The Rajya Sabha today passed a bill that provides for up to five years imprisonment for those who attack doctors and other healthcare workers fighting the COVID-19 epidemic. The proposed law applies to any situation like that of the current epidemic. Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan introduced the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020 in the upper house on 19 September to replace the government ordinance of April.
In the wake of assault on doctors and nurses in March, April and May by members of the Tablighi Jamaat and other Muslims, the union cabinet had earlier brought in the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, in order to protect healthcare service personnel and property. Such properties include their living and working premises and protect them against violence during an epidemic.
The bill intends to ensure that during any situation like the current global pandemic, the authority will exercise zero-tolerance towards any form of violence against healthcare service personnel and damage to property.
The healthcare service personnel include public and clinical healthcare service providers such as doctors, nurses, paramedical workers and community health workers. They include also others empowered by the law to take measures to prevent the outbreak of the disease or spread thereof. Anybody declared as such by the state government, by notification in the official gazette, is included too.
The penal provisions can be invoked in instances of damage to property including a clinical establishment, any facility identified for quarantine and isolation of patients, mobile medical units and any other property in which the healthcare service personnel have a direct interest in relation to the epidemic.
An officer of the rank of an inspector will investigate offences within a period of 30 days. The authority has to complete the trial in a year — unless extended by the court for reasons to be recorded in writing, the bill proposes.
As per the provisions of the bill, the commission or abetment of such acts of violence will be punishable with imprisonment for a term of three months to five years and a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 2,00,000.