Ordinance to Protect Health Workers
- 23 Apr 2020
- 7 min read
Why in News
- The President has given his assent to an ordinance passed to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.
- Wider Inclusion: The amendments intend to protect the health workers from harassment by the public. The amendments will also apply to harassment by landlords and neighbours.
- Cognizable and Non-bailable: Violence against medical staff has been made a cognizable and non-bailable offence.
- Compensation: Provision for compensation for injury to healthcare personnel or for damage or loss to property.
- If damage was done to vehicles or clinics of healthcare workers, a compensation amounting to twice the market value of the damaged property would be charged from the accused.
- Timely Investigation: In cases of attacks on healthcare workers, the investigation will be completed within 30 days and the final decision arrived within one year.
- Umbrella Protection: The ordinance will protect the whole healthcare fraternity, including doctors, nurses and ASHA workers from violence during epidemics.
- Punishment : The punishment for such attacks will be 3 months to 5 years and the fine ₹50,000 to ₹2 lakh.
- In severe cases, where there are grievous injuries, the punishment will be 6 months to 7 years and the fine ₹1 lakh to ₹5 lakh.
- In cognisable offences, an officer can take cognizance of and arrest a suspect without seeking a court’s warrant to do so, if she has “reason to believe” that the person has committed the offence and is satisfied that the arrest is necessary on certain enumerated bases.
- According to the 177th Law Commission Report, cognisable offences are those that require an immediate arrest.
- Within 24 hours of the arrest, the officer must have detention ratified by a judicial magistrate.
- Cognizable offences are generally heinous or serious in nature such as murder, rape, kidnapping, theft, dowry death etc.
- The first information report (FIR) is registered only in cognizable crimes.
- In case of a non-cognizable offence, the police cannot arrest the accused without a warrant as well as cannot start an investigation without the permission of the court.
- The crimes of forgery, cheating, defamation, public nuisance, etc., fall in the category of non-cognizable crimes.
- Need: Healthcare workers are being portrayed as potential spreaders of Covid-19 pandemic. Public venting of angst against healthcare service personnel leading to harassment assault and damage to property is being highlighted daily. Therefore, the medical community has been demanding protection.
- Unique Challenge: The Covid-19 outbreak has posed a unique situation where harassment of the healthcare workforce and others working to contain the spread of the disease has been taking place at all fronts, in various places, including in cremation grounds.
- Deficiency in State laws:
- Several States had enacted special laws to offer protection to doctors and other medical personnel in the past. However, these existing State laws do not have such a wide ambit.
- They generally do not cover harassment at home and workplace and are focussed more on physical violence.
- The penal provisions contained in these laws are not stringent enough to deter mischief-mongering.
- Ordinance is a decree or law promulgated by a state or national government without the consent of the legislature.
- Article 123 of the Constitution of India grants the President certain law-making powers to promulgate ordinances when either of the two Houses of Parliament is not in session.
- Similar powers are given to the Governor of a state to issue ordinances under Article 213 of the Constitution.
- There are three limitations with regard to the ordinance making power of the executive. They are:
- The President can only promulgate an ordinance when either of the two Houses of Parliament is not in session.
- The President cannot promulgate an ordinance unless he is satisfied that there are circumstances that require taking ‘immediate action’.
- Ordinances must be approved by Parliament within six weeks of reassembling or they shall cease to operate. They will also cease to operate in case resolutions disapproving the ordinance are passed by both the Houses.
Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897
- The Epidemic Diseases Act initially was passed in February 1897 in the wake of the outbreak of the bubonic plague in India (particularly in the Bombay presidency).
- The Act aims to provide for the better prevention of the spread of Dangerous Epidemic Diseases.
- It empowers the state and central government to take special measures and prescribe regulations that are to be observed by the public to contain the spread of disease.
- It also makes disobedience of any regulation or order made under this Act a punishable offence.
- It provides for the protection of persons or officials acting under this Act as no suit or other legal proceeding can be initiated against any person for anything done or in good faith intended to be done under this Act.