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Rajya Sabha Clears The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020 For Protection Of Healthcare Personnel During Epidemic [Read Bill]

Akshita Saxena
19 Sep 2020 10:47 AM GMT
Rajya Sabha Clears The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020 For Protection Of Healthcare Personnel During Epidemic [Read Bill]
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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.

Parliamentary Debate

Cutting across party lines, most Members supported the Bill but requested the Government to consider the following suggestions:

  • Define epidemic/ pandemic;
  • Delineate statutory duties of a Government during an epidemic;
  • Set up a Clinical Establishment Regulatory Commission, headed by a High Court Judge, to prevent the private hospitals from overcharging patients during a pandemic;
  • Set up a National Task Force to hold consultation with all the stakeholders, including state Government and medical and scientific teams, for a comprehensive review and amendment of the Epidemic Act, 1897;
  • Extend protection to Police professionals and all other allied workers such as Anganwadi workers, Sanitation workers, fire servicemen, medicine distributors, etc.;
  • Make provision for catering to Mental Health of the frontline workers;
  • Include penal provisions against intentional procurement of healthcare equipment at higher prices, overcharging for medical treatment, medicines, injections;
  • Make provisions for recovery of damage caused to Government infrastructure by persons protesting due to epidemic disease related aspects;
  • Make provisions against arbitrary arrests by the law enforcement;
  • Make provisions for providing financial aid to bereaved families of sole bread winners who succumb to the epidemic disease;
  • Make provision for giving compensation to bereaved families of frontline workers;
  • Confer adequate powers upon State Governments as it is an end agency that caters to the public;
  • Introduce Fast track Courts to hear and dispose cases under the Act.

However, the Bill was passed without any amendments.

Salient Features

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.

Compensation

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.

Investigation

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.

Trial

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:

  • Inspect any bus, train, goods vehicle, ship, vessel, or aircraft leaving or arriving at any land port, port, or aerodrome.
  • Detain any person intending to travel by these means.

Important Definitions

1. Healthcare service personnel refers to:

  • public and clinical healthcare providers such as doctors and nurses
  • any person empowered under the Act to take measures to prevent the outbreak of the disease
  • other persons designated as such by the state government.

2. Act of violence committed against a healthcare service personnel includes:

  • harassment impacting living or working conditions
  • harm, injury, hurt, or danger to life
  • obstruction in discharge of duties
  • loss or damage to the property or documents of the healthcare service personnel.

3. Property includes:

  • clinical establishment
  • quarantine facility
  • mobile medical unit
  • any other property in which a healthcare service personnel has direct interest, in relation to the epidemic.

[With Inputs From PRS Legislative Research]

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