Am I Violating Lockdown If I Go Out For Essentials? Can I Be Held?

Can police beat up people for leaving their homes during the lockdown? Here’s why they can’t, and what can be done.

Updated31 Mar 2020, 11:46 AM IST
6 min read

With coronavirus cases in India steadily increasing on a daily basis, the whole country is under a nationwide lockdown for 21 days, till the end of 14 April.

Despite the release of guidelines by the Centre about the lockdown, a lot of things aren’t entirely clear. The Quint will be trying to help you with the answers to your questions about the lockdown, from what you can or can’t do, to what you can do if the police are being overzealous.

In this set of FAQs, we explain how going out to buy essential goods isn’t a violation of the lockdown, what you should avoid doing during this time, and why the police can’t beat people up even now.

NOTE: In addition to these FAQs, you can find our summaries and the full text of the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Guidelines, including what shops will be open and what essential services will continue to function, here.

If I am going out to buy food, milk or medicines, I am not violating the lockdown, right?

Yes, you have the right to go out of your house to purchase these essential goods (except in Goa at present), unless you’re under quarantine. And if you are under quarantine, you have every right to find a way to source these essential items, and the authorities have to help you with these.

However, it is important that you check the measures instituted by your State Government and local authorities, especially those where there is a curfew in place, as this could impact when you can go out and get these.

For instance, in Punjab and Tamil Nadu, you can only go and get groceries during specified times in the morning and day, while in Goa, technically you cannot go out to secure essentials.

Does this also cover meat, chicken and fish?

Yes, the MHA guidelines clearly say shops selling these foods are also to remain open.

Could I be penalised for going out alone for a walk near my house?

There is an argument to be made that this would not violate the lockdown as you are still practising social distancing as long as you are on your own.

However, if you were not going to provide some essential service or buying some essential goods, the authorities would have grounds to ask you to go home, even if your area is not under a proper curfew.

This is because while they may not be able to say you were disobeying an order per se, they could have a complaint filed against you for obstruction of public servants in doing their duty – for which, if convicted, you could face up to 2 years of imprisonment.

You can read about the potential penalties that you could face for violation of the lockdown here.

Can I be penalised for going to my job? What if my boss insists I have to show up?

As long as what you’re doing amounts to providing an essential service, you cannot be penalised for going out to go do your job.

If you are not performing an essential service, the guidelines state you have to work from home, and your office has no choice but to accept this.

What job do I need to have to qualify as someone providing an essential service?

First off, you qualify as an essential service provider if you are working in a hospital, nursing home, clinic or pharmacy – whether you’re a doctor, nurse, sanitation worker, or administrative officer. This includes government and private hospitals, and medical centres of any size.

Then there are government workers, police, emergency services, the armed forces.

Journalists, security guards, bank staff, municipal corporation workers, emergency services, people working in IT and telecom, or in the power sector, are also considered to provide essential services.

And of course, the people who work at the shops providing essential goods (vegetables, fruits, meat, fish, milk and other food, medicines), attendants at petrol pumps, are all considered providers of essential services.

Can I travel across state borders to go visit my family?

No, you cannot travel anywhere by rail, road or air at this time. Many states had already closed their borders and refused access to travel.

If travelling by road, you may be able to manage this, if you have an ID to prove you are providing an essential service.

What about supplies of essential goods? If rail and road travel is not allowed, how will these supplies be ensured?

Transport of essential goods by Railways and by inter-state trucks are exceptions to the lockdown. There have been some problems at borders, with supplies not being allowed through, but these are a result of mix-ups and should be resolved shortly.

What the Police Can Do (Not Including Beating People Up)

Can the police throw me in jail if they claim I am violating the lockdown?

No. While there are penalties under the Disaster Management Act for violations of any orders passed by the relevant authorities – which include up to two years of jail time – these punishments can only be imposed after conviction by a court. The same goes for a penalty under Section 188 of the IPC (disobedience of a public servant).

The police could detain someone they thought was violating a specific order relating to the lockdown, like a curfew order, depending on what that order says. You need to make sure you know what orders your state government and DM have passed, as it is their instructions that really decide how the lockdown is to operate.

Regardless of the exact details, the police wouldn’t have the right to arrest you and keep you in jail for any violations of the lockdown, as all these offences are bailable – unless of course you refuse to comply with their directions and pose a threat to public order, like the godwoman in UP on the first day of the lockdown who threatened police with a sword.

They would also not be able to file an FIR against you for an offence under the Disaster Management Act on the spot, as this would require a formal complaint made through the NDMA.

I am hearing reports of police beating people up on the streets to enforce the lockdown and telling them to stay home, obstructing vendors and delivery agents. Are they allowed to do this?

Absolutely not. There are no blanket restrictions on you going out of your house to buy essential goods (except in Goa), or if you’re someone who provides essential services. In both cases, there is no violation of the lockdown.

The Delhi Police, for instance, have suspended a constable who went around damaging the vegetable carts of local vendors, after videos emerged of his illegal behaviour.

The police can ask why you’re out of your home, and depending on where you are, this could mean having to show them a curfew pass or some form of ID. But they have no right to impose a blanket lockdown, and cannot beat up all those violating the lockdown (for instance those who cooperate with their instructions), and must follow protocol to deal with them instead of violence.

Can my government issue shoot on sight orders to make people stay at home, as Andhra Chief Minister KCR just threatened?

This would be absolutely illegal. A shoot on sight order would not allow the police to ascertain whether someone was out to buy essential goods or for a medical emergency or to provide an essential service and so would not possibly be allowed.

Can I approach the courts to complain about police brutality or a shoot on sight order, or any other such draconian measures during this lockdown?

There has been no suspension of fundamental rights at this time, as would be possible in an Emergency – though even if that were to happen, Article 21 (right to life and personal liberty) cannot be suspended.

So if you experience or come to know of some illegal action, you can still approach the courts, despite the lockdown.

Many local courts are still open, as are some high courts. But even those which are physically shut, like the Delhi High Court, Bombay High Court, Karnataka High Court or the Supreme Court, are taking up urgent cases through electronic filings and video conferencing.

However, it is still not entirely clear how the mechanisms will work, especially in smaller towns and villages, and so there is an urgent need for states to provide some clarity on this.

What about social media?

An alternative option to the courts could be to post videos or photos of the police harassment on social media, and tagging the police’s official handles as well as news organisations in these posts. This can ensure the matter is escalated to superior officers who can take action against errant cops on the ground.

For example, the Delhi constable who was suspended for damaging vegetable carts was caught on camera, and after the video was widely shared, the Commissioner took action against him.

We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated.

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Published: 27 Mar 2020, 06:19 AM IST

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