CBRN Emergencies: How India is equipped legally
CBRN ( Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) emergencies are now
not new to Indian or world citizenary. When whole of the world is grappling with
such threats and more particularly of the kind of Biological and chemical
emergencies, then weakness of regulating laws is thwarting and painful.
Today the world is struggling to survive against Wuhan originated Corona virus.
This is not only a panademic but a biological emergency for which extraordinary
arrangements are needed. When it comes to applicable laws of land to handle such
situations, India is lagging behind to meet the requirements of such
challenges. CBRN emergencies had been recognized world wide long ago and
accordingly rules and regulations were framed by these nations unlike India
where government is still dependent on a stone age old colonial epidemic Act.
The main legal weapon the government possesses today is the Epidemic Disease Act
of 1897, a hurriedly drafted short legislation to stonewall the bubonic plague
that devastated life in Bombay in 1896, forcing people to migrate out of the
city. The Epidemic Diseases Bill was introduced in the Council of the
Governor-General of India in Calcutta (now Kolkata) for the better prevention
of the spread of dangerous epidemic diseases.
The member who introduced it, John Woodburn, recognised that the powers
mentioned in the Bill were extraordinary but necessary, especially that the
people must trust the discretion of the executive in grave and critical
Health is a state subject, central government’s role could, at best, be advisory
and coordinating in nature, since section 2 of the Act only empowers a state to
inspect people and segregate suspected patients. The only power the centre
derives from this colonial law is on inspection of any ship or vessel leaving or
arriving at any port that comes under its jurisdiction. The Act does not even
mention airports. Obviously the imagination of Aeroplane 123 years ago was not
The one page Act is mainly consists of section 2 and 2A( 2A was added in 1920 by
way of amendment). Section 2 gives power to the state to regulate and segregate
the subjects in state and for inspections of railways. Section 2A mandates
union government to inspect and regulate the movements of water vessels and
ships. The Act is silent on air traffic which has become a major source of
conveyance and transmission of biological or chemical agents thereby.
Out of total 4 sections in this Act, the only section which speaks about the
penalty is section 3. As per section 3, if any person disobeys the regulation
imposed by state shall be liable for punishment under section 188 of Indian
Penal Code 1860. This means that the epidemic Act itself does not call for any
punishment, the only punishment prescribed under section 3 is to invoke the
section 188 of Indian Penal Code. Hence ,this Act is handicap in itself when it
comes to its violation.
Moreover section 188 of IPC is not a specific provision made to deal with the
menance of epidemic or any other diseases. Section 188 comes under chapter X,
which deals with contempt of lawful authority of Public Servants.
As per section 188 of Indian Penal CodeWhoever, knowing that, by an order promulgated by a public servant lawfully
empowered to promulgate such order, he is directed to abstain from a certain
act, or to take certain order with certain property in his possession or under
his management, disobeys such direction, shall, if such disobedience causes to
tender to cause obstruction, annoyance or injury, or risk of obstruction,
annoyance of injury, to any persons lawfully employed, be punished with simple
imprisonment for a term which may extend to one month or with fine which may
extend to two hundred rupees, or with both;
and if such disobedience causes or tends to cause danger to human life, health
or safety, or causes or tends to cause a riot or affray, shall be punished with
imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or
with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both."
From the section 188 of Indian Penal Code, two things are apparent. One, this
section is very wide and broad due to which each and every kind of disobedience
of public authority is criminal in nature. It is not specifically designed to
mitigate the evil of any pandemic. Secondly, the quantum of punishment is quite
meagre, that is only one month and in case of danger to human life due to such
disobedience, then two months. Such a little punishment can't act as deterrence
for quarantine breakers who take the life of thousands of others at stake.
Now if we see the Indian Penal Code 1860 for the legal cement to seal the
leakages of legal appratus in case of CBRN emergencies, then we get sheer
disappointment. Three sections under chapter XIV of this code which may be
termed some relevant with the present scenario of biological emergency are
section 269,270 and 271.
Section 269 and 270 mandates for punishment of two months and six months
imprisonment respectively if any person negligently or malignantly spread the
infection of infectious diseases. Section 271 is about punishment to quarantine
breakers and the prescribed punishment is six months imprisonment. Moreover,
section 271 is about quarantine of water vessels and ship. The 1860 Act of Penal
Code was drafted by Lord Macaulay before 160 years.
Though much of the part of Penal Code is still very relevant in Indian scenario,
but when technologies have advanced to a great extent, then expecting every
solution from 160 years old colonial law is laughable. These laws have become
dead letter and are no more in a position to deter the violators.
Now, one recently passed bill that is Disaster Management Act 2005 (hereinafter
called DM Act), is a law on which India can boast of slightly.
The objective of DM Act is to build a safe and disaster resilient India by
developing a holistic, proactive, multi-disaster oriented and technology driven
strategy through a culture of prevention, mitigation, preparedness, and
response, National Policy on Disaster Management (NDMA, 2009) was framed by
National Disaster Management Authority and approved by the Union Cabinet on 22nd
October, 2009 under the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.
Under this Act a large numbers of authority at centre, state and district level
under chair of prime minister, chief minister and district magistrate
respectively have been made to directly deal with disasters. Penal provisions
are also made for violators. The DM Act has given the power to state to use any
resources of nation including public and private taking in its possession at the
time of natural or any man made local or national calamity. For the purpose of
its implementation, national disaster response force (NDRF) is also constituted.
By and large, DM Act is ample to cover each and every kind of disaster.
The stated object and purpose of the DM Act is to manage disasters, including
preparation of mitigation strategies, capacity-building and more. But the
problem with this Act is that it is not subject specific and hence failed to
assign the specific responsibilities to specific persons. In the popular
imagination, a disaster is usually associated with a natural calamity such as a
cyclone or an earthquake.
Even the definition of a disaster in section 2 (d) of the Disaster
Management Act states that a disaster means a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or
grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man made causes….
The definition of disaster as such does not include such out break of diseases.
To address the current epidemic outbreak, the central government has to include
the Covid-19 outbreak as Notified Disaster as a critical medical
condition or pandemic situation.
The NDRF(National disaster Response Force) is not specifically trained for CBRN
emergencies. These forces are trained for calamities which are very common in
India like floods or earthquakes. The training of such forces to deal with CBRN
emergencies is at very nascent stage.
Covid 19 is a biological emergency for
which nation is little prepared. Responsibilties are not fixed due to any
comprehensive policy or law on CBRN Emergencies. In the word of technology and
industrilisation, Corona attack is an eye opener. Much more is waiting to cause
catastrophe in field of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear
This is high time that parliament should interfere setting the political issues
aside to frame the nation policy or to pass a complete Act to deal with CBRN
emergencies. The present laws are old and insufficient to tackle with such
national emergencies. The new and comprehensive laws will remove the state of
confusion at every level in which the adminstration is presently engulfed with.
Only a few agencies of India are working on CBRN emergencies like Institute of
Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences, a lab of DRDO.
But they too are not in a position to develop any national level emergency
Management agenda due to lack of any comprehensive law on CBRN Management. I
hope, parliament of India will look towards this most important lacunae in India
legal system and will sort it out for larger benefits for its people.
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