India’s response to COVID-19, Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020

The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 was announced on 22 April 2020. The Ordinance amends the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. This is the fourth ordinance being promulgated by the Centre Government in response to Covid- 19. This law provides for the prevention of dangerous infectious diseases. The Ordinance amends the law to include protection for health care officers who prevent infectious diseases and expands the powers of the Central Government to prevent the spread of such diseases.

The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020 was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on September 14, 2020.  It amends the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.  The Act provides for the prevention of the spread of dangerous epidemic diseases.  The Bill amends the Act to include protections for healthcare personnel combating epidemic diseases and expands the powers of the central government to prevent the spread of such diseases.  The Bill repeals the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance that was promulgated on April 22, 2020. The main features of the Bill include:

Powers of the Central Government: This Act stipulates that the Central Government may control: (i) the inspection of the departure or arrival of any vessel or ship at any port; (ii) Detention of any person wishing to leave the port, an extension. The act extends the power of the Central Government to regulate the departure of any bus, train, freight vehicle, ship, vessel or aircraft, or the arrival or inspection of any land port, port or aerodrome. In addition, the Central Government may restrict the detention of any person wishing to travel this route.

Protection of Health Care Officers and Damage to Property: The act makes it clear that no individual can: (i) commission or assist in violence against health service personnel, or (ii) Damage or loss of any property during this period. An infectious disease. Violation of this provision carries a jail term of between three months and five years and a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh. This offense may be aggravated with the permission of the victim’s court. In case of aggravated assault on a health care worker, the offender is liable to imprisonment for a term of six months to seven years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh and Rs 5 lakh. These crimes are identifiable and non-bailable.

Compensation: Individuals convicted of offenses under the act are liable to pay compensation to the health service officers who harassed them. Such compensation will be determined by the court. In the event of damage or loss, the compensation to be paid to the victim shall be double the fair market value of the damaged or lost property, as determined by the court. If the convict fails to pay compensation, this amount will be refunded as arrears of land revenue under the Revenue Recovery Act of 1890.

Investigation: Cases registered under the act will be investigated by a police officer not below the rank of Inspector. The investigation should be completed within 30 days from the date of registration of the FIR.

Trial: The investigation or trial must be concluded within one year. If it is not decided within this time limit, the judge must record the reasons for the delay and extend the time limit. However, the time limit should not exceed six month at a time.

When a person is prosecuted for causing serious harm to a health service officer, the court will presume that person is guilty unless proven guilty.

Advocate Mikky Sudhakaran

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