The Rajya Sabha on Saturday passed the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020 for protection for healthcare personnel combatting epidemic diseases, by voice vote.
The Bill, already in force as an Ordinance, also expands the scope of powers of the Central Government to prevent the spread of such diseases.
While introducing the Bill, Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan said that during the Covid-19 pandemic, healthcare service personnel were often stigmatized. There were also instances of attacks on their person, property and the healthcare facility. Thus, the Bill seeks to bring stringent provisions to act as an effective deterrent.
Cutting across party lines, most Members supported the Bill but requested the Government to consider the following suggestions:
However, the Bill was passed without any amendments.
Protection for healthcare personnel & damage to property
The Bill prohibits commission/ abetment of an act of violence against a healthcare service personnel.
It also prohibits an act/ abetment for causing damage or loss to any property during an epidemic.
Contravention of these provisions shall constitute a cognizable and non-bailable offence, punishable with imprisonment between three months and five years, and a fine between Rs 50,000 and two lakh rupees.
Further, if an act of violence against a healthcare service personnel causes grievous harm, the person committing the offence will be punishable with imprisonment between six months and seven years, and a fine between one lakh rupees and five lakh rupees.
Persons convicted of offences under the Bill will also be liable to pay compensation to the healthcare service personnel whom they have hurt. In the case of damage or loss of property, the compensation payable to the victim will be twice the amount of the fair market value of the damaged or lost property, as determined by the Court. If the convicted person fails to pay the compensation, the amount will be recovered as an arrear of land revenue under the Revenue Recovery Act, 1890.
Cases registered under the Bill will be investigated by a police officer, not below the rank of Inspector. The investigation must be completed within 30 days from the date of registration of the First Information Report.
The inquiry or trial should be concluded within one year, failing which the concerned Judge must record the reasons for the delay and extend the time period for not more than six months at a time.
In case for causing grievous harm to a healthcare service personnel, the burden of proof shall lie on the accused.
Powers of the central government
Whereas the parent Act empowers the Central Government to (i) inspect any ship or vessel leaving or arriving at any port; and (ii) detain any person intending to travel from the port, during an outbreak; the Bill expands its powers to:
1. Healthcare service personnel refers to:
2. Act of violence committed against a healthcare service personnel includes:
3. Property includes:
[With Inputs From PRS Legislative Research]
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