The irresponsible conduct of Bollywood singer Kanika Kapoor, who flew in from London, attended several events in Lucknow and Kanpur, went around socialising with several parliamentarians and ministers in the Uttar Pradesh government before being declared corona positive, is a classic example of the damage VIP culture can do in India. The UP police have booked her for a negligent and malignant act likely to spread a disease dangerous to life. Reports from Lucknow suggest when the singer was screened at Lucknow airport, a “high viral load” was detected and she was advised to quarantine herself at her home. If that is the case, her decision to attend social gatherings is highly inexcusable.
The politicians who attended the bash where Kapoor was present also need to answer this: When the prime minister, union health minister, Indian Council of Medical Research and other prominent individuals and institutions have been advising people to avoid social gatherings and practice social distancing to contain the virus, why did the former Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje, her son and MP Dushyant Singh, some UP ministers, including the state’s health minister, attend a party in the first place? And that too when a person who had returned from London recently was on the guest list? Later, it is said Dushyant attended Parliament, interacted with fellow MPs and even met President Ram Nath Kovind at the Rashtrapati Bhavan! Such conduct comes from a false sense of invincibility that many politicians carry.
Most politicians in India, barring honourable exceptions, believe they are above the law. Since they are surrounded by security personnel from the central reserve forces, the NSG or other agencies due to a real or imaginary threat to their lives, they probably believe the men in uniform will also shield them from the coronavirus. The culpability of all those who attended this party vis-a-vis endangering public safety must be examined. Mere self-quarantine is not enough. Today, Indians across professions have set a new benchmark for themselves as we fight this deadly virus, which could prove catastrophic if we were to be casual in our response. Every Indian should be proud of the work being done by our doctors, nurses and paramedical staff; officials at all airports, including security and immigration personnel; the Centre, the health ministry and top health institutions like ICMR; many states governments who have shown exceptional efficiency in dealing with the virus; and the police, the paramilitary forces and the armed forces, who have set up quality quarantine facilities for passengers arriving from other countries.
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There is a new energy, commitment and discipline across the land, largely triggered by the man who has picked up the gauntlet and is leading from the front—PM Narendra Modi. But the Kanika Kapoor incident shows that while other professionals are following the lead given by the PM, the political class has fallen behind. Apart from politicians, there are also others—including senior bureaucrats and government officials—who think they are above the law and have, as a result, jeopardised public health, in different parts of the country. For example, the conduct of a Railway official in Bengaluru who concealed the travel history of her son—who had returned from Spain and tested positive for the virus—is indeed shocking.
She used her position to put her son in a Railway guest house in order to isolate him from her family, but did not tell anyone in the guest house about her son’s condition, thus jeopardising the health of others. A railway official told the media that “she virtually hid her son to protect her family, but endangered all of us”.
Equally disgusting was the conduct of a senior bureaucrat in West Bengal, who allowed her England-returned son to disobey medical advice regarding quarantine and to travel to many locations in the state. After he was declared corona positive, there was panic in the state secretariat as the irresponsible bureaucrat was attending office. This has prompted an angry CM Mamata Banerjee to say, “Nothing can be more irresponsible than hiding the disease.
Those coming from abroad should get themselves tested”. The maintenance of law and order is within the domain of the states. So it is up to the states to apply the provisions of the Indian Penal Code against all those who have jeopardised public health. We have enough legal provisions in the country to deal with a variety of situations. But they are hardly deployed. The hesitation of state governments to use them is inexplicable. For example, Section 269 of the IPC says: “Whoever unlawfully or negligently does 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, shall be punished with imprisonment for either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both.” This is followed by Section 270, which has another, more stringent, provision.
It says: “... whoever malignantly does an 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, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”The UP police have cited these offences in the FIR against Kapoor, as also Section 188 of the IPC dealing with disobedience of an order duly promulgated by a public servant when such disobedience causes or tends to cause danger to life, health or safety. If the government is serious about containing this epidemic, it must come down heavily on all those who are flaunting their VIP status and jeopardising the health of millions of Indians. This will ensure full compliance of quarantine regulations among the people.
A SURYA PRAKASH
Vice-Chairman, Executive Council, Nehru Memorial Museum & Library