A medical emergency is a formal declaration made to tackle an extraordinary situation in which there exists a chance for the spread of disease or any event that may harm public health like that of the epidemic. The epidemic disease can be defined as "the constant presence of a disease or infectious agent within a given geographic area or population group; may also refer to the usual prevalence of a given disease within such an area or group."[1]

The Covid-19 spread took us once again into a medical emergency, which is usually rare. According to WHO, Medical Emergency means 'an extraordinary event' that could spread to other countries and demands a coordinated global response.[2] The Health Emergency decision imposes certain dos and don'ts to prevent viral spread. Also, a Global Health Emergency will automatically result in an economic slowdown, which even should be met seriously in the guidelines issued.


Article 352 of the Constitution was originally about the declaration of emergency on the ground of war, external disturbance, and internal disturbance. The term internal disturbance was wide enough to include disruptions due to nature made disasters such as floods, earthquakes, epidemic, etc.[3] This term `internal disturbance' was replaced by `armed rebellion' by the 44th amendment from Article 352, but not from Article 355. The union government is duty-bound to protect all states against internal disturbance and external aggression.[4] The constitutional powers of the central government include the proclamation of emergency, directions to state regarding the use of executive powers, framing of law regarding state subjects.[5] The freedoms under Article 19 and the enforcement of fundamental rights remain suspended during the emergency period.[6] Therefore, Health Emergency can be invoked by the central government under the parasol of internal disturbance though not covered under Article 352.


The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, was enacted to counter the bubonic plague epidemic in Mumbai in former British India.[7] The law provides some special powers to the government for controlling the spread of epidemics. The Act was used to prevent the spread of several diseases such as cholera, malaria, dengue, swine flu.[8] On 11th March 2020, the Cabinet Secretary of India announced all the states and union territories to invoke the provisions of Section 2 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, for the containment of Covid-19. The Act confers states with the power to take extraordinary measures and prescribe regulations to tackle dangerous epidemic diseases.[9] The Act also empowers the central government to inspect and detain any ship or vessel leaving or arriving at any port.[10] The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, can no doubt help the states to extend their powers in matters of inspection and quarantine. But there are several limitations to the 1897 law, and it fails to give a proper definition for dangerous disease, and it is silent in addressing the principles of Human Rights that should be observed during contingency and emergency measures.[11]


The term `disaster' means, "a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or manmade causes…".[12] The central government has notified disaster as a "critical medical condition or pandemic situation" to include the Covid-19 outbreak. The Ministry of Home Affairs provided directions to ministries or departments of the Government of India to implement measures[13] laid down in the central order by invoking Section 6(2)(i) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 for managing coronavirus outbreak. These measures include restricting the free movement of residents, closure of all offices, factories, and shops other than those that are considered essential. The wide-ranging powers under the Disaster Management Act include restricting traffic, people's movements, making available necessary resources, requiring experts and consultants to provide advice and assistance for resistance, etc. Even though the Act does not include any specific provisions to address the epidemic, the definition of disaster is wide enough to include biological hazards.


The legal system in India about the medical emergency is not efficient, and outdated laws are still in existence. We are way behind by comparing the Indian proposals with the guidelines of the international bodies and the health emergency laws of the USA and the UK. The Indian law fails to address medical emergencies specifically, and there exists a need to have specific legislation to deal with a medical emergency.

The successive governments at the center have also recognized the need for progressive laws, which resulted in the introduction of the National Health Bill in 2009 and the Public Health (Prevention, Control, and Management of Epidemics, Bio-Terrorism, and Disasters) Bill, in 2017. Unfortunately, the law of 1897 is still in force. The Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 cannot be considered as an efficient and fully framed legislation that is competent to manage epidemics. The outdated laws must be updated to meet future unforeseen events, epidemics, and disasters. India does not have any specific legislation to address health emergencies. It can be concluded that there exists an absolute necessity for efficient and effective laws for a better nation that offers a better life to its citizens.


Joseph Cyriac

Co-operative school of law

Thodupuzha, Kerala


[1] Ninth Semester LL.B, Student Cooperative School of Law Thodupuzha, Kerala

[2] Porta M, editor. 5th ed. New York: Oxford University Press; 2008. Dictionary of Epidemiology; pp. 78-9.

[3] International Health Regulations 2005.2nd ed. Geneva: WHO, 2008.

[4] "Report of Sarika Commission ISCS."

[5] The Indian Constitution 1950, Art.355

[6] The Indian Constitution 1950, Art.353

[7] The Indian Constitution 1950, Art.358 & 359

[8] "The legal hole in battling Covid-19", Manish Tewari; available at

[9] "The 123-year-old law that India may invoke to counter coronavirus" The Economic Times.2020 12th March

[10] The Epidemic Diseases Act 1897, Section 2

[11] The Epidemic Diseases Act 1897, Section 2A

[12] "The legal hole in battling Covid-19", Manish Tewari; available at

[13] The Disaster Management Act 2005, Section 2(d)

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