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In March end, authorities in Panchkula invoked an otherwise redundant British-era law, titled the “Punjab Village and Small Towns Act”, to curtail people’s movement during the lockdown.

What is the law?

The law was first enacted in 1918 in erstwhile Punjab to make provisions for nightly patrol duty by inhabitants of small villages and towns in cases of emergency.

  • Under this Act, if the Deputy Commissioner of a district in Punjab or Haryana is of the opinion that in a village, special measures need to be taken to secure public safety, he has the power to make an order requiring all “able-bodied adult male inhabitants” to patrol the village.
  • The time period of the applicability of the order is up to the Deputy Commissioner and the maximum time period is up to one year.
  • The Deputy Commissioner shall have power to alter the number of persons required for patrol duty and the method of their selection, and shall inform the village panchayat of his decision

Relevance now

Now, the Deputy Commissioner of Panchkula has passed such an order under section 3 of this Act and has declared that all able-bodied male inhabitants of the villages be liable to be on patrol duty both during the day and night.

  • The aim of the patrol in the present case is to keep a watch on people entering villages without a valid pass and to make sure villagers follow social distancing norms.
  • Those who are not following the provisions will be liable under sections 9 and 11 of the Act, which means they may have to pay a fine imposed by the village panchayat or a fine imposed by the deputy commissioner, not exceeding Rs 100.
May 2024