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The Public Health (Prevention, Control, and Management of Epidemics) Bill, 2020


Keywords - Public Health (prevention, protection and management of epidemics) Bill 2020, Health care department, legislations related to health sector, COVID-19, Global Pandemic


Abstract


Law needs to be an integral part of our public health system and any dearth of legal preparedness in the spheres of planning, communication, coordination, surveillance, and protection of human rights during a public health emergency needs to be addressed immediately[1]. The earlier Act was not adequate to meet the current requirements of our nation facing a pandemic and thus the Public Health Bill of 2017 came into force to modify the provisions and enable the government to deal with COVID-19. The pandemic became an eye-opener and the legislature realized the need to protect health care staff and regulations to prevent medical emergencies. India would hopefully progress from its pity state of the health sector and the implementation of the Act would be an important role to play by the legislature.


Introduction

The current state of affairs going on throughout the globe has shockingly changed the entire course of human life. A certain disease-carrying virus claimed to be originated from a bat soup or an artificially produced virus in a laboratory, has spread like a wildfire on the uncontrollable manner, infecting a huge amount of population all over the globe. Just a year ago, no nation could have thought of such an emergency and so far, every state was almost ignoring the health sector. Especially, India's record to deal with poor nutrition and health has been extremely degrading, for far too long. And COVID-19 has almost all the nations in the world including our country to a quite terrifying level. To deal with such epidemic situations India had been following a century-old legislation: Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 at the time of the Bubonic plague outbreak in Bombay. This Act has been so far used in all the epidemics that have occurred in past but it was insufficient and lacking in many aspects. As an improvement and development in the area, a bill was introduced by the government in parliament in the year 2017 and was finally passed in 2020. Rules and regulations were needed to be framed in a better manner to get such situations under control and to guide citizens on how to deal with such situations. Under the situations of COVID-19, with all the needed quarantine and social-distancing rules, such Acts would help in improved regulations and control of the diseases. The pre-independence era Epidemic Act was enacted with a very broad, but simply worded objective i.e. ‘for the better prevention of the spread of dangerous epidemic diseases[2]. Under the whole news scenario of the global pandemic, it was needed that the age-old Act is ameliorated and framed again to suit the current needs of the population. The new Act was framed with the objective to increase the implementation and to provide protection to those who risk their lives to save other people from epidemics (doctors, nurses, other staff).


The Public Health (Prevention, Protection, and Management of epidemics) Act, 2020

The National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) jointly prepared this Bill, citing the need to empower government bodies during health emergencies[3]. The Public Health Bill, 2020 has introduced several significant changes and prominent provisions, which were necessary to deal with the ongoing situation. The Public Health Bill sought to define fascinating and atypical terms such as "Bio-terrorism", "Public Health Emergency", "Social distancing" and "Quarantine[4]. One of the key changes brought about by the Amendment Ordinance is that it introduces and defines the terms ‘healthcare service personnel’, ‘property’ and ‘act of violence’ before stating that “no one shall indulge in any act of violence against healthcare services professional or cause any damage or loss to any property during an epidemic[5].” The Act has also provided for the penalty of imprisonment from a minimum of six months to a maximum of seven years, including compensation from one lakh to max 5 lakhs. The provisions of penalty and imprisonment are more stringent in the new Act and also the time of completion of investigation has been to 30 days. The remarkable amendment is the inclusion of harassment and other workplace issues under the definition of 'violence' in the Act. The fourteen Sections of the Bill are supplemented by two schedules. The first schedule enlists epidemic-prone diseases. The second schedule enlists potential bioterrorism agents. The first schedule includes SARS, of which the novel Coronavirus (also known as SARS-COV-2) is a mutation[6]. The ambit of the power of parliament to deal with diseases and emergencies has been increased to a substantial amount. The power of dissolution of federal structure and establishment of central control over a particular state has also been given to the center, in an extreme emergency circumstance. The new Act has improved the legislation regarding the health-related sector and thus opened a new opportunity for the country to improve its health sector.


Analysis


It is the responsibility of the governments to formulate a legal framework that can effectively prevent and control the spread of such infectious diseases in the future, and thus nip the evil in the bud[7]. Always the implementation of a law is more required than its enactment and thus the public health bill would only be regarded as effective if its implementation proves to be helpful in the ongoing situation. So far there have been cases where health care providers have not received the proper kit for themselves and others; and there has been a remarkable work done in maintaining the lockdowns in the country. But there is still scope for advancement and better administration. The bill though has to be applauded for recognizing the rights of the health department and staff associated with it. The most important point to remember is that the human rights of citizens and combating a public emergency, these two should be in consensus. The rights of people should be not compromised, for example, the government has developed an App- Arogya Setu which has tendencies of infringing a person’s privacy and thus should not be forced on people behind the veil of pandemic control. The Public Health Bill 2020 was required for the medical field of the nation, but certain aspects of legislative power have to be kept under check.


[1] Samarth Luthra and Satyam Singh, “Hindsight 2020: Retrospective analysis of the Public Health (Prevention, Control & Management of Epidemics, Bio-Terrorism & Disasters) Bill”, Bar and Bench, 28th May 2020, https://www-barandbench-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/www.barandbench.com/amp/story/apprentice-lawyer%2Fhindsight-2020-retrospective-analysis-of-the-publichealthpreventioncontrol-andmanagementof-epidemicsbio-terrorismanddisastersbill-2017?amp_js_v=a3&amp_gsa=1&usqp=mq331AQFKAGwASA%3D#aoh=15983697058031&referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&amp_tf=From%20%251%24s&ampshare=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.barandbench.com%2Famp%2Fstory%2Fapprentice-lawyer%252Fhindsight-2020-retrospective-analysis-of-the-publichealthpreventioncontrol-andmanagementof-epidemicsbio-terrorismanddisastersbill-2017%23aoh%3D15983697058031%26referrer%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.google.com%26amp_tf%3DFrom%2520%25251%2524s.

[2] RitikaRathi, Pallavi Rao, Sreetama Sen &NooreenHaider, “The Epidemic Ordinance, 2020: An ‘opportune’ armor for the protectors?” Posted in Medical Law, India Corporate Law, Cyril AmarchandMangaldas blog, 9th June 2020. https://corporate-cyrilamarchandblogs-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/corporate.cyrilamarchandblogs.com/2020/06/the-epidemic-ordinance-2020-an-opportune-armour-for-the-protectors/amp.html?amp_js_v=a3&amp_gsa=1&usqp=mq331AQFKAGwASA%3D#aoh=15983688122696&referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&amp_tf=From%20%251%24s&ampshare=https%3A%2F%2Fcorporate.cyrilamarchandblogs.com%2F2020%2F06%2Fthe-epidemic-ordinance-2020-an-opportune-armour-for-the-protectors%2F [3] Samarth Luthra and Satyam Singh, “Hindsight 2020: Retrospective analysis of the Public Health (Prevention, Control & Management of Epidemics, Bio-Terrorism & Disasters) Bill”, Bar and Bench, 28th May 2020, https://www-barandbench-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/www.barandbench.com/amp/story/apprentice-lawyer%2Fhindsight-2020-retrospective-analysis-of-the-publichealthpreventioncontrol-andmanagementof-epidemicsbio-terrorismanddisastersbill-2017?amp_js_v=a3&amp_gsa=1&usqp=mq331AQFKAGwASA%3D#aoh=15983697058031&referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&amp_tf=From%20%251%24s&ampshare=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.barandbench.com%2Famp%2Fstory%2Fapprentice-lawyer%252Fhindsight-2020-retrospective-analysis-of-the-publichealthpreventioncontrol-andmanagementof-epidemicsbio-terrorismanddisastersbill-2017%23aoh%3D15983697058031%26referrer%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.google.com%26amp_tf%3DFrom%2520%25251%2524s

[4] Samarth Luthra and Satyam Singh, “Hindsight 2020: Retrospective analysis of the Public Health (Prevention, Control & Management of Epidemics, Bio-Terrorism & Disasters) Bill”, Bar and Bench, 28th May 2020, https://www-barandbench-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/www.barandbench.com/amp/story/apprentice-lawyer%2Fhindsight-2020-retrospective-analysis-of-the-publichealthpreventioncontrol-andmanagementof-epidemicsbio-terrorismanddisastersbill-2017?amp_js_v=a3&amp_gsa=1&usqp=mq331AQFKAGwASA%3D#aoh=15983697058031&referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&amp_tf=From%20%251%24s&ampshare=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.barandbench.com%2Famp%2Fstory%2Fapprentice-lawyer%252Fhindsight-2020-retrospective-analysis-of-the-publichealthpreventioncontrol-andmanagementof-epidemicsbio-terrorismanddisastersbill-2017%23aoh%3D15983697058031%26referrer%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.google.com%26amp_tf%3DFrom%2520%25251%2524s [5] RitikaRathi, Pallavi Rao, Sreetama Sen &NooreenHaider, “The Epidemic Ordinance, 2020: An ‘opportune’ armor for the protectors?” Posted in Medical Law, India Corporate Law, Cyril AmarchandMangaldas blog, 9th June 2020. https://corporate-cyrilamarchandblogs-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/corporate.cyrilamarchandblogs.com/2020/06/the-epidemic-ordinance-2020-an-opportune-armour-for-the-protectors/amp.html?amp_js_v=a3&amp_gsa=1&usqp=mq331AQFKAGwASA%3D#aoh=15983688122696&referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&amp_tf=From%20%251%24s&ampshare=https%3A%2F%2Fcorporate.cyrilamarchandblogs.com%2F2020%2F06%2Fthe-epidemic-ordinance-2020-an-opportune-armour-for-the-protectors%2F. [6] Samarth Luthra and Satyam Singh, “Hindsight 2020: Retrospective analysis of the Public Health (Prevention, Control & Management of Epidemics, Bio-Terrorism & Disasters) Bill”, Bar and Bench, 28th May 2020, https://www-barandbench-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/www.barandbench.com/amp/story/apprentice-lawyer%2Fhindsight-2020-retrospective-analysis-of-the-publichealthpreventioncontrol-andmanagementof-epidemicsbio-terrorismanddisastersbill-2017?amp_js_v=a3&amp_gsa=1&usqp=mq331AQFKAGwASA%3D#aoh=15983697058031&referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&amp_tf=From%20%251%24s&ampshare=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.barandbench.com%2Famp%2Fstory%2Fapprentice-lawyer%252Fhindsight-2020-retrospective-analysis-of-the-publichealthpreventioncontrol-andmanagementof-epidemicsbio-terrorismanddisastersbill-2017%23aoh%3D15983697058031%26referrer%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fwww.google.com%26amp_tf%3DFrom%2520%25251%2524s [7] KavyaJha and Palak Kapoor, “The Legislative Framework to Combat Pandemics: An Analysis of India and China”, RGNUL Student Research Review, 14th April 2020, rsrr.in/2020/04/14/the-legislative-framework-to-combat-pandemics-an-analysis-of-india-and-china/