- History of the Act
- Provisions of the Act
- Notable features of the Act
Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897
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The cabinet secretary on 11 March announced that all states and Union Territories should invoke provisions of Section 2 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 by means of which all advisories issued by the Union Health Ministry and state governments from time to time are enforceable.
- Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
- The disease originated from Wuhan, China has been declared as a Pandemic by World Health Organisation.
- At present, at least 415 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in India till March 23, 2020.
- Around the world, more than 345,289 people have been infected and nearly 14,924 have died, according to recent update.
History of the Act:
- The Epidemic Diseases Act is routinely enforced across the country for dealing with outbreaks of diseases such as swine flu, dengue, and cholera.
- The colonial government introduced the Act to tackle the epidemic of bubonic plague that had spread in the erstwhile Bombay Presidency in the 1890s.
- Using powers conferred by the Act, colonies authorities would search suspected plague cases in homes and among passengers, with forcible segregations, evacuations, and demolitions of infected places.
- Historians have criticized the Act for its potential for abuse.
- In 1897, the year the law was enforced, freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak was punished with 18 months’ rigorous imprisonment after his newspapers Kesari and Maratha admonished imperial authorities for their handling of the plague epidemic.
Provisions of the Act:
- The Act, which consists of four sections, aims to provide “for the better prevention of the spread of Dangerous Epidemic Diseases.”
Section 2: empowers state governments/UTs to take special measures and formulate regulations for containing the outbreak.
- It reads: Power to take special measures and prescribe regulations as to dangerous epidemic disease—
(1) When at any time the State Government is satisfied that the State or any part thereof is visited by, or threatened with, an outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease, the State Government, if it thinks that the ordinary provisions of the law for the time being in force are insufficient for the purpose, may take, or require or empower any person to take, such measures and, by public notice, prescribe such temporary regulations to be observed by the public or by any person or class of persons as it shall deem necessary to prevent the outbreak of such disease or the spread thereof, and may determine in what manner and by whom any expenses incurred (including compensation if any) shall be defrayed.
(2) In particular and without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing provisions, the State Government may take measures and prescribe regulations for the inspection of persons travelling by railway or otherwise, and the segregation, in hospital, temporary accommodation or otherwise, of persons suspected by the inspecting officer of being infected with any such disease.
Section 3: provides penalties for disobeying any regulation or order made under the Act.
- These are according to section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant).
Section 4: gives legal protection to the implementing officers acting under the Act.
Notable features of the Act:
- The Act is a state government Act and not a Central government Act.
- The law does not bestow the Centre any power beyond issuing advisories and coordinating.
- Since health is a state subject, section 2 of the Act only empowers a state to inspect people and segregate suspected patients.
- Powers accorded to states include barring entry and exit of population from containment area, declaring closure of public and private institutions, initiating active and passive surveillance, hospital isolation of all suspected cases and their contacts.
- The regulation also mentions that no person/institution/organisation shall use any information regarding Covid-19 without ascertaining facts and prior clearance of authorities like DMET, DPH, DHS or Collector.
- The only power the Centre derives from the law is on inspection of any ship or vessel leaving or arriving at any port that comes under its jurisdiction.
- Epidemic Disease Act in its present form is inadequate to deal with bioterrorism and international spread of diseases.
- The act ensures that the advisory issued by the Union Health ministry and state governments is enforceable.
- To limit the spread of the outbreak as it contains provisions of action against the suspect or confirmed cases if they refuse to take measures for prevention or treatment.
India has a plethora of laws and guidelines but the problem arises mainly because of coordination and implementation issues. Keeping in mind the global emergency, all the stakeholders must unite and fight the outbreak.