COVID-19 vaccination (File image)
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New Delhi: The Law Commission in a report submitted to Law Ministry on Monday has recommended that either the existing the existing Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 a colonial era legislation, be suitably amended to address existing gaps or a new comprehensive legislation be enacted.
The Act is still used as the primary law to control a mass epidemic. The act, most recently, has been invoked by a number of Indian states to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Law Commission headed by its Chairperson Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi said the 22"d Law Commission holds the view that the existing legislation exhibits significant deficiencies in addressing the containment and management of future epidemics in the country as new infectious diseases or novel strains of existing pathogens may emerge.
Therefore, the absence of a comprehensive law specifically addressing severe epidemics, which have detrimental effects on the overall health and well-being of the population, necessitates immediate attention. In light of the foregoing, the Law Commission suo motu undertook extensive examination of the existing legal framework on this subject. In the course of this analysis as well as in-depth deliberations, the Commission identified key shortcomings in the law.
“TO DEAL WITH THE CRISIS BETTER”
“The COVID-19 pandemic unleashed an unprecedented challenge for the Indian health infrastructure. In the course of dealing with this crisis, certain limitations in the legal framework relating to health were realised. While the Government was quick to respond to the emerging situation, it was felt that a more comprehensive law could have enabled a better response to the crisis, the report said.
Panel calls for stricter enforcement of such penal provisions, make such offences cognizable and nonbailable.
The Law Commission also suggests to provide enhanced and stringent punishments within the Epidemic Diseases Act itself. “Such a punishment will effectively deter people from acting irresponsibly during an epidemic”, it says.
Report said there is already a punishment upto a maximum jail term of one year for commission or abetment of violence against healthcare service personnel, or causing damage to any property, for negligent act likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life, for malignant acts which are likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life.
NEED FOR STRICTER PUNISHMENT, MAKE OFFENCE NON-BAILABLE
Despite these provisions, there is still a need for stricter punishment for disobedience of guidelines and regulations made by the government during any health emergency. For accelerating enforcement of such penal provisions, the Commission proposes to make such offences cognizable and nonbailable, whose investigation and trial should be completed expeditiously, the report said.
The immediate response to COVID-19 such as the imposition of lockdown was invoked under the Disaster Management Act, 2005. Further, in light of the immediate challenges, especially those faced by the healthcare workers, the Parliament amended the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 in 2020. However, these amendments fell short as critical gaps and omissions remained in the Act. In this highly globalized and interconnected world. future outbreaks of epidemics are a real possibility. Further, given that the right to health is a fundamental right implicit in Article 2'l of the Constitution and the State is duty-bound to ensure the same to the citizens, it becomes imperative to revisit and strengthen the law in order to effectively tackle any such future health emergency”, said the report.
RIGHT TO LIFE:
Article 2l of the Constitution guarantees the right to life and personal liberty. The judiciary has interpreted this right to include the right to live with human dignity. Right to health and its underlying determinants are intrinsically linked with the right to life and hence holistically conceived by the Constitution, said the report
The report was prepared by the Law Commission which had Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi as its Chairperson, Full-time Members Justice K. T Sankaran, Prof Dr.Anand Paliwal, Prof. D P Verma, Ex-officio Members, Dr. Niten Chandra, Secretary, Part-time Members Shri M. Karunanithi Prof. (Dr.) Raka Arya.
COMMISSION THANKS LEGAL CONSULTANTS
The Commission also acknowledged the assiduous efforts of Mr. Rishi Mishra, Ms. Priya Rathi, Ms. Ruchika Yadav, Ms. Deepika Chaudhary, Mr. Govind Gupta, Ms. Ritu Thomas, Dr. Taruna Solanki, Mr. Anubhav Dubey, and Mr. Animesh Pareek, who worked as Legal Consultants with the Law Commission. “We applaud their valuable contribution towards the comprehensive research and drafting of this Report. We place on record our heartfelt admiration for the diligent and painstaking labour they have put in to materialise this Report”, said the commission