THE – EVOLUTION: Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 – Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020

This article is written by  Suvarna Pradeep Powar, 1st-year B.B.A.LL.B student, at IFIM Law school, Bangalore.

Introduction:

In the wake of Covid-19 spreading across the world and in India, the country required a law that could help in containing the spread of the deadly virus. On 11th March 2020, center directed states to enforce centuries-old ‘Epidemic diseases act,1897’ law. As the law is of the colonial era and 123 years old for it to be made relevant and applicable in the 21st century it needed some amendments to be made and aspects to be included. Considering all these factors on 22nd April 2020, a new amended ordinance was brought into force.

Epidemic diseases act, 1897:

The act is aimed to provide better prevention of the spread of `Dangerous Diseases`, it provides special powers to the state required for the implementation of measures, necessary to contain the spread of the virus. The epidemic disease act is one of the shortest acts in India which has 4 sections and is 2 pages long.  The act has been often used to contain the various disease in India. In 2009, the act was enforced in Pune to combat swine flu, in 2015 it was used in Chandigarh to deal with dengue and malaria, in 2018 act was enforced in Gujarat as cholera began to spread in certain regions of Gujarat.

The act was extended to the whole of India “except the territories which were comprised in part B states immediately before 1-11-1956”. Under this act, the state government had the power to take measures and prescribe temporary regulation when threatened by an epidemic. It shall also carry inspection of persons traveling by railway or otherwise suspected of being infected with any such disease.

The central government shall prescribe regulations for the inspection of any ship or vessel leaving/arriving at any port and detention of a person intending to sell/arrive, thereby. Any person disobeying the order passed under this act shall be punishable of committing an offense as under section 188 of the Indian penal code. No suit or legal proceeding shall be taken against a person for committing an act in good faith.

Epidemic diseases (amendment) ordinance, 2020:

The epidemic diseases(amendment) ordinance,2020 came into force on 22nd April 2020. The ordinance amends the epidemic diseases act in,1897. The act provides for the prevention of the spread of dangerous epidemic diseases. The ordinance amends the act to include the protection of healthcare personnel combating epidemic diseases and expands the powers of the central government to prevent the spread of such diseases.

The words “Except the territory which immediately before the 1-11-1956, were comprised in part B states” have been omitted.

An ‘Act of violence’ includes act committed against healthcare personnel which causes or may cause: (1) Harassment impacting living or working conditions (2) Harm, injury, hurt or danger to life (3) Obstruction in the discharge of his duties (4) loss/damage to property/documents of the healthcare personnel. ‘Property’ is (1) Clinical establishment (2) Mobile medical unit (3) Quarantine/isolation facility (4) Any other property where healthcare personnel has a direct relation in the epidemic. ‘Healthcare service personnel’ (1) Public and clinical health providers (2) Person empowered to take measures to prevent the outbreak of disease (3) Any other person notified by the government.

It gives powers to the central government to regulate (1) Inspection of any bus, train, goods vehicle, ship, vessel/aircraft leaving/arriving at any port/land port/aerodrome (2) It shall even regulate the detention of any person intending to travel by these means.

If any person (1) commits/abets the commission of an act of violence against healthcare personnel (2) Abets/causes damage/loss to any property during an epidemic, shall be punishable with imprisonment of three months-five years and a fine between 50,000-2,00,000 rupees. If the offense committed causes grievous harm, it is punishable with imprisonment of six months-seven years and a fine of 1,00,000-5,00,000 rupees. Offenses committed are cognizable and non-bailable and can be compounded by the victim with the permission of the court.

A person convicted are also liable to pay compensation as decided by the court. If damage/loss caused the compensation payable shall be twice the amount of market value and if he fails to pay compensation the amount will be recovered as arrear under Revenue recovery act,1890. The case registered must be investigated under 30days from the date of registration of FIR by a police officer, not below the rank of inspector. The trial must conclude within a year if not, the reason must be recorded by the judge for the delay and duration shall be extended but not more than 6months.

Conclusion:

The Epidemic disease(amendment) ordinance, 2020 was a needed amendment to stop stigma and violence against healthcare personnel, the ordinance clearly defining ‘Act of Violence’, ‘Healthcare personnel’, ‘Property’ has made offences cognizable and non-bailable. The person committing offences shall be made punishable with imprisonment and fine if the damage/loss is caused to property person convicted shall also be made liable to pay compensation. When prosecuting a person for causing grievous harm to healthcare service personnel, the Court will presume that person is guilty of the offence, unless the contrary is proved.

References:

  • The epidemic diseases act,1897 at indiacode.nic.in
  • Epidemic diseases act 1897 at Wikipedia.org
  • The epidemic diseases (amendment) ordinance 2020 at egazette.nic.in
  • The epidemic diseases (amendment) ordinance 2020 at Prsindia.org

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