Kanika Kapoor negligence issue: Legal angle

Reading time: 6-8 mintues.

In a time where  COVID-19 poses to be a serious threat to citizens, law and order measures including the 21-day lockdown and the declaration of The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 have been enforced by the central government.

Noted Bollywood Singer, Ms. Kanika Kapoor has been charged under the IPC and Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 for negligence and disobeying government orders to curb the spread of the COVID-19. The singer tested positive for the coronavirus four days after returning to the country from a trip to London. However, following a social media post by Kanika announcing that she has tested positive and that her family and she are in complete quarantine.

However, on the 24th of March, Lucknow Police came forward to state that formal FIRs have been launched against the singer before the Additional Chief District Magistrate under sections 188, 269, 120B of the Indian Penal Code. The complaint was registered by a medical officer against the singer to pursue criminal action, as, after her positive result, Ms. Kapoor attended 3 parties after flying into the country, and even hosted one. Statements have been put forth by her family, stating that Ms.Kapor had come in contact with nearly 350-400 families.

In addition to these families, Ms. Kapoor hosted a party at her home, which saw the likes of former Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje, BJP’s Lok Sabha MP Dushyant Singh. Parliamentarians Derek O Brien, Congress leader Jitin Prasada, and Uttar Pradesh Health Minister Jai Pratap Singh have also gone into quarantine after meeting the singer at an event.

Significance:

In the Indian criminal justice system, retributive punishment allows the victim to take his/her perpetrator to Court for the harm caused to them. Every offense under the Indian Penal Code presumes to be invoked when an individual intentionally/unintentionally  (in certain exceptional circumstances) does not honor the duty of care owed to individuals around them.

In this particular case, the uproar highlighted several issues: Firstly, the importance of every citizen’s duty to one another, and where the Epidemic Diseases Act is invoked, these duties are legally mandated to ensure proper containment of the coronavirus.

It is stated that  Kanika Kapoor hosted three parties in Lucknow from March 13-15 and the same was attended by three hundred people, including prominent politicians and sitting members of parliament.

This showed a blatant disregard for the mandatory guidelines laid down by the government, where patients tested positive have to quarantine themselves to undergo treatment. 

Secondly, the rate of mutation and spread of the disease cannot be met by everyone with precautions. Portions of the society, including daily wage workers, municipality cleanliness workers and those under the below poverty line cannot afford to quarantine themselves for a long period.

Thus, where the news of the FIR broke, it was seen to be a situation where the law was broken intentionally by Ms. Kapoor, endangering the lives of many undiscerning individuals. This development came as a highlight of the legal implications of breaking the duty of care we owe as citizens to one another.

The FIR lodged against the singer charges her for negligence, malignancy in spreading a deadly disease and disobedience to an order by a public servant.

Legal principles involved:

Penal punishments for disobeying the guidelines framed by the government are detailed under certain provisions of the IPC, relating to negligence and malignancy in the spread of the disease.

Under section 188 of the IPC, the offense and penalty for disobeying an order promulgated by a public servant have been laid down. The provision lays down that an individual, who is found to be disobeying any guideline issued by the requisite authority may be sentenced to imprisonment for up to six months, or with a fine. The sentencing depends on the imminent danger by the individual’s disobedient acts.

Perhaps most pertinently, this section does not regard intention as the basis of mens rea. Under the provision,  “It is not necessary that the offender should intend to produce harm, or contemplate his disobedience as likely to produce harm”.

The second set of charges that have been filed against the singer is that of Negligence and Malignance, under sections 269 and 270 of the Indian Penal Code. Under both sections, if a person is found to be found performing acts that increase the danger of spreading the disease, whether intentional or not, they may be fined and imprisoned for some time.

Section 269 relates to unlawfully or negligently doing any act which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe to be, likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life. Section 270, deals with the more intentional disobedience by individuals and has a term of imprisonment up to 2 years. Thus, what needs to be demonstrated is that there was a negligent act by an individual, establishment or government which is likely to spread infection dangerous to life and no precautions were taken by the individual.

Public reaction:

After the reportage of the news, there was a huge uproar, as many individuals had unknowingly come into contact with Ms. Kapoor.

Additionally, this was seen to be a situation where connotations of privilege and recklessness were attached to the acts performed by the singer, following the positive result of her COVID-19 test. The singer issued a statement, stating that her symptoms had surfaced much later after the airport screening procedure, however, it is seen from the police and medical officers, who initiated the complaint, that this seemed to be a willful act, even after her family was advised to quarantine themselves as well. Since the filing of the complaint, the medical officer, Mr. Sudhir Kumar Ojha, has issued several statements with regards to the singer’s acts.

Thereafter, it was seen that many MPs and celebrities who had come in contact with Ms.Kapoor have quarantined themselves, and expressed their concerns in upholding their end of the bargain in preventing the spread of the virus.

Conclusion:

The whole situation has sparked several discussions, most of them surrounding the importance of the duty of care to one another. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch and certain activists have stated that punishment and police action only deter individuals from reporting their symptoms, proving to be a much larger crisis.

Presently, the government has issued guidelines for the national lockdown, in terms of citizens’ rights and duties, and have allowed police to take legal action in case of disobedience. The case is due for hearing on the 31st of March, before the Lucknow Court, and two more FIRs have been registered, as the singer is said to have attended at least three events in Lucknow and Kanpur.

Author: Anita from SLS, Pune.

Editor: Tamanna Gupta from RGNUL, Patiala.

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