Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill introduced in Rajya Sabha.

Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill introduced in Rajya Sabha.

Dr. Rajdeep Roy in support of the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020, said “I empathetically, today, would like to speak in support of the Epidemic Diseases Act of 2020 which has been brought to replace the old Diseases Act of 1897, which is hundred and thirty years old. I am not saying that this old Bill was not appropriate but in modern day, after about 123 years, there were limitations in the bill and this Bill did not have answers. Rather the Act did not have answers to deal with the violence and the harassment that were metted out to the healthcare providers. It did not have any deterrents, it did not lead to fear in the minds of the perpetrators of violence and such acts against healthcare workers. Therefore, in order to curve such unprecedented act of violence including physical and mental harassment and damage to properties during the Covid-19 pandemic that has been an urgent need to have a law passed for such healthcare workers. The frontline healthcare workers of our country in their battle against Covid-19 were subjected to verbal and physical abuses which is known to everybody and has come out in the open discussion in the Parliament. They have been stigmatized and ostracized and many of them were forced to leave their home. I remember our battle about 25-30 years back when I was a new entry into the medical college, our battle against the so-called deadly AIDS, when the government of India had to run ads in national TV channels to prevent the stigma around AIDS. But that was only against patients at that time and not against the healthcare workers. But unfortunately it is important to bring to the notice that this time, the stigma and the ostracization has happened not only against the patients but against the healthcare workers who were working 24*7 for almost 6 months. The moral of the healthcare workers have been badly hit. I actually shudder to think what would have happened if the government under the leadership of Modi Ji and Dr. Harshvardhan would not stand behind the healthcare workers. Today I am very happy and I stand here empathetically to support the bill that has been brought to protect the rights of the healthcare workers. The Bill which has come leads to a non-bailable offense against the perpetrators and it leads to a punishment of about 3 months to 7 years, even a fine of 50,000 to 5 lakhs. The time given to police to complete the enquiry is only 30 days which is a very important aspect of this and the trial should complete within one year.” He further offers his condolences to all the families of those grieved ones and thanks the health care workers who have worked day in and day out since the last 6 months.

On September 14, 2020, the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020 was introduced in the Rajya Sabha that amends the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. The Bill revokes the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance that was propagated on April 22, 1897. The Bill amends to provide protections for healthcare personnel battling with epidemic maladies and dilates the power of the Central Government to prevent the spread of such diseases.

The Bill states that the Central Government may regulate the inspection of any ship or vessel leaving or arriving at any port, and the detent any person intending to travel from the port, during an outbreak. The Bill expands the powers of the central government to regulate the inspection of any bus, train, goods vehicle, ship, vessel, or aircraft leaving or arriving at any land port, port, or aerodrome.

The Bill terms Healthcare Service Personnel as people who risk their life dur to epidemic diseases while performing their duties for the same. People included under them are: public and clinical healthcare providers such as the doctors and the nurses, any person empowered under the Act to take measures from preventing the outbreak of the disease, and other people who are designated as such by the state government.

The Bill  comprises the ‘act of violence’ list where it the following acts committed against a healthcare service personnel such as; harassment impacting living or working conditions, harm, injury, hurt, or danger to life, obstruction in discharge of duties, and loss or damage to the property or documents of the healthcare service personnel.  Healthcare Service Personnel property includes: (i) clinical establishment, (ii) quarantine facility, (iii) mobile medical unit, and (iv) any other property in which a healthcare service personnel has direct interest, in relation to the epidemic. 

The Bill strictly higlights that no person can  commit or assist the commission of an ‘act of violence’ against a Healthcare Service Personnel, or vandalization to any property during an epidemic situation. Infringement of this provision is strictly punishable with imprisonment from anywhere between three months and five years, and a fine of Rs.  50,000 to two lakh rupees. This offence might even be aggravated by the victim with the permission of the Court.  Moreover, if an act of violence against a healthcare service personnel causes extreme harm, the guilty will be punishable with imprisonment from anywhere between six months to seven years, and a fine between one lakh rupees and five lakh rupees. These offences will stay perceptible and non-bailable.

Under the Bill, any person convicted of these offences will also be subjected to pay compensation to the victim. As determined by the Court, the compensation payable to the victim will be twice the amount of the fair market value of the damaged or lost property in that case. If the convicted person fails to pay the compensation, the amount will be recovered as an arrear of land revenue under the Revenue Recovery Act, 1890.

A Police officer, not below the rank of Inspector, will inspect cases registered under the Bill. According to bill, the investigation has to be completed within 30 days from the date of registration of the first information report.

The inquiry or trial should be winded up by one year,  if not within the time period, the Judge must document the reasons for the delay and extend the time period. Although, the time period should not be extended for more than six months at a time.  When the prosecution of a person for causing grievous harm to a healthcare service personnel will go on, the Court will presume that the person is guilty of the offence, unless the contrary is proved.