Every civilised country recognises the people’s right to defend themselves and their property against hostile attacks. The Indian law also acknowledges that the people have a right to civil defence. To provide a statutory basis for this universal right, the Parliament of India enacted the Civil Defence Act in 1968.
The Civil Defence Act was enacted after the 1962 Chinese invasion. The Act’s primary purpose is to minimise the loss of lives and ensure swift restoration of civil services during any enemy attack. The Act envisages that civil service practices should be adopted in the areas that are most vulnerable to enemy attacks.
This Act provides for the constitution of the Civil Defense Corps and specifies the role of the civil defence volunteers. There are some countries, such as South Korea, in which military service is mandatory. However, in India, military service as well registering for the Civil Defence Corps are both voluntary.
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Civil Defence Act
The Civil defence Act 1968 was enacted to define the statutory limits of permissible civil defence activities. This Act establishes the scope of civil defence and explains the measures and actions that any person is lawfully permitted to apply to protect his life and property from any attack.
The Act defines civil defence as an act that does not amount to direct combat but protects the life and property of any person from an external attack. The measures of self defence may be taken before, during or after the attack.
Power to Make Rules
Under Section 3 of the Act, the Central Government is entrusted with the power to make rules relating to the following matters:
- Instructions to be provided to the general public regarding the right of self-defence
- Equipment and other materials that can be stored or maintained by the public for civil defence
- Regulating the use of lights and sound
- Prohibiting the use of dangerous materials such as explosives, vessels, corrosives, etc.
Civil Defence Corps
Chapter III of the Act stipulates the setting up a Civil Defence Corps headed by an officer, within the rank of District Magistrate. The officer heading the Corps is known as the Controller. The State Government would appoint a Director to answer the various controllers.
The State Government will appoint the members of the Civil defence Corps and will be responsible for carrying out such functions of civil defence as are entrusted to them by the government.
If any member of the Corps does not discharge his duties properly, then the Controller will hold an enquiry against the member and might dismiss the member after providing him an opportunity to be heard.
Moreover, if the Controller feels that no member should continue to be a part of the Defence Corps, then he may summarily dismiss the member. No reasons are required in case of summary dismissal. Thus, the Controller enjoys extensive discretion when it comes to dismissing members of the Defence Corps.
Eligibility of Civil Defence Corps
As per the Civil Defence Regulation of 1968, both men and women are eligible to be appointed as members of the Civil Defence Corps. The following qualifications are required to become a members of the Civil Defence Corps:
- The applicant should be a citizen of India or a subject of Bhutan or Nepal
- The applicant should be at least 18 years of age
- The applicant should have passed the primary standard, that is, fourth class. However, this requirement can be relaxed by the Controller if he deems the relaxation to be desirable.
- The applicant must be physically fit and mentally alert.
Service experience in the Union Armed Forces or the National Volunteer Force is considered an additional qualification.
The members of the Corps are appointed for a term of 3 years. However, their tenure can be extended by a term of 3 years. The members of the Corps also receive a certificate for their contribution.
Anand v. Government of NCT of Delhi
In Anand v. Government of NCT of Delhi (2023), the Commissioner had passed an order stipulating that a person must be a resident of Delhi to be eligible for being appointed as a civil defence volunteer in Delhi. This was challenged because of being violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.
The defendants pleaded that the duties of the defence corps include protecting life and property against hostile attacks and emergency tasks. They act as the first responders during a crisis, and thus, it is desired that they should be the residents of the local area.
The Court observed that the primary purpose of constituting a Civil Defence Corps is to provide immediate relief during unseen emergencies. The Court found that if the civil defence volunteer is a resident of the locality, he would be in a better position to act as the first responder during a crisis. The residents of the local areas would be in a better position to respond upon being called upon by the District Magistrate.
The local residents are aware of the area’s geographical features, the nature of logistics available and the local needs of the people. The order of the Magistrate had not put a bar on people of other states from registering as civil defence volunteers in Delhi. People from other states resided in Delhi, they could also become a member of the Civil Defence Corps. The mere requirement was that they should reside in Delhi.
Role of Civil Defence
The role of Civil Defence is crucial in national defence. The government’s policy, as outlined in the Civil Defence Act, emphasises the importance of remaining vigilant and prepared for emergencies even during times of peace. Members of the Civil Defence Corps are tasked with providing immediate assistance to people in crisis situations. Civil Defence not only protects lives and property but also boosts public morale. In times of emergency, these services help mobilise citizens and support civil administration. Civil Defence volunteers are also involved in various nation-building tasks, including social welfare activities like disaster relief operations.
Central Financial Assistance
The various states must incur heavy expenditure on civil defence activities such as purchasing equipment, training members of civil defence services, etc. However, the financial resources of the states could be improved. Thus, to ease the pressure on the states’ finances, the Central Government reimburses 50 per cent of the expenditure incurred by the states in civil defence-related endeavours.
In conclusion, while the Civil Defence Act plays a crucial role in establishing the right to civil defence, it is important to address an inherent issue. The Act currently treats measures taken during disasters and those for self-protection during times of war, aggression, and internal disturbance on equal footing. However, there should be a clear distinction between these two types of emergencies, which can be achieved through a thoughtful amendment to the Civil Defence Act.
In times of hostile attacks, volunteers play a paramount role, underscoring the Act’s purpose of enrolling and mobilising civil defence volunteers. The Act mandates that the government implement specific measures to safeguard the public interest and ensure the safety of citizens during such adversities.
FAQs on Civil Defence Act
On which date did the Civil Defence Act become enforceable?
The Civil Defence Act became enforceable on July 10, 1968.
Civil Defence comes under which ministry?
At the Central level, Civil Defence comes within the Ministry of Home Affairs domain; at the State level, the Home Department looks after civil defence activities.
Which provision of the Civil Defence Act empowers the Central Government to enact rules relating to Civil defence?
Section 3 of the Civil Defence Act of 1968 empowers the Central Government to frame rules. The government enacted the Civil Defence Regulations 1968 to exercise this power.
Members of which services are usually ineligible to be appointed as members of the Civil Defence Corps?
As per Rule 5 of the Civil Defence Regulations, 1968, the members of the police services, Armed Forces of the Union and Fire Services are usually considered to be ineligible for appointment as members of the Civil Defence Corps.