The novel coronavirus has focused all attention to our countries public healthcare and how our country is handling this crisis. The Indian legal system already has an act called the Indian epidemic act, an act in the constitution that states how a country will handle the crisis and foreseeable public health care needs. First India has two acts that prepare our country to face disasters. The first act is the disaster management act of 2005 and the Indian epidemic act 1897. These two acts were enacted when the COVID-19 outbreak hit India.
The Indian epidemic act was first made in the British rule when the bubonic plague hit the town of Mandvi in the Bombay presidency. The disease spread at a higher pace because Mandvi was a densely populated place and kept on increasing due to the inflow of people to the city. Seeing this, the queen and the British government enacted the Indian Epidemic act of 1897. It aimed to curb to spread of the infection in the city. The act has 4 parts where it explains the provision of the act which has been amended from time to time. This act gives the central and the state government power amidst an outbreak of a dangerous disease to enact laws because the ordinary law isn’t equipped to deal with the outbreak disease. The government is allowed to make temporary regulations that can prevent further increase of infection of the disease and punish those who violate the regulations. The act permits the government state and central to inspect citizens who are travelling and to distinguish and separate or segregate those who may have been infected. It also powers the government to inspect and hold ships that are leaving and coming to India. The section 2 and 2A of the Act also prescribes the punishment which is the same as sec 188 of the Indian penal code, the persons who are charged with violating the act can spend up to 6 months in jail and a 1000 rupee fine. Section 4 of the act protects government officials from any prosecution on good faith.
The Central government passed another ordinance which is called as The Indian Epidemic Ordinance which allowed the act to be amended and provisions added to punish those who attack or harm doctors or health care professionals. Those guilty can spend up to 7 years in jail and all cases must be resolved within a year. The offence is non-bailable.
State governments formulated its ordinances specific to tackle state-specific problems. The outbreak also brought out problems of its own, medical health care workers were attacked, migrant workers were stranded without proper provisions for food or shelter. The sudden lockdown affected everyone. The already poor conditions of the workers are aggravated by the lockdown. India needs to update the act. This act is 123 years old. The act itself has colonial baggage. It needs to be amended to fit contemporary India. It also needs to be more stringent and tough. With a fragile and underfunded public healthcare system and a complex and old legal system, we must stay vigilant to get through this pandemic.