The Pandemic, Law, and Judicial Review

This article is written by Anushka Sharma from Delhi Metropolitan Education GGSIPU and curated by Shruti Chaudhary from Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow.

The world has experienced various types of pandemics but the current pandemic which the whole world is experiencing is a very novel situation for all the countries. The effect of the pandemic is found everywhere from a superpower to an underdeveloped country leaving no one behind and threatening people from each strata of the society.

COVID-19 which was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30th of January, 2020 has locked human beings and halted all their outside activities which in turn is impacting the economy among other things.

In India, the lockdown was imposed on 25th of March to avoid the infection from spreading.

The lockdown has impacted the lives of many and mostly the vulnerable communities who are suffering a lot because of the pandemic. There are people who are already suffering from unemployment and other harsh consequences of the pandemic. The country is already facing an economic recession. The pandemic has brought uncertainty for everyone and everything because nobody knows how to deal with it even after its presence for such a long duration.

Among other institutions, judiciary is one of the institutions which has been impacted by this pandemic. The courts have been shut down to avoid large gatherings of people which could risk the spread of the virus but the legal institution has come up with an idea of virtual hearing to deliver justice amidst this pandemic because conflicts between individual and individual/individuals and state will still continue whether the pandemic is in existence or not. Therefore, it is very necessary that the judicial institution is vigilant and active during the pandemic because injustice and other ill practices will continue to exist even during the pandemic or may even thrive.

The Apex Court of India has dealt with many cases amidst the pandemic, some of them are The PM CARE and the RTI Act issue, Jammu, and Kashmir internet services issue, among others.

Now, let’s discuss about the laws which India has used to deal with situations like these. There are two enactments which the Centre and the States is using to deal with the ongoing pandemic.

One is the Epidemic Disease Act of 1897 which is an old colonial enactment which was not in use for a long period of time. This act was introduced to deal with the spread of bubonic plague. The enactment was built in such a way that it can be used only for local pandemics and not global ones like the ongoing current pandemic- COVID-19.

The act had very less no. of sections during the bubonic plague but after experiencing the current epidemic the act has been amended to include protection of health workers from act of violence and expansion of Section 2A to include regulation of movement of vehicles and persons. Before this pandemic, the act included or stated only the extension of the act, powers of the Central government, penalties, and protection of the people who acted under the act.

The second enactment is the Disaster Management Act of 2005. It is a modern enactment which suggests “prevention and mitigation effects of disaster and for undertaking a holistic, coordinated and prompt response to any disaster situation.”

These enactments were built to deal with issues like floods, cyclones, earthquakes and other natural disasters or man-made disasters.

The law-makers never anticipated how to deal with this kind of global pandemic which stayed so long and made everyone from government to normal civilians uncertain about the future.

The pandemic has brought with it other issues which can be resolved only by a vigorous judicial review. The pandemic has not altered but created new and more challenges for the future. There are a lot of modifications and improvements which our health infrastructure, judiciary and other institutions require to go through to deal with any uncertain problems which may bounce in future.