Rajya Sabha passes Epidemic Diseases Amendment Bill, 2020 to protect healthcare workers

The Upper House on Saturday passed the Epidemic Diseases Amendment Bill, 2020 to bring a law that punishes those who attack health workers or doctors who are fighting the coronavirus outbreak or during any situation similar to the current Covid-19 pandemic. The legislation provides for up to five years in jail for those who attack doctors and health care personnel.

The Centre implemented the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 in order to provide protection to health care service personnel, their living premises as well as their workplaces against any violence during the course of a pandemic.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan while introducing the Bill in the Upper House said that the ordinance introduced in April led to a fall in cases of violence against healthcare workers. He said, “We have all noticed that there has been a dramatic decline in the incidents of violence against health workers all over the country.”

Addressing the issue of the stigma attached to Covid-19, Harsh Vardhan said, “Many healthcare workers, including doctors, paramedics, were insulted in some form or the other, due to the stigma attached to Covid-19. The Central government acted on this situation and found that there was a need for a law, a prohibitory mechanism against such incidents.”

The legislation intends to make sure that there is an attitude of zero tolerance towards violence against people working in the healthcare sector. The service personnel who will be protected under the new legislation include “public and clinical healthcare service providers such as doctors, nurses, paramedical workers and community health workers; any other persons empowered under the act to take measures to prevent the outbreak of the disease or spread thereof; and any persons declared as such by the state government, by notification in the official gazette.”

Trinamool Congress leader and MP Derek O’Brien said the Bill allows Centre to ‘cross constitutional bars’ and interferes with how the chief ministers run their states. He said, “Remember states of West Bengal, Punjab, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan rejected you. Chief Ministers there have been elected to run the states. You cannot cross constitutional bars. There are sinister provisions in the Bill. The states must be authorised to take decisions.”

The MP from West Bengal called it an ‘imposition of Centre’s will on states’. “The Centre cannot impose its will on states. It is unconstitutional,” he added.

If any damage is done to clinical establishments, quarantine and isolation facilities of patients, mobile medical units or any other property associated with healthcare personnel during a pandemic, penal provisions can be provoked.

Penalty ranging from Rs 50,000 to Rs 2,00,000 can be slapped on any individual who is involved in commission or abetment of such acts of violence. It can also be punishable in the form of an imprisonment for a term of three months to five years.

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