By Kartik Sharma
Amidst pandemic, India joined the league of nations which declared country-wide lockdown. Following the ‘Janta’ curfew, which was a one-day voluntary curfew, India saw more than 70 days of lockdown. It involved shutting off all the economic activities except essential services. This step by the government pop crucial questions about its legality. From where did the Government derive this power and whether these restrictions are reasonable restriction under Article 19(5)?
The Government derived this power from the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (DMA) and the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 (EDA). Although none of them defines ‘curfew’ and ‘lockdown’, EDA grants powers to the Government to restrict movement to prevent the spread of disease. It also grants the Government with the power to take necessary steps for the same.
Also, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) declared COVID-19 a ‘notified disaster’ under DMA. This move gave power to the Union to create a three-tier Disaster Management Authority (National, State, & District) to discuss, plan and issue guidelines on issues arising from the disaster. This declaration also opened the gates for the States to use ‘State Disaster Response Fund’, as described in DMA. Hence, deriving such powers, the Union Government was able to formulate necessary guidelines and restrict movement across the country. At this juncture, another question arises. What if the state(s) did not agree with the Centre to impose lockdown? Or they revolted on the Centre’s decision?
Article 256 stipulates that “the Union can give directions to the State as may appear necessary to enforce a law enacted by the Parliament”. So, having constitutional validity for directing state governments, the Union used EDA and DMA to lead the States on the implementation of guidelines and other policies. Although the Union decided lockdown in consultation with the States, these directions are not merely advisory, and the Centre can enforce them. The Centre could invoke National Emergency or State Emergency enshrined in the Constitution. Invoking emergencies will allow the Centre to take punitive measures against the States which are disobeying Centre’s directions.
Now to discuss Freedom of Movement enshrined in Article 19(d), I will say these are reasonable restrictions. Article 19(5) exonerates imposition of restrictions if it is in the interest of the general public, which is the case. The imposition of lockdown was to prevent the uncontrollable spread of Coronavirus in the country. This imposition helped prevent a sudden spike of cases in India to a great extent. Therefore, the actions of the Government are neither illegal nor do they violate any Fundamental Rights. The restrictions imposed by the Government are reasonable.
 The Indian Constitution, 1949, art 19(5).
 Prashasti Awasthi, Centre Invokes ‘Epidemic Diseases Act’ and ‘Disaster Management Act’ to Prevent Spread of Coronavirus, The Hindu BusinessLine March 12, 2020, https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/national/centre-invokes-epidemic-act-and-disaster-management-act-to-prevent-spread-of-coronavirus/article31049161.ece#.
 Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, §2, 2A.
 Disaster Management Act, 2005, §6.
 Id, §48.
 Supra note 2, art 256.
 Supra note 2, art 352.
 Supra note 2, art 356.
 Supra note 2, art 353, 357.
 Supra note 2, art 19(d).
 Supra note 2, art 19(5).