THE EPIDEMIC DISEASE (AMENDMENT) ORDINANCE, 2020.

Author: Vrushti Sanghavi, 2nd Year, LL.B, Jitendra Chauhan Law College, Mumbai The article has been written by the author while pursuing the internship programme with us. INTRODUCTION: Amidst the spur of an outbreak of a Global Pandemic in India, the health personnel working on the front line are coming into direct contact with the people who have contracted COVID-19. While I stayed in my comfortable clothes, swapping from one application to another, an article caught my attention. The article was about an Indian Doctor being spat at and attacked[1] as he comes across the COVID positive patients. It was heart-breaking that rather than being applauded for their services, they were welcomed by taunts or abusive language from their neighbors or patients. It startled me to see that there was no law or an act to safeguard the ones who healed everyone. This made me dig around the web to find whether such a pre-existing law or act was ever implemented in times of the pandemic. My web search landed on “The Epidemic Disease Act-1897”[2] which was implemented during the British Colonial era. NEED FOR THE LATEST AMENDMENT: With the advancement of technologies and human race over these 123 years, the Act needed to be updated too. The shortcomings of this act were that the penalty Under Section 3 of this Act[3], “any person who disobeys an order or regulation made by the government under the Act, shall be punished in accordance with Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860”. The punishment ranged for defying a public servant’s order was simple imprisonment which may extend up to a month and or a fine of up to Rs. 200. However, if this disobedience[4] causes or tends to cause danger to human life, health or safety, or causes or tends to cause a riot or affray, it shall be punishable with imprisonment extending up to six months and/or fine up to Rs. 1,000. In the case of Covid-19 outbreak, the latter was applicable. But, it wasn’t something that dissuaded the relatives or families to harm the health personnel. The other shortcoming of the Act was that it was only focused on the detention and cancelling of the ships that sailed. But with the advancement in technology, our main concerns were not only ships which were mentioned in the previous act entering our nation but flights carrying hundreds of passengers flying in and out of the country were the main source of carrying the virus. With all these shortcomings of the previous act, an Amendment in the Act was in dire need in India to cater to the new problems that had aroused due to change in generations. SCENARIO PRIOR TO THE AMENDMENT: The Epidemic Disease Act-1897 was enacted to provide for the better prevention of the spread of dangerous epidemic disease. The act clarified the duties of the Central and the State Government to control the outbreak, the punishment to be incurred on individuals who defied the orders of the public servant, and the protection given to an individual who has good intentions to do anything under this act. But, this 123 years old act is now outdated. The measure stated in this mentioned Act was written during the outburst of a plague in 1897 and many things had changed since then. The doctors and the health personnel are not given enough protection and are treated like a liability to the society. There were no clear laws existing and Health personnel were indeed misspoken to or abused or to an extent injured or dead. The families of the patient were not horrified by the loss, instead they hold the doctors liable for not performing their duty righteously. VIOLATION OF RIGHT TO LIFE:- There were a number of bills for protection of Doctors, Nurses or Medical staff that were pending consideration like Healthcare Service Personnel and Clinical Establishments (Prohibition of Violence and Damage to Property) Bill 2019 and The Prevention of Violence against Doctors, Medical Professional and Medical Institutions Bill, 2018. These bills were always aiming to protect the Right to life of the Health Personnel but it lacked consideration. The ones treated like God when they saved a patient were also treated no less than culprits whose death were on their hand when they lost a patient. There have been incidents where the privacy of them is violated or they have been abused on the roads or been given death threats. The President of India, Shri. Ram Nath Kovind, was satisfied that the circumstances existing in the new era of Pandemic were extremely outdated. It was necessary to make changes in the previous existing act even though the Parliament was not in session. On 22nd April, 2020, a new Ordinance was brought in that catered to the modern problems of this era. The Ordinance came to be known as “The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020.”[5] ISSUES ADDRESSED IN THE AMENDMENT: The Ordinance defined the “act of violence against the health personnel” in Section 1A(a) in the form of harassment, hurt, harm, injury, obstruction or hindrance to such health personnel. This section also includes loss or damage to any property of the health personnel. This Ordinance also gave an in depth definition of people included in Health Service Personals, property included under the “property.”Apart from defining, the ordinance also lays down the specific roles of Central Government in times of current Pandemic in Section 4 which amended the Section 2A of the Principal Act. A new just and fair punishment is also laid down in the amendment. ISSUES THE AMENDMENT LACKED TO ADDRESS: On 22nd April, 2020, an amendment in the existing act was brought in despite the Legal and Legislative system being locked down. There were many PILs filed for safeguarding the health personnel by Senior Advocate K. Subramanianand and Alakh Alok Srivastava. The amendment was an outcome of the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) bought by a Doctor in Nagpur, Maharashtra to the Supreme Court under Article 32[6] of the Indian Constitution. The PIL filed by Dr.Jerryl Banait[7] focused on the availability of the Protective Preventive Equipment (PPEs) to the doctors and nurses. But, another important point of the PIL was the failure to safeguard the health personnel from abusive members of the society. There were major reports of Doctors and Nurses being harassed by family members of patients after treating them for days together. Whereas, they were only trying to save lives but the law was not strict enough to prevent such an occurrence again. STATE’S RESPONSIBILITY TO SAFEGUARD THE RIGHTS: The Amendment clarified that the Central Government may take any measures as it deems fit in such a situation and shall detent or inspect any vehicle or any mode of transport that it suspects. The other section in the ordinance, Section 3, deals with the punishment to the offenders for violation of rules or committing an act of violence mentioned in this Act. The offenders shall face imprisonment of minimum of 3 months up to a maximum of five years with a fine ranging no less than 50,000 rupees to 2 Lakh Rupees. The punishment shall be cognizable and non-bailable. It also mentions that the investigation in such an offence shall take place by an Inspector and not anybody below that rank. And the investigation should be completed before 30 days from the date of registration of the First Information Report. The trial by the court should be completed as soon as possible but should not exceed more than six months. Apart from the punishment mentioned, the convicted person shall be liable to pay compensation to the health personnel. The compensation in case of an act of violence shall be determined by the Court, and in case of damage to property, the compensation shall be twice than the amount of the fair market value. Upon the failure to pay the compensation, the amount shall be recovered as an area of the land revenue under the Revenue Recovery Act, 1890. CONCLUSION: The amendments bring out a ray of hope amongst the doctors and medical staff that are always victimized and blamed to be culprits. Comfortably sitting behind a screen and commenting is easy when a Doctor and a medical team in Indore were attacked by a mob and thrown stones at or in the southern city of Bengaluru or in New Delhi or in Bhopal. Every day since the emergence of Covid-19, health personnel have faced harassment for so-called spreading the virus and being the carriers. Rather than thanking them, our society has pelted stones or not allowed them to buy basic amenities. The Ordinance is a set of rules which is in dire need to be followed but the real question is: ‘Will It Be Implemented and Will Our Health Personnel Be Safe’ even after the Amendments brought in? REFERENCES: [1]Vikas Pandey, Coronavirus: India Doctors ‘spat at and attacked, BBC NEWS ( Apr.3, 2020, 08:31 PM), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-52151141. [2]The Epidemic Disease Act,1897, ACT NO. 3 OF 1897 1 (India). [3]Ankoosh Mehta, Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 – Dusting an Old Cloak, , Cyril AmarchandMangaldas (Mar.30,2020,11:10 PM) https://corporate.cyrilamarchandblogs.com/2020/03/epidemic-diseases-act-1897-dusting-an-old-cloak/#_ftn2 [4]Ankoosh Mehta, Supra 1 [5]The Epidemic Diseases ( Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, No. 5, Acts of Parliament, 2020. (India) [6] INDIAN CONST. Art. 32 [7]Dr.JerrylBanait v Union of India, Writ Petition ( C) Diary No. 10795 of 2020. (India)

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