The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Act, 2020 got the president’s assent on 28th of September 2020. The amendment, which comes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, extends the protection to health service personnel against violent attacks in the line of duty.
The first case of coronavirus was reported on 30th, January 2020, in view of that the colonial era legislation of Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 was invoked after 123 years. This Act was first introduced during the Bubonic Plague which had caused casualties in the Bombay Presidency.
A Pandemic like the corona virus presents unique challenges to the administration and the government may need to exercise wider power than usual in order to control the spread of disease. For proper regulation of government duties there was a need for modification in the Act which would match the current circumstances.
The Centre implemented the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Act, 2020 to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. The amendment was introduced in order to provide protection to health care service personnel, their living premises as well as their workplaces against any violence during the course of a pandemic.
Who is a healthcare service personnel
The Act introduced the definition of health service personnel as a person who is carrying out duties or responsibility related to the epidemic and may come in direct contact of affected patient and so is at a risk of being affected by the disease. The act specifically mentions
(i) public and clinical healthcare providers such as doctors and nurses
(ii) any person empowered under the Act to take measures to prevent the outbreak of the disease
(iii) other persons designated as such by the state government.
Act of violence
The main purpose of bringing an amendment was to curb the brutality against health care personnel . Hence the amendment has introduced in section 3B which prohibits acts of violence against health service personnel.
Under the Act, ‘act of violence’ includes any of the following acts committed against health service personnel.
(1) Harassment impacting the living or working conditions
(2) harm, injury, hurt or intimidation to life of such person
(3) obstruction or hindrance in discharge of duties
(4) loss or damage to any documents in the possession of the health service personnel.
The Act further states that any person who commits or abets violence against health service personnel or causes loss of property or documents which are in the possession of the health service personnel would punished as follows:
- imprisonment which shall not be less than three months and which may extend to five years and with fine which shall not be less than fifty thousand rupees and which may extend to two lakh rupees.
- In addition to the punishment the person so convicted shall be liable to pay compensation to the health service personnel to whom they have caused hurt. In case of damage or loss of property the compensation payable would be twice the amount of fair market value of the damaged or lost property, as determined by the Court.
Section 3A of the Act provides that the cases registered under the act would investigate by a police officer not below the rank of an inspector and shall be completed within a period of thirty days from the date of registration of FIR.
Modification in power of central government
Under section 2A, the amendment act modifies the power of the central government. While the original wording of the act permitted the central government with limited power the modification in language has elaborated the powers to include regulation of inspection of bus or train or any goods vehicle or ship or vessel or aircraft which is leaving or arriving. The powers also include detention of a person who is intending to travel if necessary.
In the course of the COVID-19 pandemic the health care personnel were met with hostility because of their close proximity with the patients and on some instances were violently abused. The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Act, 2020 was introduced as a response to various incidents of attacks on healthcare personnel involved in testing and treating COVID-19 patients.
The Central & State Government has relied on Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 the is introducing modifications to the act in order to establish a comprehensive framework that lays down the procedures and protocols to be adhered to in a public health crisis.