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An Exigency To Review Epidemic Laws In India

There is an exigency to review the epidemic laws in India. An ordinance brought by the president in 2020 is like an instant amendment. This article discusses some aspects w.r.t. why they need to be reviewed. Firstly, Let us discuss the Act history and recent amendment ordinance with some case laws & try to understand the Pros and Cons of the initial Act & amendment Ordinance.

The Epidemic Diseases Act:

This Epidemic diseases Act deals with prevention of spread of epidemic diseases. This Act empowers government to take special measures and prescribe regulations during dangerous epidemic disease. They can pass any regulations by giving public notice and can pass temporary regulations to prevent the outbreak of such disease They can also inspect the persons who are travelling by railways or otherwise and also in hospitals, temporary accommodations otherwise in case of suspicion.

There is also a penalty prescribed in this Act which says it shall be deemed to have committed an offence punishable under section 188 of Indian penal code. Finally, this Act also provides privilege to the persons who done anything in good faith under this Act.

Position After The Amendment Ordinance, 2020:

As we have seen the human destruction by COVID-19 on one side and also seen the hard work of medical practitioners on another side. These members of healthcare services are working for us day & night and some of the miscreants are attacking them by creating obstruction to their duties.

In these circumstances the union cabinet decided to bring an ordinance which was approved by our president. This ordinance deals with the amendment to the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.

This ordinance is called “The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020”. By invoking power under Article 123(1) of the Indian Constitution, 1950, the President of India has signed this ordinance during recess of parliament.

Let us see what is Epidemic Act, 1897 and look what are new provisions added to it by the amendment ordinance, 2020.

Insertion of provision with respect to “prohibition of violence against the health care personal and damage against the property”:
The insertion of the new provision is very considerate. The section 2B of the amendment ordinance which says there should be no violence against the health care services and it prohibits the person from causing damage to the property or any loss to the property during the situation of epidemic. Here the property means the property of any clinical establishment or any facility provided for a person during Quarantine and isolation of the patients during an epidemic. Further property may include mobile medical unit or any other property of health care service personal.

Enhancement of punishment in section 3 of the Act:

There is an enhancement of punishment in section 3 of the Act. As per this amended section, if a person commits or edit violence against yeah health care service personnel or causes damage / loss to any property, such person will be punished with minimum 3 months of imprisonment which may extend to 5 years and with fine of fifty thousand rupees which may extend to two lakh rupees.

Moreover, if a person commits grievous hurt during the course of committing the Act of violence, then such person will be punished with imprisonment for 6 months which may extend to seven years with fine of one lakh rupees which may extend to 7 lakh rupees

Insertion of Sections 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 3E:
The Section 3A discusses about the cognizance, investigation and trial of offences. It says that the cases under the Act shall be investigated by the officer not below the rank of inspector. The Investigation must be completed within 30 days from the FIR registration date. This section also says that an inquiry or trail shall be done as expeditiously as possible and concluded within a period of one year. If judge records any reasons, then such trail may extend for another 6 months.

The Section 3B says about the composition of offences. Further, the Sections 3C & 3D deals about the presumptions. The section 3C says about the presumption of certain offences and 3D deals with respect to presumption of culpable mental state of accused. There is a burden on accused to prove that there is no presence of mental intention. Lastly, section 3E deals with the compensation payment for causing hurt / grievous hurt to health personnel or damage to the property.

Payment of Compensation:

As we discussed above, there is payment of compensation for causing hurt / grievous hurt to health personnel or damage to the property. The compensation payable must be twice the amount of the fair market value of damaged property or loss caused as may be determined by the court.

In case, If there is failure on part of paying compensation, the amount can be recovered as an arrear of land revenue under Revenue recovery Act, 1890. In the case of Ram Laul Mistry v. R.T. Greer, 1904 SCC Cal 91, there was a demolition of property because of nonpayment of compensation for omitting plague regulation –A respectively.

Other Interesting Cases:
There is a case of Justice Brigade v. Union of India, WP(C).No.8260 of 2020, the face masks in State of Kerala were selling in the market at the price of Rs. 40 which it originally costs Rs. 5 only and also same scene with respect to hand sanitizers.

In view of COVID-19, there was a writ of mandamus filed praying to direct state government to take immediate measures to control the prices and ensure sufficient supply of hand sanitizers and the face masks in the State and to take immediate Action to close down all places where public gathers including malls and movie theatres. However, the Union Cabinet Secretary invoked Section 2 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 directed all states to add masks and hand sanitizers, as essential commodities.

The high court passed relevant directions. Further, the high court directed learned State Attorney to communicate the directions of this Court to Government orders/notifications, as the case may be, for fixing the maximum retail price for hand sanitizers and face masks, as well as issuing regulations for possession, purchase, and sale of the above said essential commodities forthwith.

In the matter of Contagion of COVID-19 Virus in Prison, 2020 SCC online SC 320, After declaring the COVID-19 as the epidemic disease, The Supreme court through suo-moto writ petition suggested all relevant authorities to take immediate measures which should be adopted for the medical assistance to the prisoners in all jails and the juveniles lodged in the Remand Homes and for protection of their health and welfare.

Conclusion & Suggestions:
Even though there is an amendment ordinance, the situation in India is very hectic. In the country like India, the government is looking into many aspects and anticipating many circumstances but not amended an Act like Epidemic diseases Act properly till COVID-19 attacks and teaches some lesson. Hence, there is an exigency to review the epidemic laws in India and I suggest the government to please look into emergency situations and make relevant regulations with due care from time to time.

If we do it, the situations will recover fast. This Act can further amend by inserting provisions relating to various other concerns like provisions relating to implementation of lockdown during epidemic, declaring areas as red zones & buffer zones, providing special care for persons especially to people below poverty line and position of labour, employees etc during epidemic times.

Written By: Kadimisetty Sai Sreenadh, Final year student of B.A.LLB (Hons.), DSNLU
Email: [email protected]

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