Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897

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                                         Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897

The Epidemic Diseases Act, the word “Epidemic” means a large number of people or animal suffering from the same disease at the same time. This act was enacted on 4th February 1897. The intention of the legislative behind this act is to provide for the better prevention of the spread of Dangerous Epidemic Diseases. History: In 1896 bubonic plague epidemic of Bombay (Mumbai) in September that year and spread to most parts of the sub-continent, is a well known major event from colonial India. It was enacted during an outbreak of Bubonic Plague. On 19 Ianuary 1897 after four months the plague was identified in Bombay, Queen Victoria delivered a speech to both houses of British Parliament, where she directed government to take steps at their disposal for the eradication of the pestilence. A week after Victoria’s address, the Epidemic Diseases Bill was introduced in the counsel of the Governor-General of India in Calcutta (now Kolkata) for the better prevention of the spread of dangerous epidemic diseases.

This Act Consists Of Several Things: 1. Powers to Central and State Government to take special and prescribed regulation as to dangerous epidemic disease: Section 2A of this act empowers the Central government or state government to take necessary steps to make such rules and regulation through which such epidemic diseases could be controlled. Although “Health” comes under the jurisdiction of state government but invoking section 2 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, advisories and direction will be issued by The Ministry Of Health & Family Welfare will be enforceable.

2. Prohibition of violence against healthcare service personnel and damage to property: Section 2B of this act states that no person shall indulge in any act of violence against a healthcare service personnel or cause any damage or loss to any property during an epidemic.

3. Penalty: Section 3 of this act states that any person disobeying any regulation or order made under this act shall be deemed to have committed an offence punishable under section 188 of the Indian Penal Code.

4. Protection to person acting under act: Section 4 of this act states that no suit or other legal proceeding shall lie against any person for anything done in good faith intended to be done under this Act.

Recent Amendments In This Act:

The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 was promulgated on April 22, 2020.  The Ordinance amends the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.  The Act provides for the prevention of the spread of dangerous epidemic diseases.  The Ordinance amends the Act to include protections for healthcare personnel combatting epidemic diseases and expands the powers of the central government to prevent the spread of such diseases. This latest amendment act defines an ‘act of violence’ includes any of the following acts committed against a healthcare service personnel: (i) harassment impacting living or working conditions, (ii) harm, injury, hurt, or danger to life, (iii) obstruction in discharge of his duties, and (iv) loss or damage to the property or documents of the healthcare service personnel.  Property is defined to include a: (i) clinical establishment, (ii) quarantine facility, (iii) mobile medical unit, and (iv) other property in which a healthcare service personnel has direct interest, in relation to the epidemic.

Features Of Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897:

The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 empowers the state to regulate dangerous disease by banning travel and social distancing. The officers acting in good faith to implement the law enjoy exemption from any suit or other legal proceeding. The pre-lockdown phase marked by the implementation of Section 2 and 2A of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 by the central and State governments. The enforcement of Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 supplemented with quarantine rule contained under Sections 188, 269, 270, and 271 of Indian Penal Code. The Indian government has moved beyond the beneficial provision of these enactments and resorted to the restorative provisions of Section 6, 10, 38 and 72 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005.

Covid19 Pandemic & Epidemic Law:

The ongoing nationwide lockdown caused by the Novel Coronavirus has suddenly brought earlier colonial legislation into the limelight. Starting from the March 2020 most of the states in India have enforced the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 to contain the spread of the Novel Coronavirus in their respective areas. On March 11, 2020, by mandating the norm of social distancing and the voluntary public curfew held in the country. The measures include the shutting of all non-essential Government Establishments, all Commercial & Private Establishments, Industries, Transport by Air, Rail & Road, Hospitality Services, Educational Institutions, Places of Worship, Political Gatherings, etc. Certain exceptions for Medical Staff, Journalists, Petrol Pumps, Essential Stores, etc. Have been provided for. In several States, the competent authorities have issued orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, prohibiting more than five people from assembling in public places.


Power Under The Constitution Of India:

Article 245 of the Constitution of India states that the Parliament or Central Government may make laws for whole or any part of India, and the State Government may make laws for whole or any part of the State. Article 245 lays the basis for the division of powers between the Centre and the State, whereas, Article 246 provides for the ˜Distribution of Legislative Subjects' between the Central and State Governments. It is created by the three Lists, enumerated in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, namely the: • Union ListState ListConcurrent List

Validity Of Order Passed By Central Government:

The Central Government invoked the Disaster Management Act, 2005 to order a lockdown of the country. Similarly, State Governments invoked other Acts to address concerns pertaining to the spread of Covid-19. The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, empowers a State Government to prescribe temporary regulations to be observed by the public or any person to prevent the outbreak and spread of a disease. The Covid-19 outbreak is bound to be classified as a disaster under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, allowing the Central Government wide powers to deal with the pandemic by laying down policies, plans and guidelines for disaster management to ensure a timely and effective response to the disaster. Section 38 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 casts a duty on the States to follow the directions of NDMA.

Moreover, Section 72 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, provides that the provisions of the Act, will have an overriding effect on all other laws, to the extent that they are inconsistent. Therefore, the Order passed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, will override all State Orders and Municipal Orders to the extent that they are inconsistent with the Home Ministry's Order.

The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 no where define what an epidemic disease is. The definition or description of a dangerous epidemic disease is not provided in the Act. There is no clear definition of whether an epidemic is dangerous on the basis of the magnitude of the problem, the difficulty of the problem, the age of the population affected or its potential to spread internationally. The regulations under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, requires medical practitioners to notify the public health authority about anybody with a communicable disease and disclose the identity of the person

In Ram Lall Mistry v. R T Greener the issue was whether the Calcutta Corporation Chairman was protected from liability arising out a demolition of building carried out under the power of Plague Regulation mandated that the Corporation should compensate the building owner. It was held by the Orissa High Court that the omission to pay compensation is not protected under section 4 of The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897

Public health legislation to fight communicable diseases in India: The country has many legal provisions which can be used to take public health measures to prevent and control an epidemic, including provisions of the Indian Penal Code, the Livestock Importation Act, 1898, Indian Ports Act of 1908, Drugs and Cosmetics Act of 1940, and Aircraft Rules of 1954. Bringing all the legal provisions for preventing outbreaks under a single legislation would be challenging, though it would be beneficial for effective implementation and monitoring.  In 1955 and 1987, the Central government developed a Model Public Health Act, but failed to persuade the states to adopt this. The Public Health Act was revised by the National Institute of Communicable Disease (currently the National Centre for Disease Control) a decade ago, but the revisions have still not been approved by the government.

Conclusion:

Recent pandemic of Covid19 have brought in the mind of the government to reform the act according to the situation. Several courageous steps are being taken by the government to fight with the present pandemic. More protection has been given to those people who are fulfilling our needs while taking risk of their life, be it Doctor, Nuerses, Para Medical staff etc. they are the actual warrior’s in the pandemic situation, But this would not be sufficient many more reforms needs to be done not only by the government in written document but in practically too for implementing of the written act into practicality. The responsibility lies with people also to help the government for supporting them and following all the rules and regulations which have been enacted for the welfare of the people.

Author: Sheetal Kandpal (BA.LLB)