The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the promulgation of an ordinance to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, making acts of violence against medical staff a cognizable and non-bailable offence and to provide compensation for injury to healthcare personnel or for damage or loss to property.

The ordinance proposes that in cases of attacks on healthcare workers, the investigation will be completed within 30 days and the final decision arrived at within one year.

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.

Harsh Vardhan’s tweet

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, in a series of tweets after the announcement, noted that as per the “new ordinance, there shall be zero tolerance to any incidents of violence against healthcare service personnel and/or damage to property. All offences of violence will be cognizable and non-bailable”.

In a tweet, he said, “This will facilitate punishment under the law in cases of violence against healthcare service personnel serving during an epidemic. Public venting of angst against healthcare service personnel leading to harassment assault and damage to property is being highlighted daily. Portrayal as potential spreaders of COVID-19 pandemic played havoc with the confidence of the medical community which is demanding protection.”

A government release said the ordinance is intended to ensure that during any situation akin to the current pandemic, there is zero tolerance to any form of violence against healthcare service personnel and damage to property.

It said several States had enacted special laws to offer protection to doctors and other medical personnel in the past. 

“However, 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,” the release said, adding the 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.

In this context, the Union Cabinet, at its meeting on April 22, 2020, approved the promulgation of an ordinance to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, to protect healthcare service personnel and property, including their living/working premises, from violence during epidemics. The President has given his assent for the ordinance, the release said.

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) said it welcomed the move.

Shankar Narang, COO, Paras Healthcare, said: “This is a much-needed step not just to deter criminal elements in society but also to give confidence to our healthcare workers who were getting jittery because of repeated instances of attacks.’’

“Healthcare workers are the front line warriors in this battle, and along with other corona fighters such as sanitation workers and police officials, they are the backbone of our crisis response in this hour. They are already facing a high risk of infection as they venture into the infected areas. It is absolutely essential, therefore, to ensure their safety and security and allow them to do their job with a sense of confidence,” he added.

News Source: The Hindu


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