coronavirus
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This article has been written by Ansh Mohan Jha, a student of BA LLB, First Year at Pune University.

Introduction

Not only has the deadly COVID-19 brought the whole world to a standstill, but it has also claimed more than 6000 lives and is still counting. As per the experts, as long as the vaccine of COVID-19 is not developed, we need to take some precautionary measures to contain its outbreak such as avoid going in public places, using alcohol based hand sanitisers and masks, maintaining hygienic conditions at our homes and in our surroundings, consulting a doctor in case of experiencing the symptoms of the coronavirus, etc. To combat the pandemic, the Central Government of our country has invoked a colonial-era law-the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. Unlike other countries, India has been successful in containing the outbreak of the coronavirus to a great extent till now. In this article, not only will we discuss these three Acts but we will also analyse how these Acts are helping the Central and State Governments to thwart the exponential growth of the coronavirus.

The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897

The Epidemic Diseases Act was enacted in 1897 to combat the outbreak of bubonic plague in the then Bombay state. This Act was primarily enacted to prevent the proliferation of dangerous epidemic diseases. Under the provisions of this Act, special powers are conferred upon the local authorities to implement precautionary measures to contain the outbreak of any epidemic disease. Let’s discuss this Act minutely.

Objective

The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 was enacted with the objective of providing for the better prevention of the spread of Dangerous Epidemic Diseases.

Applicability

It extends to the whole of India.

Key Provisions

  1. If the State Government, at any time, is satisfied that the state or any part of the state is threatened with the outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease and it thinks the existing provisions of the law are insufficient to contain its outbreak, it may formulate temporary regulations, which are necessary to thwart the further dissemination of the disease. The temporary regulations need to be observed by the public, or by any person, or class of persons.
  2. The inspection of persons travelling by railways or other modes of transportation and arrangements shall be made to accommodate infected persons, identified by inspecting officers, in separate wards of the hospital so that other patients shall not be caused harm.
  3. If the Central Government, at any time, is fully satisfied that India or any part India is threatened with the outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease and it thinks the existing provisions of the law are insufficient to contain its outbreak, it may take measures and prescribe regulations for the inspection of any ship or vessel leaving or arriving at any port. After inspection, if any people or vessel are found to be a potential threat leading to the outbreak of epidemic disease, then such people or vessels shall be detained.
  4. Any person disobeying regulations or orders issued under this act shall be punished under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code.
  5. No legal proceedings shall lie against any person for any action that has been done under the provisions of this Act.

Temporary Regulations enacted by Central and State Governments

All the states and union territories of India are asked to invoke Section 2 of this Act to contain the outbreak of the coronavirus, which has been proliferating at an alarming rate across the globe. Initially, it outbroke in Wuhan province of China, but the present epicentre of the coronavirus, according to the World Health Organisation, is Europe. To date, India has successfully restricted its outbreak. The temporary regulations enacted by the Central and State Governments under this Act are mentioned below:

  1. The Home Ministry has prohibited cruise ships, crews, or passengers from coronavirus affected nations to come to India till March 31.
  2. Actions shall be taken against any suspected or confirmed case if he or she refuses to get quarantined and treated by medical officers.
  3. Schools and Colleges are closed in several states until further orders.
  4. In several states, shopping malls. cinema theatres, gyms, swimming pools, etc. have been closed.
  5. All museums of the country shall be closed until March 31.
  6. People are asked to avoid going to restaurants, public gatherings, seminars and conferences. In Delhi, all seminars, conferences or any big event attended by more than 200 people are cancelled.
  7. The Delhi Government has ordered to disinfect the public places such every day.
  8. People are requested to avoid unnecessary travelling.
  9. Use of hand sanitisers and masks is prescribed.
  10. Every sport event has been cancelled.

These are some of the precautionary measures that have been enacted by the Central and the State Governments of our country. Each state has released its own temporary regulations after assessing the threat from the coronavirus under the provisions of this Act.

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Coronavirus Bangalore Case 

On March 12, a Google employee, a resident of Bangalore, on returning from Italy was tested positive for the coronavirus. His wife was in quarantine, but she somehow managed to evade the authorities and took a flight to Delhi. She reached her parental home in Agra after boarding a train from Delhi, threatening the lives of her co-passengers. The health officials reached her parental home so as to move her to an isolation ward, but they were misled by her father, a railway engineer, on asking about her whereabouts. After the intervention of the police officials, her father revealed the truth and finally she was shifted to an isolation ward. Both his wife and her father in law have been booked under the Epidemic Diseases Act. Several cases have come up in which people are refusing to be quarantined, risking their lives. 

Although the Epidemic Diseases Act is 123 years old, it continues to find relevance in the outbreak of the modern-day diseases and has been enforced routinely to curb the further proliferation of epidemic diseases such as swine flu, malaria, etc. This Act has significantly aided the Governments at all the levels to fight against the coronavirus. All the advisories issued by the Health Ministry and the State Governments are enforceable under Section 2 of this Act. Constitutional experts opine that there is no need to amend this Act if the Government believes that the enforcement of this Act could restrain the outbreak of an epidemic disease.

The Essential Commodities Act, 1955

After the outbreak of the COVID-19, hand sanitisers and masks are in great demand across the world as both these commodities serve as a great precaution from getting infected with the coronavirus. As a result, the prices of hand sanitisers and masks started skyrocketing and their quality degraded as well. Moreover, the shortage of these commodities was also felt which led the Central Government of India to amend the Essential Commodities Act to include these commodities- surgical masks and hand sanitisers- under the Schedule of this Act.

Objective

This Act was enacted with the object of controlling the production, supply and distribution of, and trade and commerce, in certain commodities.

Applicability

It extends to the whole of India.

Key Provisions

  1. According to this Act, a commodity is said to be essential if it is specified under the Schedule of this Act. The Central Government may amend the Schedule of this Act to include or exclude any commodity if it is satisfied that it is necessary to do so in the public interest and for reasons specified in the notification published in the Official Gazette.
  2. The Central Government, if it considers necessary, may maintain or increase the supplies of essential commodities, supervise their equitable distribution and availability of these commodities at a fair price. 
  3. No essential commodity ordinarily kept for sale can be withheld from sale.
  4. A person engaged in the production or in the business of buying or selling of any essential commodity need to sell the whole or specified part of such commodity held in stock or produced or received by him to the Central Government or a State Government or to an officer or agent of such a Government or to a Corporation owned or controlled by such Government.
  5. If any person contravenes any order issued under Section 3 of this Act, he shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 3 months and may extend to 7 years and shall also be liable to fine. However, in case of an order issued under clause (h) or clause (i) of sub-section (2) of Section 3, he shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year and shall also be liable to fine.

Due to the hike in the demand of face masks and alcohol based hand sanitisers, several cases came up regarding the hoarding, black marketing and sale of substandard face masks and gloves. As soon as the Governments at all the levels started publicising the use of these commodities, the producers and sellers started exploiting the consumers. As a result, the Central Government invoked the Essential Commodities Act to regulate the supply, equitable distribution and price of these commodities.

The Disaster Management Act, 2005

The Disaster Management Act has been invoked not only to provide for an exhaustive administrative set up for disaster preparedness but also to ensure price regulation and availability of masks, alcohol based hand sanitiser and gloves. The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority requested the Ministry of Health and Family Affairs to declare above -mentioned items as drugs so that NPPA could regulate their prices and availability in the market.

Objective

The Disaster Management Act was enacted with the object of providing for the effective management of disasters and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

Applicability

It extends to the whole of India.

Key Provision

The National Executive Committee may evaluate the preparedness at all governmental levels to combat any disaster or threatening disaster situation. It may also direct to improve the preparedness if it finds the arrangements made to combat any disaster or threatening disaster situation is insufficient.

The Ministry of Health and Family under the above mentioned provision has given the responsibility to National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority to control the availability and pricing of alcohol based hand sanitisers, surgical masks and gloves. Due to the enactment of this provision, black marketing, hoarding, and inadequate pricing of these commodities will come to a halt, relieving the consumers.

Note: The National Executive Committee is headed by the home secretary but all the powers exercised by him under Section 10 of the Disaster Management Act have been delegated to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Combined invoking of the Epidemic Diseases Act and the Disaster Management Act

Unlike other countries, the invocation of both these Acts has been preventing the coronavirus from spreading rapidly in our country The Epidemic Diseases Act confers overarching powers to the Central and State Governments to control any epidemic disease while the Disaster Management Act provides for set up of management systems for a coordinated response speedily. The invocation of Disaster Management Act makes the Epidemic Diseases Act more effective.

Conclusion

The rate at which the coronavirus is proliferating across the globe is a matter of serious concern, but at the same time, the measures taken by the Indian Government to contain its outbreak is commendable. The invocation of three Acts- The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 and the Disaster Management Act, 2005 has been significantly aiding the authorities at all levels responsible to restrain the outbreak of the coronavirus. We need to blindly follow the guidelines issued by the Central Governments and our respective State Governments, otherwise all the actions taken by the Governments at all levels would be futile. If we do not follow these advisories, we will not only threaten our lives but also the lives of other people will be put at risk. At the same time, we need to spread awareness among the common masses and bust all the myths revolving around the coronavirus. We must remember that prevention is better than cure. 

Say No to Panic, Say Yes to Precautions.


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