Author: Jayapriya Natraj
Research Coordinator, GCTC
Areas of interest: Human rights, law, and litigation
The entire world was in solidarity with the health welfare maxim, “Salus Populi suprema lex esto” which means the health welfare and safety of the people shall be the supreme law, written by Marcus Tullius Cicero  at the verge of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rapid spread of the deadly virus compelled countries throughout the world to implement strict lockdowns. The right to health, welfare, and safety of the people were at the top of the priority list than any other basic Human Rights recognized by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). India was among the countries that imposed a lockdown to protect its citizens from increased death rates due to the pandemic. India went a step ahead and imposed rigid punishments on the violators of the lockdown rules through implementing National Security laws. Many State Governments of India have stumbled with the invocation of the national security laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, and the National Security Act, 1980 upon the citizens themselves.
What are the National security laws meant for?
As per layman and the judicial perspectives, the main objective of the national security laws is to prevent the activities considered to be against the Indian Government and to maintain public order. The person alleged to be a suspect under the prescribed laws can be detained in the police custody for investigation as long as ninety days without trial under preventive detention. This strongly emphasizes the primary agenda of the national security laws is to curb activities threatening the sovereignty and public tranquility of the State. Additionally, the detenu may not be provided with the reason for the detention until five days, and obtaining bail is tedious under the national security laws & . Therefore, it is explicitly revealed that such laws are meant to combat terrorism by preventing unlawful provocation of riots and hatred against the Government. But such provisions of the National Security laws are inconsistent with the human rights and fundamental rights under the Constitution of India, 1950 which is a separate debatable topic.
A well-aware notion that India is the democratic welfare state which is depicted in the form of Fundamental Rights, no one has the authority to violate such rights unless in an exceptional circumstance. As India was undergoing an emergency to turn down the spread of the deadly virus COVID-19, the health and safety of the people were at the utmost point of consideration. However, this cannot be regarded as a valid reason to invoke national security laws on righteous citizens. The vulnerability to violence and disobedience of ordinary people is high due to their mental health crisis caused by unemployment and under-employment, and the restrictions on their social life and freedom of movement during the Pandemic. Increased anxiety levels led them to violate the lockdown rules which cannot be considered terrorism or treason. The maintenance of the tranquility and law and order, during the ongoing crisis, shall be achieved by other Acts such as the Epidemic Disease Act, 1987 and Disaster Management Act, 2005 &  which has provisions for better enforcement of the lockdown rules than the National Security laws, when the righteous citizens are not terrorists.“A bad law is defined by its inability to do the job it was enacted to and the injustice it doles out to the possibly innocent” is the apt outlook stated by Economic Times. Therefore, in a democratic country like India, the National Security laws are being substantially misconceived and misused, on the genuine citizen, at the purview of the pandemic.
- Marcus Tullius Cicero, “De Legibus : Laws: Book III: Chapter III,” Loeb Classical Library, 2007, https://www.loebclassics.com/view/marcus_tullius_cicero-de_legibus/1928/pb_LCL213.467.xml.
- United Nations, U. N. (1948). Universal Declaration of Human Rights. United Nations. https://www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights
- Central Act, A. (1980). Section 3 & 8 of National Security Act, 1980. India Code. https://www.indiacode.nic.in/show-data?actid=AC_CEN_5_23_00019_198065_1517807325254§ionId=21642§ionno=8&orderno=9
- Central Acts, A. (1967). Section 43D of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. India Code. https://www.indiacode.nic.in/show-data?actid=AC_CEN_5_23_00001_196737_1517807318055§ionId=27710§ionno=43D&orderno=54
- ResponsiveWebInc, R. (2020, September 30). Bare Acts Live. Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. http://www.bareactslive.com/ACA/ACT1511.HTM
- Advocatekhoj.com, advocate. (2005). Disaster Management Act, 2005: Bare Acts: Law Library. AdvocateKhoj. https://www.advocatekhoj.com/library/bareacts/disastermanagement/index.php?Title=Disaster+Management+Act%2C+2005
- editorial, E. T. E. (2021). The process cannot be the punishment. The Economic Times. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opinion/et-editorial/the-process-cannot-be-the-punishment/articleshow/84181363.cms