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Disaster Management Act: Centre invokes law to put onus of enforcing lockdown on district officials – Why it matters

FE Online
·3-min read

Amid the continued exodus of migrants on the sixth day of the 21-day nationwide lockdown, the Centre has used the Disaster Management Act to put the onus on local administration to check movement of workers and daily labourers. The district magistrates (DMs) and senior superintendents of police (SSPs) have been directed to discourage workers from moving from one place to another. As per the Centre’s directives, it is the district administration and its officials who will be directly responsible to seal the state and district borders and also make arrangements for those stranded on the roads.

This comes after thousands of migrant workers reached Anand Vihar ISBT, Ghazipur border and Lal Kuan in Ghaziabad in a bid to catch buses for native villages in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The exodus started following a complete lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday night to check the spread of coronavirus cases. This halted all economic activities in the country, forcing migrant workers from various cities to leave for their homes.

The latest move is seen as another measure by the government to discourage people from travelling and also putting the onus on states to arrest the movement of people on roads. Although road and rail traffic have been suspended completely, many from Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab left for their villages on foot.

Disaster Management Act, 2005

The Disaster Management Act, 2005 provides for "the effective management of disasters and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto."

It allows certain financial freedom to tackle the growing epidemic. By invoking this act, the government has now access to the National Disaster Response Fund to deal with the current crisis that has infected over 1000 in the country and claimed 29 lives. The government can now divert the NDRF funds to enhance medical facilities and research to contain the immediate concern over COVID-19.

The act gives the central, state, and district authorities sweeping powers to deal with a crisis. When the law was enacted in 2005, it was criticised for marginalizing NGOs, elected local representatives, local communities and civic group as it fostered a hierarchical, bureaucratic, command and control.

Crucially, the Act provides for civil and criminal liabilities for those violating its provisions.

While the Prime Minister’s call for a 21-day lockdown found unequivocal support, the mass exodus that was triggered following the announcement has drawn flak for the central government over its lack of planning. The scenes witnessed on the border of Delhi and neighbouring Uttar Pradesh left many wondering if the Centre and state governments — many of whom had announced lockdowns before the PM’s announcement — did not anticipate the impact. Questions were also raised over the lack of coordination between the state government as well as with the Centre.

By putting the onus of arresting the mass movement on roads, which poses a serious threat to the nation’s fight against coronavirus, the Centre has tried to ensure that there is uniformity in action and the line of command is clear. This becomes even more crucial with the central government asking states to make sure that the people on roads are asked to stay where they are and ample arrangements are made for food and shelter for those in need.