The National Disaster Management Act—meant to handle disasters natural or man-made— was invoked for the first time in the country on Wednesday, bringing states under the Centre’s control regarding the battle against the highly contagious coronavirus.
Health is usually under the control of the states. Calling coronavirus a “threat” to the country, the home ministry in its order said the National Disaster Management Authority has “considered it necessary to take effective measures”.
At a meeting between the senior bureaucrats of the states and the top officials of Delhi—the cabinet secretary and principal secretary and the police chief—the states were told that they have to follow the Centre’s directive on the matter, sources said.
Sources said when a clarification was sought about whether this is a curfew or not, the Central officials explained that the coronavirus is a pandemic and permitting more people to stay out of doors would create problems, facilitating its spread. This was not a law and order situation, where one can identify trouble makers, sources quoted them as saying.
In his address later in the evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had described it as a lockdown that would be “curfew-like”.
Penal provisions under the NDMA Act would be applicable for violators and it has to be enforced strictly, the states were told in view of the casual manner in which the lockdown has been treated so far by the people.
The rules say the punishment— under various heads like “false warning” or “misappropriation of money and materials”— involves jail term of up to two years and a fine or both. Section 188 involves a jail term of six months and a fine.
In the guidelines issued for the lockdown, the government said anyone violating the “containment measures” would be punished under Sections 51 to 60 of the Disaster Management Act and Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code.
Sources said at the meeting, the states were also told to ensure adequate protection to health authorities—doctors and support staff. The matter has become increasingly crucial in view of the health professionals being targeted in certain parts of the country.