Law regarding inter-state borders

Reading time: 8-10 minutes.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Prime Minister ordered a nation-wide lockdown to protect the people and to facilitate ‘social distancing’. COVID-19 is a special strain of the corona virus that can only be prevented by maintaining ‘no-contact’ amidst humans. With 90% of the country in lockdown, the number of cases has been growing in India at an increasing rate. As of May 1, the number of cases in India rose to 46,663. The increasing rate of cases has caused state governments to formulate and issue orders and take measures to curb the spread of this virus. 

The Chief Minister of Haryana – Manohar Lal, issued a ‘tough decision’ for sealing its Gurugram border with Delhi to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Gurugram district administration issued an order on May 1 to ban all cross border movements from Delhi to Gurugram with the few exceptions of ambulance and central government officials. The district magistrates of Jhajjar, Sonipat and Faridabad that were facing the same problems of curbing the spread of the virus, also followed suite and imposed restrictions on cross-border movement. This border seal can be termed as a ‘necessary evil’, causing widespread hardship for people who have their workplaces in Delhi. Citizens having to commute to Delhi have been asked to make their living arrangements in Delhi as the border seal will not allow any commuting. At least 48% of the COVID-19 cases detected in Gurugram and other neighbouring cities have been found in the districts attached to the Delhi border. These statistics have caused the Government of Haryana to take drastic measures to prevent such spread. There will be restrictions on the traffic movement as well as the movement of people across the borders. 

Anyone allowed to move across the borders must undertake a three step test in order to cross such borders. Firsty, the Arogya Setu app must be installed and used by the people crossing borders. Secondly, thermal scanning and symptomatic screening will be done of these people and thirdly, rapid testing of symptoms shall also be conducted. This has been designed so as to contain the spread of Coronavirus. There are over 57 cases of COVID-19 in Gurugram, 300 in Haryana and 3 deaths reported till now.

Significance of the decision

The number of cases in India have been increasing at an alarming rate. The death toll due to this pandemic has risen to 1,568 while the total numbers of infections jumped to 46,433, including the 12,726 people who have been treated and recovered so far. During the first lockdown period, the number of cases in India till date of 17th April were around 27,000 in number. In just two weeks, there has been an increase of 16,000 new cases.

The decision to seal the border has caused serious hardships for people who have to travel to Delhi for essential services such as doctors, IT workers, distributors etc.  40 % of health care workers living in Gurugram have to commute to work to Delhi. This is toppled with the lack of accommodation and travelling facilities. Many passes issued for inter-state travel have been declined by the police officials as per the state rules. This border seal has been a big trouble in the lives of many people who have to rely on daily work for earning their livelihood. Like many rules by the government, this has caused problems and tension in the lives of several people.

However, the state government has to take many difficult decisions to protect its population against the spread of this deadly virus.  Inter-state laws are made to protect the interest of one state. Such laws are for protection of citizens of Haryana against the spread of Corona Virus. Delhi is one of the cities having the most number of cases in the country. In the last 24 hours alone, the number of cases were reported to have been more than 350. This poses a threat for cities like Gurugram, where there is a constant inter-state travel for numerous purposes.

Haryana’s Minister Anil Vij said that if all the borders of the state were sealed for 15 to 20 days, the Covid-19 situation may become manageable. This is one of the most important decisions taken by the Gurugram government as regards Covid-19, in light of the spike of cases at the Gurugram-Delhi border. 

One of the most significant reasons for this decision is the safety of the people in the state of Haryana against the increasing cases in the capital region and the problems of migrant labour formed in Delhi. The onus behind this decision was to seal the state against the increasing cases in Delhi.

Legal basis of the move

Sealing borders within the state limits was carried out in order to protect the masses from the spread of COVID-19. The power to do so has been embedded in our Indian Constitution. Article 21 of the Indian Constitution embodies the right to protect the life and integrity of the citizens of the country. This goes hand-in-hand with the duty of the government to protect such rights. This also includes the state government duties to protect the life of such citizens. Certain laws allow the government to impose restrictions during such health crises, such as-

  • The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020– This ordinance is a further amendment of the Epidemic Act of 1897 which provides for the prevention of spread of epidemic diseases.  This act gives the power to central and state governments to form rules in order to protect the citizens in the wake of epidemic diseases.  This act has a vague language and can accommodate for rules made by the state government in order to protect the masses.  The Act specifies that the central government may regulate: “(i) the inspection of any ship or vessel leaving or arriving at any port, and (ii) the detention of any person intending to travel from the port, during an outbreak”.  The present Ordinance expands the powers of the central government to regulate the inspection of any bus, train, goods vehicle, ship, vessel, or aircraft leaving or arriving at any land port, port or air.  Further, the central government may regulate the detention of any person intending to travel by these means. Under this Act, the state governments have the power to issue guidelines to prevent the spread of epidemic diseases.
  • Inter-State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 – This act is for the regulation of inter-state migrant workmen and the conditions of their services etc. This law was enacted to regulate the migrant workers that travel inter-state for work. This act was to protect the workers whose services are requisitioned outside their native state in India.
  • Disaster Management Act, 2005 – This act was promulgated for guidelines and rules for disaster management by the central government. Any violation of this act in the inter-border seal shall invite criminal proceedings under the relevant provisions of the Act and the Indian Penal Code.

Probable move forward

There are four stages of transmission of epidemic diseases – the first is patient, then the local transmission, then the community transmission and then the fourth stage, where there is an outbreak of the virus. While other countries are showing a gradual decrease in the rising cases, India’s cases seem to be increasing at a slow but steady rate. Every 11 days since the start of the lockdown period, the number of cases doubles. On 5th May, the country experienced the highest spark in the number of cases.  The following days are crucial for the country as we are heading towards the third stage of transmission, that is, community outbreak.

Despite the hardships faced by many people in the border, this decision was still necessary for the government in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 cases. Delhi accounts for about 10% of the total number of cases in the country. This decision, albeit challenging for the people, is nonetheless for their own betterment.  However, the state government must also not neglect other incidental problems, for example, the encumbrance caused to the smooth flow of essential goods and services. The state government should take into account the economic fallout that will go hand in hand with the sealing of inter-state borders. Services such as that of medical professionals and other essentials must be run smoothly by the government and the authorities.

There is a strict need to carry out the three step checking and testing of COVID-19 cases at the borders. It is important to ensure the no person infected with the virus escapes and enters the state and the detection of such cases must be as prompt as possible.

Conclusion

Corona Virus has affected the lives of every single person at a drastic level. The true spread of the novel coronavirus can only be determined in the coming days, and such inter-state border seals are becoming more and more important in the wake. The same border-sealing activity has been followed by Kerala, where it has proved successful in reducing the number of cases.

It is necessary to ensure that the virus is curbed and the people are kept safe. Therefore, the responsibilities lie on the state governments to protect their territories by means of such orders.

Author: Tanmay Sinha from Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad.

Editor: Avani Laad from Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

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