A bill which proposed protection to frontline workers, including healthcare professionals, was passed on late Monday night proceedings of the Lok Sabha with a voice vote and support from all political parties. The Bill was passed a few minutes before 12 O’clock.
Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which was passed by the Rajya Sabha on Saturday, seeks to bring a law that punishes those who attack health workers or doctors who are fighting the coronavirus outbreak or during any situation similar to the current Covid-19 pandemic.
The Bill seeks amendment to the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. It will replace the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) ordinance, 2020 which was promulgated by the President on April 22 this year in order to provide protection to health care service personnel, their living premises as well as their workplaces against any violence during the course of a pandemic.
The draft legislation provides for up to five years in jail for those who attack doctors and health care personnel. The legislation intends to make sure that there is an attitude of zero tolerance towards violence against people working in the healthcare sector.
The service personnel who will be protected under the new legislation include “public and clinical healthcare service providers such as doctors, nurses, paramedical workers and community health workers; any other persons empowered under the act to take measures to prevent the outbreak of the disease or spread thereof; and any persons declared as such by the state government, by notification in the official gazette.”
Biju Janata Dal MP Bhartruhari Mahtab questioned the Centre’s decision to bring an amendment to the Epidemics Diseases Act, and said: “Why not bring a new Bill in 2020?”
“There is a need to give protection not just to health workers but also to the police,” Mahtab added.
Shiv Sena’s Shrikant Eknath Shinde and JD-U MP Kaushalendra Kumar participated in the debate on the Centre’s Epidemic Diseases Amendment Bill, 2020 and supported the proposed legislation.
Apna Dal leader Anupriya Patel criticised those who attacked the healthcare workers at a time when they were protecting the lives of people during the Covid-19 crisis at a cost of risking their lives.
RLP leader and MP from Nagaur in Rajasthan, Hanuman Beniwal, and Congress leader of the House Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said this bill should be sent to the Standing Committee and bring comprehensive legislation after proper consideration.
In his concluding remark, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan assured the House that the Central government is not just waiting for “act of God” in fight against Covid-19 but also working round-the-clock in the direction to get solution, and confident that a vaccine will be available to the countrymen in the beginning of the next year anytime.
The Minister’s response came in a reply to an MP who alleged the government of waiting for act of God in fight against the disease which on Monday inched closer to 55 lakh-mark in India with a total of 54,87,580 cases in 235 days since the first case was reported on January 30.
“We are not believing in the act of God. I had told in my speech (in the House) yesterday about the government’s step for (Covid-19) vaccine. We are very confident that the vaccine will be available to the people of our country at the beginning of the new year,” the Minister said.
In his over-half-an hour address, Harsh Vardhan lauded the effort of various corona warriors, saying: “We are fighting this war with the help of lakhs of corona warriors.”
He also praised each mother who sent her son in war against the coronavirus pandemic. “There is not a single incident in which any mother stopped her son in participating in the war against the disease.”
If any damage is done to clinical establishments, quarantine and isolation facilities of patients, mobile medical units or any other property associated with healthcare personnel during a pandemic, penal provisions can be provoked.
Penalties ranging from Rs 50,000 to Rs 2,00,000 can be slapped on any individual who is involved in commission or abetment of such acts of violence. It can also be punishable in the form of an imprisonment for a term of three months to five years.