The author of this blog is Mr. Ishaan Singla Final Year student at Campus Law Centre, Faculty of Law, Delhi University.

The phrase ‘one arm’s distance’ takes us back to our schooldays. But the year 2020 gives a whole new meaning to this phrase. Let us all rewind our lives 6 months back from where we are now. At that time, who would have thought that a deadly disease named COVID- 19, similar to one in the movie ‘Contagion’, would wreak havoc on Earth? COVID-19 stands for Corona Virus Disease 2019 which was detected for the first time in December 2019. The virus originated from Wuhan, China, and in a span of 5 months, it has aggressively spread to all the continents of the world except Antarctica.[i] The total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the world has edged towards five million and the total number of deaths in the world is about to reach the staggering mark of three and a half lacs.[ii] With no possible cure or vaccine in sight, social distancing is the only solution to COVID-19 for now, and maintaining more than one arm's distance is one of the ways of practicing social distancing.

Meaning of Social Distancing
‘Social Distancing’ means the practice of keeping a greater than usual physical distance from other people during the outbreak of a contagious disease so that it can result in the reduction of the transmission of the disease.[iii] It involves taking steps such as, standing at a distance of more than 2 feet from each other and avoiding large public gatherings. Perhaps, social distancing was implemented for the first time in the US during 1918 influenza pandemic.[iv] Social distancing limits the number of people who come in contact with the infected person. If social distancing is followed strictly, then it can significantly slow down the spread of COVID-19.[v] Besides ‘social distancing’, the term ‘quarantine’ has also been used on multiple occasions in the last three months. ‘Quarantine’ simply means isolating yourself from others.

Steps taken by the Government of India
Due to the alarming increase in the COVID-19 pandemic, the governments of all the countries have been urged by the WHO to implement community-level social distancing in their respective countries.[vi] The Hon'ble Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi figuratively drew a 'Lakshman Rekha' around our homes by imposing a nationwide lockdown for 21 days starting 24th March 2020. As of May 19, 2019, India is still under lockdown, albeit with few relaxations. A nationwide lockdown is one of the most significant steps, taken by the Government of India, which will help the people in adhering to the social distancing regime. In a matter of minutes, guidelines and notifications were issued by various departments of the government of India directing the closure of public places like malls, restaurants, movie halls, sports complexes, etc throughout the country. Guidelines were issued by the government directing the Public Sector offices and the Private Sector offices (like Multi-National Companies IT Firms, Corporate Offices, etc) to allow their officers/employees to work from home. All the educational institutions were directed to be closed until further notice. All the shops, factories, etc (except those delivering essentials items) were directed to be shut. Some other measures taken by the government to promote social distancing include shutting of airports, railway stations, metro rails, etc. The Indian public has also devised numerous techniques for practicing social distancing. For example: Nowadays, the Kirana stores, vegetable shops, ATMs, and medical stores, etc request their customers to stand at a distance of more than two meters from each other, and no more than 3 people are allowed to enter a shop at a time.

Social Distancing and the Law of India
In India, prima facie, no provision in the law deals with the term ‘social distancing’. However, various provisions allow the government of India to stop the spread of deadly diseases. For example, The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897(hereinafter referred to as ‘The Epidemics Act’) allows the state and central governments respectively to issue any notification, guidelines, etc which is pertinent to stop the spread of a contagious disease.[vii] If any person disobeys any orders or notifications issued by the government under The Epidemics Act, then he/she may be punished with imprisonment up to six months or/with fine up to one thousand rupees.[viii]The Disaster Management Act, 2005 also empowers the government to take measures such as enforcing the guidelines on social distancing to deal with the pandemic.[ix] Some people argue that a nationwide lockdown is an infraction of their fundamental rights which are guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution of India[x] but the guidelines issued under The Disaster Management Act, 2005 qualify as reasonable restrictions which are given under Article 19(5) and 19(6) of the Constitution of India.

COVID-19 is an unprecedented catastrophe that has resulted in substantial loss of both life and property in India. As per Section 2(d) of The Disaster Management Act, 2005[xi], the expression ‘disaster’ means a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or manmade causes, or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of, property, or damage to, or degradation of, environment, and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area. There is a high possibility that COVID-19 would be declared as a disaster.

In addition to this, as per section 269 of The Indian Penal Code, 1860[xii] (hereinafter referred to as ‘IPC’), if any person does any unlawful or negligent act which can lead to the spread of infectious and dangerous disease, then such a person may be punished with imprisonment for up to 6 months. A fine can also be imposed on such person. Further, Section 270 of IPC[xiii] states that if any person deliberately or intentionally does any act which can lead to the spread of an infectious and dangerous disease then such a person may be punished with imprisonment for up to two years and a fine can also be imposed on him/her. Therefore, Section 270 of IPC is a more serious version of Section 269 of IPC. Further, as per Section 271 of IPC[xiv], the disobedience of the quarantine rule is made punishable with six months of imprisonment. A fine can also be imposed in cases where the quarantine rule is disobeyed by people.

 Offenses under Sections 188, 269, and 270 of IPC are cognizable offenses which inter-alia means that the police can investigate the commission of these offenses without an order of a magistrate. An offense under Section 271 of IPC is a non-cognizable offense which inter-alia means that the police cannot investigate into the commission of this offense without an order of a magistrate. It is imperative to note that as per Section 195(1) (a) of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973[xv] (hereinafter referred to as ‘CrPC’), the court can take cognizance of the offenses under Section 188 of IPC only through Section 190(1) (a) of CrPC i.e. only through a complaint in writing by the public servant concerned and not through a police report filed under section 173(2) of CrPC. But, no such bar exists for cognizance of offenses under sections 269 and 270 of IPC.

To cut a long story short, due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 coupled with the state of global health infrastructure, the whole world including India is practicing the simple rule of one arm’s distance i.e. it is practicing the social distancing regime with full vigor. It is often said that ‘Jaan hai to jahaan hai’ which roughly translates to ‘if there’s life, only then there’s the world.’ Currently, social distancing is the only key to a long and healthy life.

[i]   What life is like on Antarctica, the only continent without a case of Coronavirus, available at: (last visited on May 19, 2020).

[ii] Worldometer, available at: (last visited on May 19, 2020).
[iii]  Merriam Webster, available at: https://www.merriam (last visited on May 19, 2020).

[iv] Public health interventions and epidemic intensity during the 1918 influenza pandemic, available at: (last visited on May 19, 2020).

[v] How to stop Coronavirus spread in India, available at: (last visited on May 19, 2020).
[vi] Considerations relating to Social Distancing Measures, available at: (last visited on May 16, 2020).
[vii] The Epidemics Act, 1897, Section 2 and Section 2A.
[viii] The Epidemics Act, 1897, Section 3 and The Indian Penal Code, Section 188.
[ix]  The Disaster Management Act 2005, Chapter V.
[x]  The Constitution of India, A.19.
[xi]  The Disaster Management Act, 2005, Section 2(d).
[xii] The Indian Penal Code, Section 269.
[xiii] The Indian Penal Code, Section 270.
[xiv] The Indian Penal Code, Section 271.
[xv] The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, Section 195.