Odisha to increase fines for violating Covid-19 guidelines to ₹1 lakh, will amend epidemics act
The Odisha government wants to amend the act for better implementation of the Covid-19 guidelines. The number of Covid-19 cases in the state has crossed 52,000.
With Covid-19 cases surging, Odisha government now plans to bring an ordinance to amend the epidemics act for increasing the punishment for non-compliance of the guidelines laid down for containing the spread of the pandemic.
Chief secretary Asit Tripathy said that Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 would be amended to increase the imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or fine which may extend up to ₹1 lakh or with both. As the state Assembly is not in session, the amendment to the act would be done through ordinance route, the chief secretary said. The move to make the punishment for violation of Covid-19 guidelines tougher was significant as the number of coronavirus disease cases in the state has crossed 52,000 and death toll stands at 314.
Though the Centre had promulgated the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 on April 22 to include protection for healthcare personnel combating the disease and expanding the powers of the central government to prevent the spread of the pandemic, the state government now wants to amend the act for better implementation of the Covid-19 guidelines.
“Though the Covid-19 guidelines in the state were being implemented through executive order, it needed a legislative teeth. So the Epidemic Diseases Act is being amended through ordinance. Till now the Centre issued most of the orders on Covid-19 through Disaster Management Act. As health is a concurrent subject, the state is amending the Epidemics Diseases Act to be in better control of the Covid-19 situation,” said a senior official of the health department.
Senior advocate Pitambar Acharya said the amendment was necessary as even after imposing certain restrictions under the old act, states are struggling to stem the spread of the disease as there are no specific provisions in the Act which can guide the governments to act in a prescribed manner. It is more than 120 years old and had come at a time when the British officers wanted to limit public gatherings led by the freedom fighters. The old act does not define the term epidemic or disease and has no specific measures or directions to the government to follow at the time of an epidemic. The amendment would help the state handle the pandemic in a better way,” said Acharya.
However, senior lawyers said raising the penalty to ₹1 lakh for anyone found violating the amended Epidemic Diseases Act may be a bit steep. “In a pandemic, a slumdweller caught not wearing mask may not be able to fork out ₹1 lakh if convicted. The enforcement authorities in the state are just coming to terms with the pandemic. ₹1 lakh fine amount is all fine, but one needs to see how many can pay it,” said senior HC advocate Surya Prasad Mishra.
Meanwhile, the Regional Medical Research Centre (RMRC) said on Thursday that one-third population of Berhampur Municipal Corporation (BeMC) in the Covid-19 epicentre of Ganjam district has developed antibodies to the Sars-CoV-2 virus. RMRC director Sanghamitra Pati said that a sero survey in Berhampur town found 31% prevalence at community level in the municipality area. “The survey indicates that 1.5 lakh people in the city were infected with the virus and developed antibodies. At the high risk group level in BeMC, the sero prevalence is 23.4%.
“The sero survey was carried out jointly by BeMC, MKCG medical College and RMRC with support from the Health and Family Welfare department,” said Pati.