be taking everything on face value – no discussion made, no question asked and certainly no complain made, but we always accept everything as it comes.

The recent order of State Home Department on Manipur Epidemic Disease Regulations, 2020 was perhaps one such example, accepting every word on face value.

Given the perceived ambiguities of the new regulations in a casual read, views were sought from a few budding legal minds just for academic’s sake. A brief but much thought provoking interactions on the new Epidemic Diseases (Enforcement of Covid-19 Guidelines) Regulations, 2020 brought out many insightful observations.

The following is the excerpts of that brief interaction:

The budding legal minds began by saying, ‘The Home Department, Government of Manipur came up with the Manipur Epidemic Diseases (Enforcement of COVID-19 Guidelines) Regulations, 2020, signed by the Chief Secretary, Government of Manipur, apparently in that capacity (italics mine).’

The Regulation aims at stricter imposition of penalties for the purpose of enforcement of COVID-19 Guidelines.

Notable features are as follows:

1. From District Magistrates, SPs to Revenue Inspectors to ASIs have been notified as the authorized officials for the purpose of implementation of these regulations.
Note: For the purpose of these regulations and not for the purpose of the entire Act.

2. Any person violating the guidelines shall be liable to be imposed the following penalties:
(a) Violation of quarantine guidelines – Rs. 1000/- on each occasion
(b) Failure to wear mask in public places – Rs. 200/-
(c) Failure to maintain social distancing in public places- Rs. 200/-
(d) Spitting in public places – Rs. 500/-
(e) Consumption of pan, gutka, kwa and tobacco in public place- Rs. 200/-
(f) Gathering in excess number of the authorized persons in ceremonies- Rs. 10,000/-
(g) Any other violation of guidelines- Rs. 1,000/-

Note: A few unanswered questions

o What are the quarantine guidelines? Even if it is there, is it proper to club all violations of quarantine under one head? And without classifying what are the quarantine guidelines, how to determine each occasion?
o What constitutes public place?
o Where is social-distancing defined?
o Are we supposed to infer that consumption of pan, gutka, kwa and tobacco is permitted in private places?
o Is sale and transportation of gutka, pan, kwa and tobacco products prohibited still or was it ever prohibited for the whole of Manipur? If not, what about all the kwamanas which have been seized and destroyed? Who will bear the losses if eating such items in private places are not prohibited? In any case, the fine stipulated for consumption in public place is only Rs. 200/-.
o What constitutes the ceremonies? And what are the permitted ceremonies? Does it extend to official functions? If not, why not?
o What are the other violations of guidelines? Are they sufficiently published and disseminated?
o The punishment for violation for quarantine guidelines is Rs. 1000/- for each occasion. For the rest of the violations, it is not so mentioned. So, how to determine how much fine to be imposed to a person who spat twice in public place, as a matter of example?

3. All the notified authorized persons have been empowered to collect fines against defaulters on the spot, and are directed to maintain proper accounts and will be deposited in the Head of Account of the Police Department, through a treasury challan. And the penalized persons will be issued a TR receipt, as an acknowledgment of the payment of fines on the spot.

Note: A very critical issue

o Finally, executive branch of the government have been empowered to impose penalties on the spot, sidetracking the whole judicial process. That itself should be cause of celebration, as there are always qualms of justice being denied due to its delay. Now, as we have found ingenious ways to skirt the universally accepted procedural process of justice and fairness, there will be no delays. Justice will be delivered on the spot as desired. No due process, no procedure established by law to be followed. What’s the need anyway? Manipur, rejoice!

4. The Regulation then goes on to provide that if any person fails to pay the penalty on the spot, such person shall be liable to prosecution under section 188 of the IPC, and the authorized police officer shall take cognizance of the offence on his own or on the receipt of the complaint from the authorized person/ authority.

Note: Now, this is sheer masterpiece.

o Cognizance of offences is no longer an exclusive judicial function and police officers can now take cognizance of offences under the Indian Penal Code by virtue of this Regulation. But the question arises - Then what? Police officer will take cognizance of the offence, then what?

Is the police officer supposed to proceed like a Court- issue summons, record evidence, hear arguments of both parties and pass judgment accordingly? Or whether some other special procedures have been prescribed for the police officers for the purpose of this Regulation?

Provisions needs to be clear because there will always be people who will be unable to pay the penalties on the spot. Another question is- can the authorized police officer sentenced the supposed violator to imprisonment in case of inability to pay the fine on the spot? Hypothetically, he can now.

It should always be remembered that criminal laws which deals with the life and liberty of a person should not be meddled with in a casual manner. The right to life and liberty is the edifice on which all nations are built upon. It is not a mere triviality. The moment it is lost, all is lost!

o Crime and punishment
o Procedural fairness
o Normalization of exceptional circumstances
o Clarity
o Honesty of purpose

The issues raised by these budding minds shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet. I firmly believe the issues are serious enough to be reviewed/re-examined thoroughly with an open mind by concerned experts or competent authorities. Many of the issues raised, no doubt, may have been explained but, as the budding minds would say, needs proper dissemination and spelling out.

The first sentence itself shows their disillusion and helplessness - the Home Department, Government of Manipur came up with the Manipur Epidemic Diseases (Enforcement of COVID-19 Guidelines) Regulations, 2020, signed by the Chief Secretary, Government of Manipur, apparently in that capacity. Please carefully read the end part of the passage ‘apparently in that capacity’ – I think that sums up the whole discourse

. Let's accept that Covid-19 is an extraordinary situation and it demands emergency decision making steps, but that shouldn't be at the expense of established norms and principles of the state. There are serious apprehensions that the defined boundaries of different arms of the state are getting blurred with the new regulations – it's likely to have serious long term repercussions.

It’s no longer a question of certain weaknesses in a particular regulation/act, but more of a question of inherent weaknesses in the system followed in framing such regulations. Let’s not make a monster out of Covid-19 crisis.


* Group of young legal minds wrote this article and forwarded by NS Hemam to e-pao.net
The sender can be contacted at hemamns(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on July 30 2020 .



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