JURIST Guest Columnist Anjali Busar, a second-year law student at the Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University in Lucknow, India, discusses the amendments made to India's Epidemic Diseases Act to protect healthcare workers during the pandemic...
As the world is grappling with the growing terror of the novel coronavirus, millions of people have started to work from home to rescue themselves from the pitfalls of this pandemic. However, many people are not able to relish in the ease and comfort of the house during such extremities. With social distancing, lockdown, and home quarantine measures being implemented across the country, the corona-warriors (medical and police personnel) are working relentlessly to keep society functioning.
Need and Liability of the Government to Protect Corona-Warriors
The government exists to protect citizens from internal and external perils whilst balancing their needs and wants. Maintaining peace, harmony, law, and order is the primary duty of the state, which is achieved through various law enforcement agencies and organizations.
Amidst crisis, there has been a substantial increase in the cases of violence, assault, and harassment against healthcare and law management personnel. Doctors, nurses, and other voluntary helpers are being shunned and ostracized from the society on the belief that as they have been treating COVID-19 patients, there is a high possibility that they are themselves infected by the virus. This is a glaring example of a situation where one is reprimanded even for doing a noble job at the cost of one’s life.
With the cases of attacks increasing, many healthcare workers may feel that their lives are threatened. This could hamper the efficiency of the medical staff whilst performing their duties and fulfilling their responsibilities toward the masses. While healthcare service personnel are duty-bound to serve without discrimination, the cooperation and support of the society are needed for them to perform their duties with confidence.
India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, had urged the population to stand in the balconies or at the door-step of their house to pay tribute and applaud the hard work, sacrifice, and will-power of all the healthcare workers and others who are working around-the-clock to provide a safe and secure environment to the country, while constantly putting themselves at risk. Hence, there exists a moral obligation on the government to ensure the well-being of the frontline workers– to protect the protector.
New Rules and Regulations Amid Lockdown
The Union Government, while embracing a zero-tolerance policy for any act of violence against healthcare personnel, promulgated the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance to modify the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897. Whoever abets the commission or commits harassment, hurt, intimidation, harm, and injury or puts the life of any healthcare personnel in danger, within the hospital premises or otherwise, could be punished with imprisonment varying from three months to five years, coupled with a fine of at least fifty-thousand rupees.
In cases where the violence causes grievous hurt, as defined under Section 320 of the Indian Penal Code, such person will be imprisoned for a term not less than six months, which can be extended to seven years, along with a fine ranging from one to five thousand rupees. Any such offense by any person is declared to be cognizable and non-bailable. The ordinance elucidates that investigation of the case should be concluded within thirty days by a police officer, not below the rank of an inspector.
In this scenario, where the person is prosecuted for committing an offense punishable under this act, the court shall presume the person to be guilty, until the contrary is proved. In addition to a punishment for the guilty, he will also be accountable to pay compensation to the victim for causing such danger to life. As per the ordinance, for damage to property or any loss caused, the wrong-doer has to pay twice the amount of fair market value of such destroyed property as compensation. The amount shall be recovered as an arrear of land revenue, in the circumstance of failure to pay the compensation. All the inquiries, trials, and proceedings should be conducted as speedily as possible and the case should be disposed of within one year. However, if by any chance the trial is not concluded within the said period, an extension of six months can be granted.
The Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public Distribution has ratified the grant of ex-gratia monetary compensation to over one-hundred-thousand workers and officers of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) including eighty thousand laborers who are working twenty-four-seven to supply food grains across the country amidst the outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic. Under its provisions, during a six-month period, if anyone dies from a COVID-19 infection while on duty with FCI, there will be ex-gratia payments to the worker’s family.
The Supreme Court directed the government to take some necessary steps to protect the workers who are fighting on the frontlines. It also elucidated that the government is not allowed to deduct parts of Government doctors,’ salaries to procure protective equipment. Respective governments of the state have to provide sufficient police security to the medical staff in the clinical premises where COVID-19 patients are housed, as well as while they are making door-to-door visits for screenings and identification of virus-infected patients.
While the entire world is fighting the battle against the coronavirus, the medical staff is forced to fight its own battle with other humans. Dire circumstances indisputably have terrible or dreadful consequences. Therefore, the priority of the government must be to amend the laws to be in-sync with present-day conditions. As instances of violence and assault on workers proliferate, the necessity of introducing new laws or re-drafting the existing ones becomes dire. It is time to save the savior. The ordinance was laid down to permeate the sense of safety and security in the minds of corona-warriors who are being threatened by miscreants.
For more on COVID-19, see our special coverage.
Anjali Busar is a second-year law student at the Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University in Lucknow, India.
Suggested Citation: Anjali Busar, The Epidemic Disease Ordinance: Protecting the Protector, JURIST – Student Commentary, May 7, 2020, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/05/anjali-busar-protecting healthcare-workers-covid19/.
This article was prepared for publication by Gabrielle Wast, Assistant Editor for JURIST Commentary. Please direct any questions or comments to her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.