It is imperative to abide by just orders promulgated by Govt servants in public interest and any objection to such orders, must be through legal channels
What we often come across is the law of contempt concerning courts. It may pertain to maligning the reputation of the judiciary or for that purpose obstructing the functioning of the court. The law of contempt concerning court has now been well established and the educated section across the country mostly have a rough idea about the same if they keep themselves informed by print or electronic media, including social media.
This article aims to bring into the limelight the less known and less discussed issue, which is disobedience of orders that are duly promulgated by government authorities. We have witnessed such orders during an unprecedented time of covid pandemic. As a citizen, we are at the centre of such orders. For brevity of our understanding, I should inform you that such orders are being promulgated under various acts, one such being the Epidemic Disease Act of 1897. Under the said act, Sections 2 & 2A, give powers to the state government and central government respectively to take such decisions and pass such orders which may help contain the infectious disease.
Section 3 of the Epidemic Disease Act imposes a penalty for disobeying any order or regulation made under this act. It makes the act of disobeying or abatement punishable under section 188 of the Indian Penal Code. For instance, if we take the step of price capping by the respective state governments on the treatment of COVID-19 in private hospitals, passing an order under this act or any other act for the time being in force, they impose a duty on private hospitals not to charge above the limits fixed by government authorities.
If private hospitals are charging more than the limit imposed by the government, they are inviting prosecution u/s 188 of the Indian Penal Code i.e., Disobedience to an order duly promulgated by a public servant. Bombay High Court in the case of HLA Shwe v. State of Maharashtra peeled section 188 and mentioned its ingredients as follows - The order must be duly promulgated by a public servant authorised to do so; The order directs the accused to abstain from certain acts; Accused was aware of such order; Accused disobeyed such order and lastly, such disobeying resulted in obstruction, annoyance or injury.
This section is part of chapter X of IPC which deals with contempt of lawful authority of public servant. Prosecution under this is slightly different to that of other offences where the victim himself/herself reports the crime to police officials. Cognizance under this chapter X of IPC can only be taken under section 195 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) which requires a written complaint by a public servant concerned or of some other public servant to whom he is administratively subordinate. This means, that if a person ‘X’ is aggrieved that he has been charged more than the prescribed amount (as prescribed by the government during covid times) in a private hospital for Covid19 treatment, he cannot directly report that to the police station and ask the police to register FIR under section 188 of IPC, but he needs to report the same to the official or ministry that promulgated such order and it will be upon the written complaint of such ministry or official that an action can be brought against the private hospital under section 188 of IPC.
In India, we very well know that crimes often are not reported by individuals because of a lack of awareness which further encourages the wrongdoer, initiative should be taken by the government to check the implementation of their orders. This can be done by audits and taking the views and experiences of the intended beneficiaries of those orders. Therefore, for a peaceful society to exist, it is imperative to abide by just orders promulgated by public servants and any objection to such orders, should only have legal recourse.
(The writer is an advocate in Delhi; views are personal)