THD NewsDesk, NEW DELHI: On 19th September, the Rajya Sabha unanimously passed a legislation mandating the criminalization of any act of violence against doctors and health workers battling an epidemic, inclusive of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bill was introduced in the Parliament to formulate stricter laws ensuring the protection of the medical staff currently working on-ground during a deadly pandemic.
The proposed Act makes a provision of punishment to anyone who commits or abets violence against doctors and medical workers. The punishment prescribed for the offenders is to undergo imprisonment for a term of three months to five years, along with a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 2,00,000. In cases where severe injury has been inflicted, the imprisonment shall be extended to a term of six months to seven years and with a fine of Rs 1,00,000 to Rs 5,00,000.
The legislation was tabled in the Upper House by Dr Harsh Vardhan amidst reported incidents of harassment and violence against health workers, owing to the lack of awareness about coronavirus. Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Dr Vardhan said, “We have all noticed that there has been a dramatic decline in the incidents of violence against health workers all over the country,”.
“There was a need to have a central law to put in place a prohibitory mechanism to stop such activities,” said Vardhan explaining the absence of laws to protect the medical staff in some states.
The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020 would be replacing an ordinance issued in April by the government to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. The objective of the amendment was to make incidents of violence on health workers treating Covid-19 patients a non-bailable offence with provisions of a penalty and imprisonment up to seven years.
GRIEVANCES WITH THE BILL
Opposition leaders such as Derek O’ Brien of the TMC has raised questions on the motive of government in passing legislation that seemed to strengthen Union’s powers, allowing the Centre to act arbitrarily.
Binoy Viswam of the Communist Party of India (CPI) moved a statutory resolution on the Bill, pointing out that the Bill doesn’t make provisions for PPE kits and safety gears that are in the interest of health professionals as well.
Congress leader Anand Sharma suggested that the scope of the Act be expanded to cover the protection of all the service providers, including the police and people engaged in providing relief and maintaining quarantine shelters. Vandana Chavan of the NCP made a similar demand in favour of ASHA workers.
Dr. Harsh Vardhan responded to the issues raised by the Opposition by reminding that many of them are covered under the National Disaster Management Act.
Ram Gopal Yadav of Samajwadi Party emphasized on the need to penalize private hospitals eyeing the pandemic as an opportunity to capitalize on by overcharging Covid and non-Covid patients. To which Dr. Vardhan replied that the state would try its best to rationalize the prices.
The discussion in Rajya Sabha also brought forth suggestions to strengthen our systems to tackle the pandemic more efficiently. It was suggested that a national task force be established for stakeholders consultation with the states and medical institutions. Stress was laid on the active involvement of the scientific community and medical fraternity to invite their recommendations on the proposed Act.
SOURCE: Hindustan Times