Stricter punishments for attacking medics workers during an epidemic
The Bill, which was introduced by health minister Harsh Vardhan in the Upper House, was supported by parties across lines. The Act will replace an ordinance issued on April 22.Updated: Sep 20, 2020, 02:53 IST
The Rajya Sabha on Saturday passed the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which provides for up to seven years of imprisonment for those convicted of attacking doctors and healthcare workers during an epidemic.
The Bill, which was introduced by health minister Harsh Vardhan in the Upper House, was supported by parties across lines. The Act will replace an ordinance issued on April 22.
Under the Act, the commission or abetment of 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 cases of causing grievous hurt, the imprisonment shall be for a term of six months to seven years, with fines ranging from Rs 1,00,000 to Rs 5,00,000.
Vardhan explained that the ordinance was put in place as incidents of harassment and violence against health workers were rising due to 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 as there were few laws and powers in this regard 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.
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 hospitals.
He said that issues such as non-payment of salaries to doctors and nurses, failure to provide protective equipment and other safety concerns are being ignored, as these issues have not found a mention in the Act.
Congress’ Anand Sharma said there is a need to expand the provision to protect police and personnel of various other services engaged in providing relief. “There are personnel engaged in providing relief and managing quarantine shelters. They should also be, in the future, included into the expanded list of people, who need support and protection,” he said.
He also suggested the immediate setting up of a national task force for stakeholders’ consultation, with states and institutions, including the scientific community and medical fraternity, for a comprehensive review and amendment to make the proposed Act contemporary, taking lessons from the current situation.
Derek O’Brien of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) alleged that the Centre is interfering in the functioning of states through the move. “There are sinister provisions in the Bill. States must be authorised to take decisions.”
Ram Gopal Yadav, of the Samajwadi Party, stressed the need for special provisions to penalise people and private hospitals that are making a quick buck on the pretext of Covid-19 treatment.
Vandana Chavan of the NCP suggested adding ASHA workers to the list of those protected by the Act.
Replying to the points raised during the discussion, Vardhan said issues related to biological emergencies are also covered under the National Disaster Management Act. On overcharging by private hospitals, he said the Central government has issued guidelines to states in this regard. “We have tried to rationalise these prices.”