During the current COVID-19 pandemic, there have been instances of the most critical service providers i.e. members of healthcare services being targeted and attacked by miscreants, thereby obstructing them from doing their duties. Members of the Medical community, even as they continue to perform relentlessly round the clock and save human lives, have unfortunately become the most vulnerable victims as they have been perceived by some as carriers of the virus. This has led to cases of their stigmatization and ostracization and sometimes worse, acts of unwarranted violence and harassment. Such a situation tends to hamper the medical community from performing their duties to their optimum best and maintaining their morale, which is a critical need in this hour of national health crisis. While healthcare service personnel are duty bound to serve without discrimination, the cooperation and support from society is a fundamental need for them to perform their duties with confidence.

The Union Cabinet in its meeting held on 22nd April 2020 has approved promulgation of an Ordinance to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 to protect healthcare service personnel and property including their living/working premises against violence during epidemics. The President has given his assent for promulgation of the Ordinance.
o The amendment makes acts of violence cognizable and non-bailable offences.
o Commission or abetment of such acts of violence shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of three months to five years, and with fine of Rs.50,000/- to Rs.2,00,000/-.
o In case of causing grievous hurt, imprisonment shall be for a term six months to seven years and with fine of Rs.1,00,000/- to Rs.5,00,000/-.
o In addition, the offender shall also be liable to pay compensation to the victim and twice the fair market value for damage of property.
o Offences shall be investigated by an officer of the rank of Inspector within a period of 30 days, and trial has to be completed in one year, unless extended by the court for reasons to be recorded in writing.

Looking at the interventions required during the current Covid-19 outbreak, the Central Government has been given a concurrent role with the State Governments to take any measures that may be needed to prevent the outbreak of an epidemic or the spread thereof.

In addition, the scope of inspection of vessels arriving or leaving the country has been enlarged to include road, rail, sea and air vessels.

BACKGROUND:-

Epidemic Disease Act, 1897:

India’s 123-Year-Old Law to Help Fight the Pandemic:-
• This colonial Act was enacted by the British, for the first time in the then state of Bombay during the Bubonic Plague.
• It is a state government Act. The Act strives to protect the common citizens in a particular area during the outbreak of an epidemic or a dangerous disease.
• The colonial era Epidemic Diseases Act consists of four sections and aims to provide for better prevention of the spread of dangerous epidemic diseases.
Section 1 of the Act describes the title and extent of the Act.
Section 2 empowers state governments and Union Territories to formulate regulations to contain the outbreak.
• When the State government is satisfied that the state is threatened with an outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease, and if it thinks that the ordinary provisions of the law are insufficient, for the purpose, then, the state may take or require or empower any person to take some measures and by public notice prescribe such temporary regulations to be observed by the public.
• Powers of Central Government-
When the Central Government is satisfied that India or any part thereof is visited by, or threatened with, an outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease and that the ordinary provisions of the law for the time being in force are insufficient to prevent the outbreak of such disease or the spread .
The central government may prescribe regulations for the inspection of persons travelling by railway or otherwise, segregation in hospitals, temporary accommodation or otherwise, of persons suspected by the inspecting officer, of being infected with any such disease.
Section 3– Penalty
• “Any person disobeying any regulation or order made under this Act shall be deemed to have committed an offence punishable under section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860).
• The punishment in such a case is upto 1 month in jail or a fine upto Rs. 200 or both.
• In case the general public suffers due to the refusal of the person to follow the public order, the punishment is upto 6 months of Jail and/or fine or Rs. 2000.
• The Act provides for six months’ imprisonment or Rs. 1000 fine or both on person disobeying the Act.
Section 4 – Protection to persons acting under Act. “No suit or other legal proceeding shall lie against any person for anything done or in good faith intended to be done under this Act (legal protection to implement the Act).

Implementation of law (earlier)-

• This is not the first time that this law is being invoked in India.
• The Act has been routinely used to contain various diseases in India such as swine flu, cholera, malaria and dengue.
• In 2018, the District Collector of Gujarat’s Vadodara issued a notification under the Act declaring the Khedkarmsiya village – cholera affected.
• In 2015, to deal with Malaria and Dengue, in Chandigarh, the Act was implemented.
• In 2009, to tackle the Swine Flu outbreak in Pune.

Let’s start with basic definitions:

• AN EPIDEMIC is a disease that affects a large number of people within a community, population, or region.
• A PANDEMIC is an epidemic that’s spread over multiple countries or continents.
ENDEMIC is something that belongs to a particular people or country.
• AN OUTBREAK is a greater-than-anticipated increase in the number of endemic cases. It can also be a single case in a new area. If it’s not quickly controlled, an outbreak can become an epidemic.

What is an Epidemic?
Epidemic is a term that is often broadly used to describe a problem that has grown out of control. An epidemic is an outbreak over a larger geographic area. An epidemic is defined as “an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population.”
An epidemic is an event in which a disease is actively spreading.

What is an Pandemic?
International and out of control.
In the most classical sense, once an epidemic spreads to multiple countries or regions of the world, it is considered a pandemic. However, some epidemiologists classify a situation as a pandemic only once the disease is sustained in some of the newly affected regions through local transmission.

Conclusion:-

The health workforce are our frontline soldiers in battling the spread of Covid-19. They put their own lives at risk in order to ensure safety of others. They deserve our highest respect and encouragement at this moment rather than being harassed or being subjected to violence. It is hoped that this Ordinance will have the impact of infusing confidence in the community of healthcare service personnel so that they can continue to contribute to serving mankind through their noble professions in the extremely difficult circumstances being witnessed during the current Covid-19 outbreak.

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