The coronavirus pandemic has created a state of crisis around the world. Bangladesh, with its limited resources, is at high risk of becoming one of the worst affected countries. The situation is being worsened by the activities of a certain group of people in Bangladesh: some are spreading rumours and/or incorrect information of the novel coronavirus while others are obstructing public servants from performing their duties by refusing to remain in quarantine despite being ordered to. The crisis has created panic amongst people prompting them to buy more essentials than required to meet their present needs. As a result, the market is experiencing a shortage in supplies. This situation can become far worse if businesses start abusing consumers by overpricing products or selling fake products. Spreading rumours and/or incorrect information, refusing orders of public servants, and abusing consumers are all unlawful and are capable of attracting severe penalty.
SPREADING FALSE INFORMATION AND/OR RUMOURS: The social media is full of information on the novel coronavirus. There is no guarantee on the authenticity of such information: it is possible that some of the information is false while others are mere rumours. People should therefore exercise utmost caution when sharing or spreading any news. This is because publishing or circulating any statement, rumour or report which is or can potentially be prejudicial to the interests of public order or maintenance of essential supplies and services is a penal offence under section 505A of the Penal Code 1860 (Penal Code). Spreading rumours and/or false information is capable of disrupting public peace and can therefore be prejudicial to public order. Furthermore, the spread of false news and/or rumours is also obstructing the maintenance of supplies and services of essentials as some people are overstocking essentials which is creating a deficit while those who are responsible for maintaining the supplies and services of essentials are refusing to carry out their obligation as they are fearful of being infected with the COVID-19. An offence under section 505A of the Penal Code is punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 7 (seven) years, or with fine, or with both.
Furthermore, if false or incorrect information is being spread or given by any person who is aware of the correct information, he or she can potentially be found guilty under section 26 of Infectious Diseases (Prevention, Control and Elimination) Act 2018 (IDA 2018). In such a case, such a person can be penalised with a maximum imprisonment of 2 (two) months or with fine up to TK 25,000 (twenty-five thousand) or both.
NOT REMAINING IN QUARANTINE: Most of the expats who have returned to Bangladesh and those who are exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus have been asked to remain in quarantine by the authorised government officials. However, they are not following such directions and are also causing obstructions to the discharge of duties by such government officials. Such acts are capable of being punished with maximum imprisonment of 3 (three) months or maximum fine of TK 50,000 (fifty thousand) or both under section 25 of IDA 2018. Obstructing public servants from executing their duties is also an offence under section 186 of the Penal Code and can attract maximum imprisonment of 3 (three) months or fine of TK 5,00 (five hundred) or both.
Additionally, since they are not remaining in quarantine despite being repeatedly asked to, they are exposing others to the risk of being infected by the COVID-19. Such a negligent act is a penal offence under section 269 of the Penal Code and can result in imprisonment up to 6 (six) months or fine or both. If they are found to be refusing to remain in quarantine malignantly, they will be committing a graver form of penal offence under section 270 of the Penal Code which is punishable with imprisonment that may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
ABUSING CONSUMERS: The pandemic has clearly increased the demand for essentials and medicinal products, especially hand sanitisers and masks. This can tempt business to take advantage of consumers by charging high prices for such products. If they charge prices higher than that stipulated by an Act or Rule, they will be committing an offence under section 40 of the Consumer Rights Protection Act 2009 (CRPA 2009) and can be punished with imprisonment for maximum 1 (one) year, or with a maximum fine of TK 50,000 (fifty thousand) or with both. Furthermore, if businesses manufacture fake goods in order to meet the increasing demand, they will be committing an offence under section 50 of CRPA 2009 and can be punished with imprisonment for maximum 3 (three) years or with a maximum fine of TK 2,00,000 (two lakh) or both.
Businesses should also be cautious about the date of expiry and quality of the products they sell. If they sell or offer to sell any expired goods or medicine, they can be imprisoned for maximum 1 (one) year, or can be imposed with a maximum fine of TK 50,000 (fifty thousand), or with both (section 51 of CRPA 2009). Furthermore, if they sell or offer to sell any adulterated drug or medical preparation, they will be committing a penal offence under section 275 of the Penal Code. In such a case, they will be penalised with imprisonment for maximum 6 (six) months, or with fine which may extend to 1(one) thousand taka, or with both.
The coronavirus has already made things very difficult for the country. If the pandemic lasts for a substantial period of time, the economy will go into recession. During such difficult times, we should be careful not to make things more difficult than they already are and must ensure compliance with the prevailing laws.
Mohammad Taqi Yasir, a practising Barrister-at-law, currently works for StellarChambers as an Associate. firstname.lastname@example.org
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