The legal hole in the fight against Covid-19 – analysis
The Union government recently recommended that states invoke the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897. The parody is that this fossilized 123-year-old Act doesn’t even define what an epidemic is. This one-page, four-section Act is ill-equipped to deal with the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19). Nations like Australia, Canada, England, and the United States (USA) have, over the years, enacted holistic laws to deal with public health emergencies.
The Law went into effect on February 4, 1897 to counter the bubonic plague epidemic in Mumbai. The Law was unable to restrict the plague to Mumbai and soon spread to Bangalore and other parts. The first section of the Law establishes the title and scope of the bill; the second section authorizes the state and central government to take exceptional measures and prescribe regulations that must be observed to limit the spread of the disease; the third section specifies sanctions for those who violate the edict; and the fourth section provides protection under the law to officials and / or persons acting under the Law.
The Law is deficient, since it does not even define a dangerous disease, much less an epidemic. It says nothing about kidnapping and the sequence required for drug / vaccine dissemination and other preventive steps. Nor is there an underlying conception of human rights principles that must be observed during the contingency and emergency measures that must be implemented. The punishment prescribed in the terms of Section 3 of the Law, that is to say pari-passu With Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, it should also be revised. This Section establishes a fine of ~ 200 and a simple one-month prison for violating an order from a public servant. While ~ 200 is misery, incarceration is excess.
Previously, the Center had conceptualized statutes such as the 1955 Model Public Health Law that was updated in 1987. It was unable to convince states to adopt it, since health is a state issue. The 2009 National Health Law Project aimed to provide a general legal framework for the provision of essential public health services by recognizing health as a fundamental right. It also provided a response mechanism for public health emergencies by outlining a collaborative federal framework. However, this did not lead to a legal structure as the states considered it an invasion of their domain.
India’s legal framework, therefore, becomes miserably short when compared to contemporary laws that exist elsewhere.
In Canada, emergency measures and emergency management at the federal level are governed by the 1988 Emergency Act and the 2007 Emergency Management Act. Most provinces also have their own health laws that delimit the measures. to be implemented in the event of a health problem. emergency. However, there is a comparatively higher bar for the federal government to take the lead in a health emergency. Therefore, most health crises in Canada are handled at the provincial level in coordination with the central government.
In Australia, the National Health Safety Act of 2007 establishes processes and structures to prevent, prevent and, where appropriate, deal with national health emergencies, with designated entities providing coordination and oversight at the national and provincial levels that apply their own laws, jurisdictional responses and coordination processes.
In England, the Public Health (Disease Control) Act, 1984, came into force with the aim of creating specific functions for different authorities in response to a national health emergency. This Law establishes a clear hierarchical chain in which the primary, secondary and tertiary responders must operate when dealing with a health problem. Responsibilities are clearly defined in the Law.
The Public Health Service Act of 1944 in the United States performs a similar function and creates an administrative framework to deal with any public health emergency. The need for additional labor is foreseen by creating a reserve corps to increase the commissioned corps in the short term. The law was last amended in December 2019. President Donald Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950 to combat the pandemic.
With the basic legislative structure in place in India, it will be difficult for the state to find legal support to block entire cities, quarantine people, order the temporary closure of businesses, and distribute drugs should the contingency arise. The way in which the police forces pick up people who have returned from abroad and who are reported to be wrong, is a primitive response to the current situation. A person from Balachour, in my Anandpur Sahib constituency, tragically committed suicide by jumping from the roof of Safdarjung hospital after he was taken to the tests. The stage is set for mismanagement that the country cannot afford at the moment.
During a discussion about the coronavirus in the Lok Sabha, I pointed out this legal anomaly, and urged the government to enact emergency legislation while Parliament is in session to rectify the situation. However, the suggestion, like all the other good ones, fell on deaf ears.
Once again, I would like to urge the government that public health emergencies, such as the one created by the coronavirus situation, provide an opportunity to update our laws. Someday, in the not too distant future, this legislative and political gap could become our Achilles’ heel.
Manish Tewari is a lawyer, a deputy and a former minister of the Union for information and dissemination.
The opinions expressed are personal.