The Indian Parliament on 22nd September, 2020 passed an ordinance to amend the 125 year old Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, that protects the health workers of the country. The Indian government in April approved an ordinance that recognised any crime against health workers in India as ‘cognizable’ and ‘non-bailable’ offence.
What is the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897? The Act was enacted when Bombay was hit by the bubonic plague. Over the years it has been used to prevent the spread of epidemics like H1N1 in 2009, cholera in 2018, etc.
The Health Minister, Harsh Vardhan, while introducing the Bill in the Upper House said that the ordinance introduced in April led to a fall in cases of violence against healthcare workers. Due to the issue of a stigma attached to Covid-19, healthcare workers, including doctors and paramedics, were insulted in some form or the other. The Central government acted on this situation and found that there was a need for a law, a prohibitory mechanism against such incidents.
The contents of the Bill are:
·Protection for healthcare personnel combating epidemic diseases
·Definition of healthcare personnel – ‘those who are at risk of contracting the epidemic disease while carrying out duties related to the epidemic, like doctors, nurses, those engaged in prevention activities, and other such persons designated by state governments.’
·Zero tolerance towards any form of violence against healthcare workers
·The penal provisions can be invoked in instances of damage to property including a clinical establishment, any facility identified for quarantine and isolation of patients, mobile medical units and any other property in which the healthcare service personnel have a direct interest in relation to the epidemic.
·Abetment of the law would be punishable with imprisonment for a term of 3 months to 5 years and a fine of Rs. 50,000 to 2,00,000.
·People who damage the vehicles of healthcare workers or clinics will have to pay twice the value of the damaged amount