5 to 7 years in jail, hefty fine for attacking healthcare workers

Causing damage to property is now also made an offence under the Epidemic Diseases Act

Covid 19Image Courtesy:thelogicalindian.com

The Central government on April 22 promulgated an ordinance to protect and give a sense of security to frontline workers in the fight against COVID19. Since the outbreak of the disease in India, there have been news reports of incidents whereby healthcare workers who are working on the frontlines, are being attacked by locals while they do their duty.

Several such incidents and the growing insecurity amongst the healthcare community prompted the central government to issue this ordinance which is effectively an amendment to the Epidemic Diseases Act; the colonial era law which has been invoked to give special powers to states so that they can combat and contain the epidemic.

The ordinance is called the Epidemic Diseased (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, which is to be enforced ‘at once’. The amendment has added section 2B to the Act which deals with prohibition of violence against health care service personnel and damage to property. The section reads as follows:

2B. No person shall indulge in any act of violence against a healthcare service personnel or cause any damage or loss to any property during an epidemic.

The punishment for this act is mentioned in newly inserted section 3(2) which states that whoever commits or abet the commission of act of violence of damage to property will be punished for minimum 3 months and maximum 5 years and fine of at least Rs. 50,000 which may extend up to 2 lakhs.

Further, if any grievous hurt is caused to the healthcare service personnel, then the punishment will be minimum 6 months and maximum 7 years with fine of at least 1 lakh which may extend to 5 lakhs. Additionally, the accused, if convicted, of any of these offences, shall also pay compensation for causing hurt and/or for damaging property.

The definition of ‘act of violence’ and ‘health care service personnel’ is provided in newly inserted section 1A:

a. “act of violence” includes any of the following acts committed by any person against a healthcare service personnel serving during an epidemic, which causes or may cause-          

i. harassment impacting the living or working conditions of such healthcare service personnel and preventing him from discharging his duties;

ii. harm, injury, hurt, intimidation or danger to the life of such healthcare service personnel, either within the premises of a clinical establishment or otherwise;

iii. obstruction or hindrance to such healthcare service personnel on the discharge of his duties, either within the premises of a clinical establishment or otherwise; or

iv. loss or damage to any property or documents in the custody of, or in relation to, such healthcare service personnel.

b. “healthcare service personnel” means a person who while carrying out his duties in relation to epidemic related responsibilities, may come in direct contact with affected patients and thereby is at the risk of being impacted by such disease and includes-

i. any public and clinical healthcare provider such as doctor, nurse, paramedical workers and community health worker

ii. any other person empowered under the Act to take measures to prevent the outbreak of the disease of spread thereof; and

iii. any person declared as such by the State Government, by notification in the Official Gazette.

The offences of act of violence as well as causing grievous hurt under this law, have been made cognizable and non-bailable, but compoundable. Which means the person committing these offences can be arrested without a warrant and cannot get bail by default but the complaint can be withdrawn by the complainant. The investigation is directed to be completed within 30 days of registration of FIR and the trial, within one year.

The ordinance is not just about defining offences against health care personnel or destruction of property. It also gives the Central government the power to make regulations to inspect any bus, train, goods vehicle, ship, aircraft and for detention of any person intending to travel or having travelled by these modes.

The complete ordinance may be read here


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