Five-Star Hotels requisitioned in UP for Doctor’s Accommodation:
Seeking to boost its efforts towards fighting the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the UP Government announced the requisitioning of five-star hotels in Lucknow city for lodging of outstation doctors and medical staff coming in to treat patients. Prominent hotels requisitioned by the authorities include Hyatt, Mariott and other leading chains.
To begin with, requisitioning is the act of temporarily taking over private property and using it for a public purpose. It is different from acquisition, which involves a permanent takeover of ownership with payment of compensation.
14-Day Notice under Requisition of Property Act – Needs to be Amended for Urgent Situations:
While the requisitioning took place at short notice, it may be pointed out that the Requisitioning of Public Property Act requires a prior fourteen-day (14) notice before any property can be requisitioned. The lawmakers failed to foresee that such advance notice would not be expedient in the case of a pandemic like COVID-19 Coronavirus, which spreads exponentially with every passing day.
The rapid spread of COVID-19 and the exponential multiplication of cases do not permit a fourteen-day leeway for authorities. Therefore the Requisition of Public Property Act needs to be amended in order to permit summary requisitioning at a 24 or 48-hour notice.
Limited Powers of Requisition under the Epidemic Diseases Act – Only Vehicles:
The Epidemic Diseases Act of 1952 only permits the State Government to requisition vehicles in case of a pandemic. Nowhere does it empower the Government to requisition immovable property for use as a quarantine centre. This represents a clear shortcoming in the law and requires the urgent passing of an ordinance to cover the gap.
The Way Forward – Issue an Ordinance:
To begin with, the President of India can issue an ordinance under Article 123 of the Constitution. This ordinance will temporarily amend the Requisitioning of Property Act and incorporate new provisions permitted quick and expedient takeover of private property at a 24 or 48-hour prior notice. The property owner can be suitably compensated in due course in accordance with the notified rental value of the property.
Similarly, State Governments too can invoke their ordinance-making power under Article 213 of the Constitution through the Governor. Such ordinances will have the effect of law and can have an immediate effect to curb the growing pandemic.
The Law must Keep Pace – And Quickly
While it is necessary to take every possible measure to curb the spread of the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative for policymakers to invoke their ordinance-making powers. This will confer quick legal ratification on urgent and expedient measures being taken by law enforcement and medical agencies.