Rajya Sabha passes Bill to protect doctors, healthcare workers battling Covid-19
Under the proposed Act, the commission or abetment of such violence will be punishable with imprisonment for a term of three months to five years, and with a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 2,00,000.
The Rajya Sabha on Saturday passed a legislation that provides for up to seven years in jail for those attacking doctors and healthcare workers battling an epidemic, including the current pandemic Covid-19.
The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which was introduced by Health Minister Harsh Vardhan in the Upper House) got support from across party lines.
The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020, will replace an ordinance issued in April by the government. The government had brought the ordinance on April 22 to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, to make incidents of violence on health workers treating Covid-19 patients a non-bailable offence with provisions of a penalty and a jail term of up to seven years.
Under the proposed Act, the commission or abetment of such violence will be punishable with imprisonment for a term of three months to five years, and with a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 2,00,000. In case of causing grievous hurt, the imprisonment shall be for a term of six months to seven years and with a fine of Rs 1,00,000 to Rs 5,00,000.
Vardhan explained that the ordinance had to be brought as incidents of harassment and violence against health workers were rising amid a lack of awareness about coronavirus. “We have all noticed that there has been a dramatic decline in the incidents of violence against health workers all over the country,” he said.
He said the step had to be taken in very unusual circumstances and when the government reviewed, it found there were minimal laws and powers in some states.
“There was a need to have a central law to put in place a prohibitory mechanism to stop such activities,” Vardhan said.
Several members raised issues related to hospitals turning Covid-19 into an opportunity to issues related to federalism.
Binoy Viswam of the Communist Party of India (CPI), who moved a statutory resolution on the Bill, said it did not address the issue of violence on health professionals within the hospitals.
Many hospitals are not paying the salaries to doctors and nurses, PPE kits are not being given and safety concerns are being ignored -- these issues have not been addressed by the Bill, he added.
Participating in the debate, Congress’ Anand Sharma said there is a need to expand the protection to include the police and personnel of various other services, engaged in providing relief.
“There are personnel from various other services, who are engaged in providing relief, managing the quarantine shelters. They should also be for the future included into the expanded list of people, who need support and protection,” he said.
He also suggested to immediately set up a national task force for stakeholders consultation, with the states and institutions, including the scientific community and medical fraternity, for a comprehensive review and amendment to make the proposed Act contemporary and add lessons learnt during the crisis.
Derek O’Brien of the TMC charged the Centre with interfering in the functioning of states through the Bill. “There are sinister provisions in the Bill. The states must be authorised to take decisions.” Ram Gopal Yadav (SP) stressed the need for special provisions to penalise people and private hospitals thriving on the Covid-19 crisis and taking it as a business.
Vandana Chavan of the NCP suggested adding ASHA workers also.
Replying to the discussion, Vardhan said various issues related to biological emergencies are covered under the National Disaster Management Act. On overcharging by private hospitals, Vardhan said the Central government has issued guidelines to states regarding charging by private hospitals, laboratories etc. “We have tried to rationalise these prices.”