The current global pandemic, caused by the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) has created unprecedented conditions in the whole world. Consequential effects include the fall in economic growth, loss of daily wages, mental health issues, problems regarding migrant workers, and more. Healthcare workers faced some form of violence too, due to the stigma attached to Covid-19. These hurdles brought to light a law, drafted during the colonial rule in India, known as the Epidemic Diseases Act. In an attempt to limit the spread of the virus, this act has been enforced across various Indian states since March 2020.
About the Act
The Epidemic Diseases Act was passed in 1897 as a means to prevent and control the spread of epidemic diseases, if the need arises. According to this Act, the government (both, State and Central) is given the power to issue special measures and prescribe temporary regulations—if the ordinary provisions of the law in force, at that time, are insufficient for the purpose—to prevent the outbreak and spread of the disease in question. They can also order the inspection of any ship or vessel leaving or arriving at any port in India and can inspect people travelling by railway or other modes of transport. It also provides for segregation, in hospital, temporary accommodation or otherwise – of those suspected of being infected with any epidemic disease. These regulations are to be adhered to by the public; anyone that disobeys an order or regulation made under this Act shall be deemed to have committed an offence punishable under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
New and improved
In order for this legislation to help us in contemporary India, specifically with regards to the current global pandemic, the Government introduced the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, which was promulgated on April 22, 2020. This bill specifies that any of the following acts committed against a healthcare service personnel qualify as ‘acts of violence’:
(i) harassment impacting living or working conditions
(ii) harm injury, hurt, or danger to life
(iii) obstruction in the discharge of their duties
(iv) loss or damage to the property or documents of the healthcare service personnel.
The property, here, is defined to include a:
(i) clinical establishment
(ii) quarantine facility
(iii) mobile medical unit
(iv) other property in which a healthcare service personnel has a direct interest, in relation to the epidemic.
The Ordinance expands the powers of the central government to regulate the inspection of any modes of transport. Further, it can regulate the detention of any person intending to travel by these means, where failure to the stated provisions they may be liable to pay compensation.
Owing to the fact that this law was drafted in 1897, it is quite antiquated. For example, it doesn’t mention transmission of epidemic diseases via air travel, because the Act was passed 30 years before air travel became popular! This creates a need for an amendment, other than the ones already present in the ordinance, so that it may be applicable in today’s times.
Do you have an idea about how this law could be made better? We at Civis, provide you with the platform to voice your opinion. Inputs collected will be shared with the Government in order to further strengthen the Act. To give us your feedback, simply click here.
Written by Rajvi Sanghavi, Research Fellow at Civis. Civis is a non-profit organization that makes it easy for you to find out about the upcoming laws and policies, understand them and share your feedback on these draft laws and policies with the government.