Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic across the world, Governments across the states in India have put various restrictions in order to combat the spread of the deadly virus. So, the terms to describe the state of affairs in different states are interchangeably used by the public and by the officials. While general public often uses lockdown and curfew as synonymous terms; it is significant to note that the terms ‘lockdown’ and ‘curfew’ both have not been defined anywhere under Indian law. This article mainly focuses on the slight differences between ‘lockdown’ and ‘curfew’ along with their implementation which the general public ought to know.

LOCKDOWN:- A lockdown is an exigency protocol implemented by the Government in order to keep the general public indoors. It is a state wherein the Government orders temporary shutdown of all the non-essential establishments, educational institutions, places of worship, hospitality services, cinema halls, shopping malls etc. All social/ political/sports/entertainment/academic/cultural/religious functions/other gatherings and large congregations are prohibited throughout the country and also a temporary suspension of metro and rail services as well as domestic air traffic1 but there are certain exceptions such as ration shops, banks, ATMs, media services, medical facility, petrol pumps etc. The main reason behind the lockdown is to restrict the movement of public and maintain social distancing with the purpose of preventing the spread of the deadly virus. Government may also seal the borders of each State if need be, so that the non-urgent traffic can be stopped from moving freely from one state to another.

IMPLEMENTATION:- The two laws in India which provide a legal basis for acting against the pandemic are the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 (EDA) and the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (DMA). Section 2 and 2A of the EDA give power to the State and Central Governments to take necessary action in the situation of an epidemic to control its outbreak. In India National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was established in the year 2005 under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, with the PrimeMinister as its Chairperson having a mandate to lay down policies for disaster management. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, in exercise of the powers under section 6(2)(i) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, to enforce lockdown had issued an Order dated 24.03.2020, directing the Ministries/ Departments of Government of India, and the State/Union Territory Governments and State/ Union Territory Authorities to take effective measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

In compliance of the said Order of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) under the Disaster Management Act, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has issued an Order dated 24.03.2020 under Section 10(2)(l) of the Disaster Management Act, directing the Ministries/Departments of Government of India, State/Union Territory Governments and State/Union Territory Authorities to take effective measures for ensuring social distancing so as to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country.

Section 2(d) of the Disaster Management Act which was used to enforce the lockdown read as : “Disaster means a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man-made causes, or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of, property, or damage to, or degradation of, environment, and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area.” This section deals with causes such as earthquakes and tsunamis etc. and is not meant to deal with epidemics, pandemics or any kind of diseases. However, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) declared the spread of COVID-19 as a “notified disaster”, thus Section 2(d) of the Disaster Management Act comes into play.

Violation – : Any person violating lockdown rules and making false claims will be liable to be proceeded against as per the provisions of Section 51 to 60 (Offenses and Penalties) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, besides legal action under Section 188 of the IPC which provides for the punishment for disobedience to order duly promulgated by a public servant.

CURFEW- ‘Curfew’ again is not a legal term, and hence, is not defined anywhere in law. A situation when the Government imposes Section 144 of the CRPC in any state or in the entire country along with the essential services shutting down, this is when it is said that a Curfew has been implemented. By way of this order people are instructed to stay indoors for a particular period of time. It can be a public order to gain control of violent situations, or can be also be directed to a specific group. The government puts a complete restriction on traffic; also markets, schools, colleges and offices remain closed under the curfew beside few emergency services like hospitals. Banks, ATMs, Petrol pumps, grocery stores, vegetables and milk shops are all shut. Prior notice is issued whenever the curfew is lifted for few hours for people to access essential goods. Only police personnel are allowed on the streets. If one needs to leave the house during a curfew, prior approval is required from the local police.

IMPLEMENTATION: Curfew order is issued by the District Magistrate which is generally an enhancement of an order passed under Section 144. However, according to former Madras High Court Judge K Chandru, curfew is imposed by the administration using inherent executive powers vested in the state government. That is, a state government has the power to issue executive orders under any subject it is competent to make laws. In the case of curfew, this would be public order.

Violation – : Violation of curfew can lead to your immediate detention by the police under Section 188 CrPC. Further, if people endanger the health of others, other provisions of the law could be invoked; such as Section 269 of the IPC punishes those who negligently spread infection and Section 270 of the IPC will be invoked if people malignantly fail to act during an epidemic and Section 271 of the IPC will be invoked in case of disobedience to quarantine rule.




- Agrima Gupta