The country’s lockdown has been the best decision to curb the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in India. The China Originated Virus on December 19 (COVID 19) detected in the city Wuhan, China. In a short span, the virus infected more than millions of people across the globe. The situation worsened to such an extent the virus declared as Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Since there was no vaccination for the virus and the virus was a threat to every country. Everyone decided to go for the legal remedy for preventing the spread of the virus.
The top five largest economies of the world (China, Germany, India, Japan, United States) enforced the laws related to the spread of an epidemic for dealing with the virus. Every single country whether powerful or weak, big or small opted for their respective legal provisions. For ensuring the safety of citizens. Because of the lack of proper guidelines and no treatment in medical science, India looked upon its 123 years old act ‘EPIDEMIC DISEASE ACT, 1897’ to tackle the situation and safeguard the citizens.
What is the Epidemic Disease Act, 1875?
The Act enforced at a time when India was way behind in Medical Science. It was enacted to counter the Bubonic Plaque aka Black Death in Mumbai. The Act extends to the whole of India (including the state of Jammu and Kashmir). The act had come to our rescue quite a lot of times in the past.
The act provides the State Government and Central Government with powers to take certain preventive actions to prevent the spread of the virus. It comprises of mainly 4 sections and is one of the shortest acts of the country.
Section 2 of the Act authorizes the State Government to take special measures and prescribe regulations to deal with the disease, if, the State Government is satisfied and believes that the State or any part of the State is under threat of an outbreak of disease and ordinary regulations may not be sufficient to tackle the situation. The government may take such measures by way of a public notice to prescribe temporary regulations for the public.
Section 2A of the Act empowers the Central Government to take special measures and prescribe regulations to control the outbreak of such disease, if, it is satisfied that the country or any part of it is under threat of such outbreak and ordinary provisions of law may be insufficient to counter the epidemic.
In addition, it states that the government can initiate an inspection of any ship leaving or arriving in the country and detain any person of the group who intends to sail in such a situation.
According to section 3 of the act, punish any person who disobeys any order or regulation made under this act by the government under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (Disobedience of the order passed by a public servant).
Punish the offender with simple imprisonment of one month and/or Rs. 200 fine, if such disobedience results in obstruction or injury. But, if disobedience causes danger to human life, health and safety, the simple custody may extend to 6 months and/or fine up to Rs. 1000.
Section 4 provides safety and protection to public servants from legal action. It states that no legal proceedings shall take place against any public servant for anything under good faith intended to be done under this act.
The Present Scenario
In today’s time, the government uses this Act to curb the spread of COVID-19. However, it strikes a chord that the Act lacks the reflection of the modern-day realities of the spread of the disease. India is facing continuous unprecedented challenges that range from maintaining law and order, access to medical facilities, food, social security to the availability of the medical facilities.
The Act is also behind in the race in incorporating an effective framework for responding to an outbreak of such disease. Even the sections provided to us doesn’t envisage the definition of epidemic disease.
A Bill called “PUBLIC HEALTH (PREVENTION, CONTROL, AND MANAGEMENT OF EPIDEMIC, BIO-TERRORISM AND DISASTER”. This Bill has also listed down more than 30 diseases so far as epidemic-prone diseases, which include bird flu, chikungunya, dengue, kaka-Azar, malaria, etc.
The hurdle that being faced by the medical workers includes the harassment of nurses and doctors and other medical personnel, who were spreading contamination from one to another.
Since there was the growth of attacks on the medical workers contend that the government had zero tolerance towards the workers for violence. Therefore the government passed an ordinance to protect the interest of those people.
Features of ordinances are as follows:
- It performs any sort of aggression upon them as a cognizable and non-bailable offense.
- It also states the definition of what all are included as violence. Such as physical injury, harassment, damage to the property.
- Any abetment of any acts of brutality against the said professionals shall be penalized with imprisonment for a term of three months to five years, followed by the fine of Rs.50,000 to Rs.200,000. In aggravated cases concerning grievous hurt, it states direct imprisonment for a term of six months and up to seven years, and with a fine of Rs.100,000 to Rs.500,000.
- The law also envisions time-bound investigation to be conducted in addition to the compensation to be made for the injury or damage made to the property up to twice the fair market price.
How are other countries dealing with the pandemic?
As we all know, no country has remained uninfluenced from this pandemic. Every country is fighting the pandemic in its way. Here, the cases of the top three economies are given and those are among the list of countries worst hit by the virus too.
- Like the ‘Epidemic Disease Act’ in India, China has ‘Prevention and Treatment of Infectious Disease law.
- It usually deals with and revolves around controlling the spread of viruses and the prevention of the citizens.
- In an attempt to counter the epidemic, it has stringent laws regarding the sanitization of public places and their supervision.
- It mainly consists of nine chapters and each consisting of eighty articles.
- ‘The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services’ has the responsibility for preventing any disease. Also protecting the citizens of the US. This time too, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services front manned. And took the required decision to prevent the citizens.
- The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Service along with its delegated authority, ‘The Division of Global Migration and Quarantine’, mainly focuses on the following:
- The establishment and operation of Quarantine Centers at the port. To check and inspect the ship arriving or leaving the territory.
- Ensuring proper working and fulfillment of interstate and foreign regulations ( includes movement of cargo, animals, and individuals or group).
- Establishment of standards of medical examination for persons travels in or out of the US.
- Just like every other country, Germany too opted for its legal provisions to fight the COVID 19. Germany took the help of its, ‘Infection Protection Act’.
- Enacted in the year 2000, the act contains sixteen chapters and seventy-seven sections.
- The main purpose of the act is to, identify any such disease at and early-stage. And, it also aims to prevent the spread among the masses.
The laws available to us were the Disaster Management Act, 2005, and Epidemic Disease Act, 1897. They are innovative but they still fall short of comprehensibly dealing with the outbreak.
The spread of the COVID-19 was a rare disease, perhaps unprecedented ones with a figure of more than 411,629 deaths worldwide. In India, more than 296,985 people are infected with this virus and death with a figure of 8,376. The novel coronavirus or otherwise known as COVID-19 has challenged the public health care system of the countries to the hilt. And ultimately the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it an epidemic on March 11, 2020. WHO declared it an epidemic because when it started there were 118,000 cases of coronavirus illness over 110 countries and territories around the world.
Since we had provision with us to tackle or implement to maintain law and order to curb the further spread of the virus. They declared all the states in India with section 2 of the Epidemic Act. Which makes the advisories, issued by the Ministries of Health Welfare legally enforceable and following provisions, implemented:
- Epidemic Disease Act, 1897
- Disaster Management Act, 2005
Understanding the usage of the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 and Disaster Management Act, 2005 together.
The Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 is the nodal legislation concerning the containment of the “DANGEROUS EPIDEMIC DISEASE”. It allows the State Government and Central Government to adopt any measures to prevent any outbreak of any dangerous disease once it confirmed as an epidemic.
When we look at the Section 2A of the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897, the section allows the government to take any sort of measure and prescribes the regulations for the inspection of any vessel embarking or disembarking the port of the country or they can detain any person doing the same on such vessel. If someone violates the Act then the person would land in prison. [Under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)].
However, the Act provides the Government with overarching power. It lacks the provision like enabling them to fast-moving set up the management system. People often criticize the act of being archaic and not speed up for contemporary health challenges. As we know, the government also invoked the Disaster Management Act since it provides an exhaustive administration for disaster preparedness.
Was the act enough to counteract the COVID-19 or not?
While the combined use of the act may seem innovative. A better way to deal with such type of situations in the future would be to revisit and strengthen the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897.
The government can revise some parts of this act. One such revision would be to introduce standards through which the “DANGEROUS EPIDEMIC DISEASES” defined regularly. Such standardization or process would expedite the identification for the global pandemic such asCOVID-19. It would also allow a more timely response to identifying it as an epidemic.