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The Epidemic diseases act was introduced by the British to tackle the epidemic of bubonic plague that broke out in the then state of Bombay. It was passed in 1897. The then Governor General of Colonial India had conferred special powers upon the local authorities to implement the measures necessary for the control of the epidemic.
The act is one of the shortest acts in India, comprising of just four sections. The second section has a special subsection 2A( 2) which was incorporated in the act by an amendment passed in the year 1920, which empowers the central government to take steps to prevent the spread of an epidemic especially allowing the government to inspect any ship arriving or leaving any post and the power to detain any person intending to sail or arriving in the country.
According to the provisions of section 2 of the act, which describes the powers of the government, “when the state government is satisfied that the state or any part thereof is visited by or threatened with an outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease and if it thinks that the ordinary provisions of the law are insufficient for the purpose then the state may take or require or empower any person to take some measures any by public notice prescribe such temporary regulations to be observed by the public. The state government may prescribe regulations for the inspection of persons travelling by railways or otherwise and the segregation in hospital temporary accommodation or otherwise of persons suspected by the inspecting officer of being infected with any such disease.”
The third section describes the penalties for violating the regulations in accordance with section 188 of the IPC. The fourth and the last section deal with legal protection to implementing officers acting under the act.
This act has gained relevance in todays times when the center invoked the act to provide segregation and isolation which is of utmost importance in time of this pandemic to control it to an extent and this law can be applied for larger public good.
This war against corona can be fought only by taking a step back and not stepping out of our homes and by cooperating with the government. Today the government will have to take some strict measures but people are seen blatantly not following the said protocol of the government and by not understanding the gravity of the situation and risking their as well as others life. It is very important that people understand the provisions of Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and the powers entailed in it to the government and how the government is authorized to take strict actions against people who violate the said measures of the government, indeed the laws are not barbaric or stringent as they were in the colonial times but still they are punishable to an certain extent in cases of violation.
Owing to the current scenario, the Union Cabinet has approved promulgation of an Ordinance to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 to protect healthcare service personnel and their property including living/working premises during epidemics. Now attacking the healthcare workers is a non-bailable offence which may cause imprisonment ranging from 6 months to 7 years and a fine up to Rs. 5 Lakh.3
Hence all these provisions are put into use in recent times to fight the pandemic in every way possible and to bring the world back to normal again. Extreme times call for extreme measures.
Hence people need to understand the gravity of the situation and stand together with the government in every decision they take, in regard of fighting this pandemic and also help them in the implication of various laws without hindrance.
(Act 38 of 1920, section 2 and the first schedule)
Author- Aeshna Raghuwanshi , Content writer Legal Eagle