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Before Covid, I was working in Chennai, India. I had a broadband internet connection and used a router provided by my ISP. Due to the lockdown, I had to move to my parents home in West Bengal, India (~1,660km/1,000m away). Since I have not renewed my internet connection in Chennai, the ISP has disconnected my internet connection and is demanding I return the router immediately.

My home in Chennai is currently locked, so the only way to return the router is for me to travel back to Chennai, get my router, then return it to the ISP. It is not advised to travel during this lockdown so I cannot do anything. Also, I would need to stay under quarantine for at least 7 days if traveling to another state.

Today I got a mail from my ISP threatening to take legal action against me if I do not return the router.

Given that travel is prohibited due to the COVID-19 lockdown, can the company still take action against me for not returning the router? Is there any legal relaxation for people during this lockdown period? Can anyone suggest link/article where I can find out more about it?

Here's what the company's email says:

By withholding the possession of the aforesaid assets of the company, you have exposed yourself to the legal provisions under the Indian Penal Code,1860, as amended, related to Section 406 - criminal breach of trust, Section 403 - misappropriation of property and other relevant provisions including Section 420 read with Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, as amended, entailing dire legal consequences including imprisonment.

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    Is it not possible to send the router back via mail? – Ron Beyer Jul 30 at 14:09
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    Not if it is supposed to arrive there. – user6726 Jul 30 at 15:06
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    @RonBeyer As I red this, the router is in the OP's apartment in Chennai, while the OP is staying with his parents, 1,000 miles away in West Bengal. – Just a guy Jul 30 at 17:59
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    Which invites an even simpler solution, a trusted agent to do the job. – user6726 Jul 30 at 19:04
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Unless there is a force majeure clause in your contract that excuses you from returning the router in extraordinary circumstances, you are legally required to return the router, or in general, perform your obligations in the contract. Governments can issue emergency orders suspending certain obligations, which might delay an eviction, but if the government (federal or Tamil Nadu) hasn't issued a relevant decree – and they haven't as far as I can determine – the company is correct about your obligation. However, it may be possible to fulfill your legal obligation through a local courier service.

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No

... but you probably have to pay damages.

Unless there is a clause in your contract that relieves you of your obligation to return the router and you are required to do so by a given date, then if you don’t do that, you are in breach and your ISP can claim damages until you do.

They would have to demonstrate the actual damage the suffered by not having this particular router, for example, by pointing to the particular prospective customer they couldn’t accept because they didn’t have it or by producing evidence of the price they paid for a replacement router.

Of course, if no time is given, then you are required to return it in a reasonable time. That is, reasonable in the present circumstances. Given that you chose to cancel the contract knowing you were unable to return the router, this probably doesn’t help you.

However, it seems extremely unlikely that you have done anything criminal and the threat of criminal sanctions is, to use the legal term, bull shit. This is a purely civil matter and the police will almost certainly decline to become involved.

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As 6726 says, you might be ok if you have a force majeur (or other) clause in your contract, or if the government has issued an emergency order. In addition, you might also be able to use the legal doctrines of impossibility or its cousin,impracticality.

As their names suggest, these doctrines excuse parties from performing their contractual obligations when doing so is literally impossible or very expensive or unexpectedly difficult.

In particular, impossibility says that you cannot be required to break the law to fulfill your obligations. So if you can’t get back to Chennai without violating quarantine, then you might be able to plead impossibility. Similarly if it would be very expensive, you could plead impracticality.

For more detail about how these defenses apply to the pandemic in India, see here or here.

(As a further twist, since you are leasing the router, your contract may have what is commonly called a hell or high water clause. This clause explicitly says you won't claim impossibility or impracticality.)

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    Impractability is a specifically US doctrine - it doesn’t apply in India. – Dale M Jul 30 at 21:49
  • @DaleM Thanks. That's helpful. If you have a source at hand, could you post it? PS From articles such as this, it seems pretty clear the legal excuse of impracticability, if not the doctrine, is available in India: mondaq.com/india/contracts-and-commercial-law/881552/… – Just a guy Jul 31 at 2:14

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