Restricting the movement

The pan Indian lockdown imposed by the central government was extended for 19 more days. As India joins a long list of nations where strict lockdowns in response to the spread of Corona virus have become the new normal, there also does exist a list of nations wherein lock-down has not been effectively implemented and remains within the status of a mere advisory. Nonetheless, such nations are also bearing the brunt of heavy losses by virtue of unprecedented deaths. In U.S alone the virus claimed more than 26,000 human lives, the highest so far as compared to any other nation. The reasons for the reluctance of U.S in imposing a stricter and harsh lockdown stemmed out of economic concerns. Already being termed as “Pandemic Paradox”, it requires nations to choose between health of citizens and health of national economy with an equal risk of losing both in future, despite choosing one.

Keeping in view the financial concerns of a developing nation and with an aim to ensure the continuance of supply chain throughout the country, the lockdown announced on 23rd of March, 2020 by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India came with certain exceptions. The commercial activities were also exempted in order to ensure that the shops which included dealing with food, groceries, fruits and vegetables, diary and milk booths, meat and fish, animal fodder could remain open and available for human consumption. In line with afore-mentioned directions, the district administration of Srinagar had already issued an order on 22nd of March, 2020, which directed a complete shutdown of all establishments within the territories of Srinagar District and granted exceptions to all such establishments which dealt with the supply of essential commodities as elaborated above. The exceptions were needed for the proper functioning of human society as Srinagar being the most urbanized area in Kashmir division lacks space for cattle rearing and organic harvesting. The organic consumables for the residents of Srinagar flow in from the adjacent rural areas and therefore, it became imperative that the movement within the city should not be halted and therefore the transportation was also exempted.

The core-concept was to keep the movement of non-essential nature at bay or in worst cases curtailed, which the district administration of Srinagar failed to understand. In a total volte-face, the order issued on 22nd of March, 2020 was “partially modified” through another dated 23rd of March, 2020 as within a single day, the security agencies and executive magistrates provided vital feedback to the administration whereby the exemption provided to movement of essential services including the supply of groceries, fresh fruits and vegetables was withdrawn. As administrations in each district swung into action, a trial of incidents began to flood the media wherein “sealing of shops” was done under the provisions of Section 144 of CrPC by the authorities. Notwithstanding the official intentions or the administrative weight behind the sealing of shops, the move complicated and aggravated the problem of shortage and hoarding of essential commodities which is a common feature in such crisis. The shopkeepers converted the otherwise exempted act of opening shops dealing with essential commodities into an act of bravado and thereby, over-pricing.

As the number of positive cases began to swell, the number of sealed shops also began to increase and the edible commodities kept within these shops (which are of sizeable quantity) were effectively made unavailable to the general masses further deepening the crisis. Absence of redressal mechanism has added to the miseries of affected shop keepers; as the courts remain closed an ever increasing quantity of litigants in the shape of these shopkeepers are facing tough time to avail legal remedies to de-seal their commercial establishments, a constitutional right otherwise guaranteed to them.

Even though various news-reports indicate that the authorities wielded the powers conferred under Section 144 of CrPC to seal the commercial premises during crisis, a cursory look to the language of section and judgments of various courts reveal that the action of sealing premises under the garb of Section144 is illegal as it snatches away the freedom of trade and commerce enshrined under the Constitution of India.

The measures taken by administration to contain movement in declared Red Zones which included the establishment of roadblocks ended up in the construction of steel-concrete barricades erected after digging the already dilapidated roads. In comparison to other states, where temporary barricades were erected with a hope of removing them in near future, the administration here clearly sent contrary signals which drew the ire of public. The use of ICT (Information Communication Technology), which almost features in every government initiatives since the advent of Digital India program, has been reduced to the stature of Arogya Setu, an app which after acquiring data based on the unverified user input indicates the likelihood of being infected with Covid-19. In comparison, South Korea after collecting reliable data from various sources (data-mining) created “Virtual Red Zones” whereby a citizen receives notification on smart phone from authorities in case the user has crossed over into an actual “Red Zone”. In case the person persists into the journey, the same smart phone acts as an indicator of a suspect case and in no time testing follows. No wonder that South Korea has been among the few countries which have been able to flatten the curve of positive Covid-19 cases.