The Lok Sabha on Monday passed the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020, after Rajya Sabha had passed it on Saturday. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan called this bill 'empowering' and said that states could make additions to the act. However, Congress member Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury that the bill has been brought in in a haste and certain areas remain a cause for concern.
Nevertheless, what does the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020 entail?
According to the bill, individuals who are found attacking healthcare workers in the frontline of the war against coronavirus or any other situation akin to the pandemic could be jailed for up to seven years. The bill aims to ensure that there would be zero-tolerance to any form of violence against healthcare personnel and damage to property.
Such offences or abetment of such violence would be punishable with imprisonment for a term of three months to five years and a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh. In case of grievous injury, the offender would be handed a term of six months to seven years and a fine of Rs 1-5 lakh.
There is also a provision in the bill that says that the offender would be presumed guilty unless proved otherwise. Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury pointed out that this was in complete deviation from the country's criminal law.
The government had brought the ordinance to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 on April 22. With Lok Sabha's nod, the amendment is soon to take place.
"The ordinance has given a very strong message to perpetrators of violence against medical professionals and health workers during the pandemic. We have all noticed that there has been a dramatic decline in the incidents of violence against health workers all over the country," said Harsh Vardhan.
"Everyone was feeling sad and bad. That was the time the government thought of taking a proactive step. When the government reviewed, it found there were minimal laws and powers in some states. There was a need to have a central law to put in place a prohibitory mechanism to stop such activities," he added.