Haryana, C’garh Face Flak Over Stadium Jails for Lockdown Defiers
Stadiums are being converted into “temporary jails” in Haryana and Chandigarh for those violating lockdown orders.
The Haryana and Chandigarh governments have been criticised for their decision to set up ‘temporary jails’ for anyone who violates the current lockdown orders in place amid the coronavirus outbreak. Several Supreme Court lawyers, including Rebecca John, Sanjay Hegde and Colin Gonsalves, have deemed this move “draconian” and unempathetic towards the poor.
While Haryana is still considering converting its indoor stadiums into these ‘temporary jails’, the cricket stadium in Chandigarh’s Sector 16 and the Manimajra sports complex have already been set up as ‘prisons’ for those who defy the lockdown.
Following a meeting with the chief secretaries of Punjab, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Delhi on the issue of the exodus of migrant workers, Haryana Director General of Police issued a notification saying, "Directions are being issued by the State Home Department to declare big indoor stadiums or other similar facilities as temporary jails for people who refuse to obey the lockdown orders.”
However, speaking to The Quint, DGP (Haryana) Manoj Yadava said, “As of now, we are not setting up any temporary jail. It is just a possibility for the long run.” He added that the labourers, who have been walking long distances to reach their hometowns after being stranded following the lockdown, are being encouraged to stay in the “temporary shelters” and relief camps set up near the borders by the Haryana government.
Chandigarh’s home secretary Arun Kumar Gupta had issued the order for temporary jails on 24 March, a day after Punjab Governor-cum-Administrator of Chandigarh, VP Singh Badnore imposed an indefinite curfew in the union territory.
Gupta said, “The jails have been set up just to scare people against violating lockdown orders. And all precautionary measures are being taken so that the people who are kept in these jails can maintain hygiene and social distancing. That is why a stadium has been chosen.”
He added that the time for which any violator is kept in these ‘temporary jails’ depends on the graveness of his violations.
What Does the Law Say?
Both Chandigarh and Haryana have invoked the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 which empowers the State and the Central governments to take measures as may be necessary to control the further spread of an epidemic.
Any person who disobeys the any regulation under the 1897 Act may be charged with an offence under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code and can be punished with imprisonment of either six months or a fine of up to Rs 1,000 or both.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court last week asked states to consider release of undertrials and prisoners charged or convicted for crimes where maximum punishment is less than seven years to decongest jails amid the coronavirus pandemic.
‘Draconian’, ‘Unempathetic’: Lawyers Condemn Move
Senior advocate Rebecca John said, “I can imagine you are opening up a larger area but the terminology used “temporary jail” is horrifying.”
“I think what this unprecedented lockdown has shown is the stark inequality in our society and in our governance. No provision is made for the poor,” she added.
“People are embarking on these long journeys on foot out of desperation of the situation. And instead of understanding that, they have confounded the problem by talking about imprisoning. The inhumanity has been shown by the State and the citizens of India when we don’t understand or can’t empathise with the peculiar ramifications that something like this will have in a country with a social dynamics like India.”Rebecca John, Senior Advocate
“There is definite legal viability and precedence of specific places being designated as jails in times of crisis,” said senior Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Hegde.
When asked what he thinks of using such a law on the migrant workers who have to fend for themselves amid the lockdown, he quotes French novelist Anatole France: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets,and to steal bread.” Which is to say that while the law is applicable to all in society, it favours the rich. And with the limited options available to the poor, sometimes breaking the law is the only way to survive.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves also slammed this move saying using it on poor and hungry migrants is not only “draconian” but also “fascistic”.
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