Recentexploitation caused by the novel COVID-19 throughout the world created such circumstances that forces Central and State Governments of India to take essential steps forkeeping the people safe. So, a major requirement of a strong legislature is required. We have several acts that prevent and provide guidelines for such an epidemic. Out of those, the most-oldest act is the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. However,it restricts governments while dealing with the public at large on an international as well national basis. Due to this, many states in India have invoked various provisions apart from central govt. to control Novel Corona Virus which had already gulpedmany superpowers in its grip. So, the pressing priority is for aunified, inclusive, actionable, and pertinent legal provision in India.
India has witnessed many large outbreaks of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases in the recent past. Taking an example of the ongoing Pandemic i.e. Corona Virus, it is the deadliest disease of the decade by gulping around 1.8 million people to death and more than 25,94,835 cases worldwide (as on 27 April). India’s report is also not very well. Within April’s first week, the number of cases jumps to the twice of the cases from March. The outbreak of such viruses having the potential to shake countries like America and Italy poses a threat to the public health security of India.
Now, the question poses on the Legal framework of any country to impose certain rules and regulations to help the governments and support them during this epidemic. It is the time of examinations of countries whether developed or developing, whether more populated or less populated, to perform well and successfully deals with COVID-19. The marking of a nation can be done based on its measures taken by its government meantime, decreasing the outreach of the virus to fewer people, the use of more technology smartly, and the usage of natural resources widely. It can only be possible for a nation to pass such a surprise test by preparing themselves at present with the health of proper legal mechanisms.In this context, it is important to critically evaluate the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897, its relevance in the current context, and whether it has kept up with the recent global developments in disease surveillance, disease control, and rights perspective.
About Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897
The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, a 123 years old act, was enforced in the British Era in 1897 to optimize and prevent the evacuation of “epidemic diseases”. To tackle the Bubonic plague epidemic which broke out in the colonial Bombay state.
The Epidemic Diseases Act,1897 is one of the oldest and shortest Acts in India, which consists of only four sections. Section-1 explains the title and the extent.Section-2 gives powers to the central and state government to take special measures and formulate regulations that are to be observed by the people to contain the communication of disease. Section-3 discusses penalties for violating the regulations, concerning Section-188 of the Indian Penal Code. Section-4 deals with legal protection to the implementing officers acting under the Act.
According to Section 2 of the Act, "When 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; and if it thinks that the ordinary provisions of the law are insufficient for the purpose, then the state may take, or require or empower any person to take some measures and by public notice prescribe such temporary regulations to be observed by the public. The state government may prescribe regulations for the inspection of persons traveling 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 2A empowers the Central government to inspect any ship leaving or arriving at any port and for detention thereof, or of any person intending to sail therein, or arriving thereby. Section 3 states, "Six months' imprisonment or 1,000 rupees fine or both could be charged out to the person who disobeys this Act."
Meaning of Dangerous Epidemic Disease
Although, the act does not define the term "dangerous epidemic disease" but according to various law jurists and lawyers, it comprises of any such harmful disease which is either communicable or not is said to be an epidemic, which affects people at large (not comprising of the age factor) and endangered there life, also has the potential to international spread.
Drawbacks of the Epidemic Diseases Act
As the medical sciences develop itself from the 18th century, the threatening viruses and communicable diseases also expand their legs meanwhile. Not alleging the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 only because of its reason for being 123 -year- old but because of its inadequacy of maintaining a balance with the current human rights and nuclear weapon society.This act needs modifications that relate to the modern world. For instance, it is only dimensioned towards the seaports and sea routes law on the place of giving more preference to Air traffic. The epidemiological concepts used while enacting the act sounds illogical at the current scenario for preventing any spread of such disaster.
The Act is also not in line with the contemporary scientific understanding of outbreak prevention and response, but only reflects the scientific and legal standards that prevailed at the time when it was framed. To cite an example, the Act places too much emphasis on isolation or quarantine measures, but is silent on the other scientific methods of outbreak prevention and control, such as vaccination, surveillance, wearing face masks and organized public health response. Now, in the present scenario, a lot has had happened like two world wars, developing nations to superpowers. Hence, this act is only limited to Sea exports, fine limited to Rs 100, and prevention of epidemic nearby the seaport provinces.
The right eye view on Epidemic Diseases Act
Having a successful history during its youth by helping the Britishers getting over the Bubonic Plague, The Epidemic Diseases Act is purely regulatory in nature. It only lacks behind in declaring Human Rights and defining proper guidelines to the central govt and state govt. the act only focuses on the trade, how it gets protected, gets less effected but deprives of directives measures to the police and security forces. Also, it defines and sets up the punishment for the violation of any practice done by any person on the seaports but it shows a deficiency of laws for penalizing the irregular citizens violating the norms provided by the state and central governments. Human rights include caring for the needs, requirements, freedom, social circumstances, etc of the citizens of the nation.
Previous Legislation in India to combat communicable diseases
Our nation has a lot of lawful provisions that could be utilized for taking public health measures to prevent and control any disaster, embracing provisions of the IPC (Indian Penal Code), Indian Ports Act of 1908, Aircraft Rules of 1954, the Livestock Importation Act, 1898 and Drugs and Cosmetics Act,1940, etc. According to my opinion, it might be better to make such an act which is a complete summary of all the acts which are there for fighting with an epidemic. It will be time-saving, economically benefitting, and saves more lives. In 1955 and 1987, the Central government developed a Model Public Health Act, but failed on implementing it correctly on the states.
Conclusion and recommendations for improvement of legislations
The main reason for the evaluation of The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 is that it does not balance the rights of individuals with the power of the state. It is the major drawback of it. So, now it becomes the duty of the central government to enact such a law which give effect to the international health regulations. According to Article- 253 of the Indian Constitution, it allows the central govt. to set up such mechanisms that prevent, protect against, control, and
provide a public health response to the international spread of disease.
Currently, The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, which continues to find relevance in the modern world requires a strong legal framework that can be made with future eye i.e. to be made in the context of dealing with any such sudden disaster. An expedite Public Health law Infrastructure allotted not only the powers to our nation’s govt., but also shape its role in avoiding and controlling diseases. Meanwhile, according to my pretext, it is not always necessary to amend a law only on the basis that it belongs to the pre-independence era or a 123-year-old enactment. Various other jurists and govt bodies who discuss and review its parameter have summed up with mix-up gestures. some of them say that the complete change in the act is the only solution, whereas others say that bring a little bit change and read it with another act as a supportive material because it is very rare to have support from subsisting 123-year-old act.
Likewise, on 23 April, 2020, the government of India brought in an ordinance to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 making acts of violence against health care personnel a Non-Bailable Offence. Health care covers Health Professionals ranging from Doctors and other paramedical staff under its roof. The punishment for such an act should be not less than 7 years imprisonment or Rs.5lakh fine for anyone causing serious injury to health professionals and damage to their property or both. 2x the cost to be recovered from vandals if cars or clinics of Health Care Professionals are damaged. So, the likewise trend of quick justice began during this corona period by probing the police to finish such cases within 30days, and courts shall give their judgment within 1 year.
The combination of Disaster Management Act, 2005 and Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 is the only key at present in the hands of legislative bodies to work jointly and vigorously for the fast positive results because one improvises the power of the governments and other introduces with the direction to work in and in with the help of what tool.
The private sector accounts for nearly 70% of India’s healthcare, playing a crucial role in reaching our needs. There are many PPP (Public-Private Partnership) already working on disease control medicine. It requires great resources and funding from our country’s economy. But, according to some estimates, India’s daily loss due to the Covid-19 shutdown is about Rs 30,000 Crore, nearby the third of the population around 40 million, have lost their jobs. We need to work out an exit plan that explains clearly what needs to be done for the national economies to boost growth without growing inflation and causing chaos. One solution for nations like India is the pooling of funds. For example, every capable citizen contributes at least a rupee a day. Hence smart management and not scapegoating, define modern policy making.
“AS INDIA HAS ITS TAGLINE- ‘ATITHI DEVO BHAVA’, TODAY AN UNWANTED ATITHI CAME TO VISIT US I.E. CORONA. SO, EVERYONE HAS TO GREET HIM WITH SANITIZER AND SOCIAL DISTANCING THAT HE WILL GET BACK TO HIS HOMETOWN-WUHAN.
IT’S THE LEAST WE CAN DO”.