Indian Constitution and the emergency law during COVID-19 crisis

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The novel Coronavirus has made its way into hundreds of districts in India, bringing the country to a complete lockdown. For the last one month, almost all social, economic, and educational activities are on halt in India. There are discussions in the political sphere about a possible health emergency if the crisis takes the wrong turn, which seems non-viable to some extent. Thus, it becomes important to discuss the constitutional perspective of an emergency in India.

A historical outlook

Although Indians normally associate ‘emergency’ with the 1975–77 national emergency declared by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and proclaimed by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, there have been several other instances when the country had been under emergency. During the 1962 Indo-China war, when “the security of the country” was declared as being “threatened by external aggression”, India had its first experience of emergency. Similar affair was in practice during the 1971 Indo-Pak war.

Article 352

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Article 352

“After the 44th amendment act, 1978, national emergency can only be declared in war-like situations or external aggression and on grounds of armed rebellion. Internal disturbances, the basis of 1975 national emergency, ceased to exist after the amendments,” said a constitutional law lecturer at Bharati Vidyapeeth (Deemed to be University), New Law College, Pune.

The President of India has the authority to declare an emergency only after a formal request by the cabinet in writing. Additionally, Article 352(6) states that extending an emergency requires a two-third majority in either houses of the parliament.

State Emergency and Article 356

Furthermore, there is a provision of state emergency, also called president rule in the Constitution of India under Article 356. If the President feels that a state is unable to be governed under current situation, he or she can declare an emergency in the state. This happens mostly during an uncertain election outcome. The state falls directly under the governor’s administration in the name of the President. Till now, all states but Telangana and Chhattisgarh, have been under president’s rule at some point or the other.

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