Coronavirus outbreak: It's over to the states now, says constitutional expert

Updated: 26 March, 2020 08:02 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

Constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap breaks down how the Centre imposed the lockdown

Dr Subhash Kashyap
Dr Subhash Kashyap

Following PM Narendra Modi's announcement of a nationwide lockdown on Tuesday, Dr Subhash Kashyap, a veteran political scientist and distinguished scholar explains to mid-day readers the executive powers vested in the PM to make such decisions.

The expert in Indian Constitution and Parliamentary Affairs, in an exclusive interview to Vinod Kumar Menon, Editor, Special Investigations, mid-day, simplifies the mechanism that empowers the prime minister to take such huge steps.

What article or section empowers the PM to order a nationwide lockdown?
There is no word called 'lockdown' in the Constitution. Although Article 53 of the Constitution of India states that the President can exercise his or her powers directly or by subordinate authority, with a few exceptions. All of the executive authority vested in the President are, in practice, exercised by the Council of Ministers (CoM), and such a decision (lockdown) is usually taken after seeking the advice of the CoM headed by the Prime Minister.

Is this 'lockdown' a first-ever in post-colonial Indian History?
Yes, as far as I remember, this is the first time in the history of independent India that the nation has been put in lockdown.

Has the PM signed any document to this effect or is it just a televised address?
Normally executive powers are exercised by the Prime Minister and the President and no signature is required.

How do the poorer states of the country enforce this?
The Prime Minister has already clarified that the central government would provide all required assistance to people from poorer sections, daily wage earners etc during the lockdown period. The respective state governments must take care of its people in every possible way and the Union shall provide financial and other administrative assistance to them for execution.

Can the Centre extend this lockdown period?
Yes, there is no provision in the Constitution which states that while exercising the General Executive Powers, the time period for such a lockdown is specific. It can be extended to any number of days depending on the requirement.

What can the government do if people don't abide by it?
The government has to enforce its order in the best possible manner by using minimum force and maximum persuasion, keeping in mind the interest of public safety and life, which is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution.

In extreme cases, can the states deploy their police, or can the Centre deploy the armed forces?
If need be, the Army or Paramilitary forces can be called in. However, such a situation should never arise. It would be unfortunate to engage them for such a thing. Yes, the assistance of the armed forces can be taken if there is a shortage of manpower for ensuring that essential supplies like medicines and food grains are delivered.

What provisions can be invoked in such a case?
There is a distribution of legislative power according to the seventh schedule of the Constitution. The legislative powers of the Parliament and state legislatures have been divided into three lists here — Union List, State List and Concurrent List which can be used to invoke the directives of the government.

No. of days for which the lockdown will be enforced

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First Published: 26 March, 2020 07:32 IST

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