EVALUATION OF EPIDEMIC DISEASES ACT 1897
Written by: Ayush Garg and Mridul Pateriya, Students, Gujrat National Law University, Gandhi Nagar
The Epidemic Disease Act was passed in 1897. The aim of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 was to tackle the epidemic of bubonic plague that broke out in Mumbai, Maharashtra (previously called Bombay) in former British India.
The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 is one of the shortest acts in the history of India which comprises only four sections. The first section explains the title and the extent, while the second gives powers to the state and Central governments to take special measures and formulate regulations that are to be observed by the people to contain the spread of disease. The third section describes penalties for violating the regulations, in accordance with Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code. The fourth section deals with legal protection to the implementing officers acting under the Act.
As per the provisions of Section 2 of the epidemic diseases act, which describes the power of State government, " When the state government is satisfied that there is a dangerous epidemic disease in any state or in any part thereof, then the state government may endorse guidelines for examination of people travelling by railroad or otherwise & segregation of persons suspected by the investigating officer of being infected with any such diseases." Section 3 of the act states that either ‘six months’ of imprisonment or ‘rupees one thousand’ fine or both could be charged out to the person who violates this act.
The governor-general of India at the time conferred special powers upon the local authorities to implement the measures which are necessary to control the epidemics.
This act was implemented vigorously to control the plague epidemic that broke out in the year 1890s in Bombay. The forces it gave were invoked to scan for suspected plague cases in homes and among travellers. There was isolation of influenced people and sterilizations. The gathering of groups was forestalled, open gatherings and celebrations were prohibited and journeys were suspended.
PREVIOUS USE OF THE EPIDEMIC DISEASES ACT, 1897
1. 1918 Flu Pandemic in India:
In India, during 1918-1920, there was an outbreak called 1918 flu pandemic which is an unusually deadly influenza pandemic as a part of the worldwide Spanish flu pandemic. The pandemic is believed to have killed up to 12 to 17 million people in the country that is the most number of peoples compared to other countries. The outbreak most severely affected younger population in the age group between 20-40 years. This pandemic broke out vigorously in Bombay in June 1918 because of the troops returning from the First World War from Europe.
2. Smallpox Epidemic in India, 1974:
The 1974 smallpox scourge of India was one of the most noticeably terrible smallpox plagues of the twentieth century.
More than 15,000 individuals contracted and died from smallpox during the period of January to May 1974. The vast majority of the passing’s happened in the Indian provinces of Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal. There were thousands who endured yet were deformed or blinded. India detailed 61,482 instances of smallpox to the World Health Organization (WHO) in these five months. India had over 86% of the world's smallpox cases in 1974, essentially because of this epidemic. By January 1975, activity was begun planned for containing the last instances of smallpox, called "Target Zero", with the ID of last smallpox persistent in India happening on May 24, 1975. By 1980, smallpox was affirmed as being destroyed from the world.
3. 1994 Plague in India:
The 1994 plague in India was an outbreak of bubonic and pneumonic plague in south-focal and western India from 26 August 1994 to 18 October 1994. 693 presumed cases and 56 deaths were accounted for from the five influenced Indian states. There are no reports of cases being sent out to different nations. News of the Plague spread through Surat city through the night of 21 September 1994. Ill-prepared medical shops quickly exhausted stocks of tetracycline. This led to panic among people fleeing hospitals fearing infection from other sick patients.
4. Swine Flu 2009
The swine flu pandemic was an influenza pandemic that lasted for around 20 months from January 2009 to August 2010. The scientific name for this virus is A/H1N1PDM09 (H1N1 virus). First traced in Mexico in April 2009. It got known as swine influenza since it's like influenza infections that influence pigs. It spread between nations since it was another sort of influenza infection that a couple of youngsters were insusceptible to. The moderately modest number of cases that prompted genuine sickness or passing was for the most part in youngsters and youthful grown-ups – especially those with basic medical issues – and pregnant ladies. The 1918 flu pandemic was possibly brought about by an H1N1 infection, known as Spanish influenza. The pandemic slaughtered an expected 50 million individuals worldwide and was prominent in that it had a high passing rate among grown-ups. On 10 August 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) proclaimed the pandemic authoritatively finished.
India has reported its first confirmed case of novel coronavirus in Thrissur district of Kerala on 30th January 2020 as per media reports. The patient was a student studying in Wuhan University of China and had returned to India in January 2020. There had been incidences where the doctor was attacked while performing their duties and it wasn’t just one-time incident, it resulted in an outcry from people engaged in COVID – 19 prevention activities for amending existing law to provide a better safeguard for HealthCare Service Personnel. Afterwards, On 22nd April 2020, the central government issued the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 by which The Epidemic Act, 1897 is amended. It’s enforceable at the whole of India addressing incidents of violence against health workers and damages to the property of clinical establishments. Previously states have amended this act like Kerala and Karnataka. It’s 1st by the Central in response to COVID-19. This ordinance makes the act of violence against health workers a punishable offence during an epidemic.
a) “act of violence” includes any of the following acts committed by any person against HealthCare Service Personnel (hereinafter HSP) such as Harassment, interference with living or working condition of HSP; Harm, intimidation or danger to the life of HSP within the premises of Clinical establishment or otherwise; Hindrance to HSP in the discharge of his duty within the premises of Clinical establishment or otherwise; Damage to property or document in the custody of, or concerning, such HSP.
b) “HealthCare Service Personnel” means any person who while carrying out his epidemic related duties is at risk of coming in direct contact with affected patients thereby such disease, like public or clinical healthcare provider like Doctor, nurse, paramedical worker etc; Any person empowered by the Act or declared as such by the state government via official Gazette to take preventive measures to stop outbreak;
c) “Property” means Clinical Establishment; Facility of quarantining patient during an epidemic; Mobile medical unit; any other property in which HSP has a direct work-related interest;
d) It is further supplemented by definitions used in Indian Ports Act, The Aircraft Act or Land Ports Authority of India Act.
Central Government Power:
Power of the Central Government has been increased under Section 2(A) by the amendment to mend shortcomings and make it suitable for present requirement, whereas the previous section prescribed ‘regulations for the inspection of ship/vessel leaving/arriving at any port in India.’ Now it reads as ‘any bus, train, goods vehicle, ship/vessel or aircraft leaving or arriving at any port or airdrome or of any person intended to travel therein or arriving as the case may be’.
Prohibition of violence against healthcare personnel or damage to property:
Section 2(B) is added, it prohibits any act of violence against any HSP or any act which results in damage or loss of property during an epidemic.
Section 3(2) prescribes imprisonment of 3 months to 5 years and with fine from 50000-200000 Rupees for those who committed any act of violence or damage to property against HSP. And Section 3 (3) which prescribes any act of violence resulted in grievous hurt as per Section 320 of IPC shall be punished with imprisonment of 6 months to 7 years and fine from 100000- 500000 Rupees.
The amendment concerning procedural law:
Section 3(A) is added to exclude the application of CRPC in offences prescribed under this Act; it makes offence under Section 3(2) & (3), Cognizable and Non-Bailable offences, which shall be investigated by Police officer, not below the rank of Inspector who shall complete it within 30 days from date of FIR. It mandates that every inquiry or trial under Section 3(2) & (3) shall be conducted in a fast manner, once the examination of witnesses begun shall be continued on a day to day basis unless the court finds the adjournment of the same beyond the following day necessary in such cases reasons to be recorded. The trial shall be completed within 1 year, if not reasons for the same shall be recorded. And said period shall not exceed 6 months at a time and further extensions reason shall be recorded.
Section 3(B) makes offences under Section 3 (2) compoundable with the prior permission of the court and compoundable by the person against whom the violence is committed.
Section 3(C) shifts the burden of proof on the accused person regarding offence under Section 3(3).
Section 3(D) in the prosecution of an offence under Section 3(3) mandates courts to presume that culpable mind exists unless the contrary is proved. The burden is beyond reasonable doubt not just Preponderance of probability.
Section 3(E)(1) provides for compensation for the hurt or Grievous Hurt suffered by HealthCare Service Personnel when the offence is under Section 3(2) and (3).
Section 3(E)(2) notwithstanding composition cases concerning damage to property or loss, compensation shall be double of the market value of the property and shall be determined by the court.
And Section 3(E)(3) provides that when they are unable to pay compensation the same shall be collected as land Arrears.
The COVID—19 outbreaks in the world is one of a kind in the 21st Century. Countries with large population & density like India face greater danger. The said act is more than a century old and has major limitations with respect to tackling the emergence and re-emergence of communicable diseases in the country. Hence the amendment is an apt response to prevent and control the spread and existence of infectious diseases in India. Furthermore this Amendment has practical problems at its enforcement like a trial of cases within 1 year, with the already existing pendency’s in the trial courts and vacancies in Judicial Posts, it poses a practical problem on enforcing the mandate furthermore shifting of the burden of proof from Government who possess power, money and resources to accused of grievous hurt offence has created an additional burden on commoners who may be innocent but due to resource constraint cannot prove his innocence beyond reasonable doubt which will create difficulty in long run.
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