December 2, 2020

Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and the Limitations of the Act as of Today’s Times of Covid-19 Pandemic

Abstract –

This article exceptionally centers around what is the epidemic diseases act, 1897 and impediments of the act starting today in the midst of covid-19 pandemic, which has ended business transactions as well as ways of life, the Indian government found a way to keep away from mass spread of the infection, read out the introduction of the epidemic diseases act and got the opportunity to work.

The frontier time act, all of 123 years of age, has indeed acted the hero. The Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 (the “Act”) was set up because of the mass spread of the bubonic plague episode in Mumbai (at that point Bombay). The plague, said to have spread through rodents, murdered many individuals every week in Mumbai.

Though the British pilgrim Government was said to have shrewdly utilized the Act to detain political dissidents, the Indian Government is utilizing the Act as a weapon to battle the novel infection and as it should be. While the Central Government’s forces are constrained under the Act, it is the solidarity of different states in the nation that has gotten the Act the front line. Among different states, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Delhi and Kerala have given warnings on the executives and brought into place ‘Covid-19 Regulations, 2020’ (“Regulations”).Vide these Regulations, states have practiced their forces under the Act to constrain workers of private foundations/ventures/factories/shops and so on. To remain at home in the current occasions, to regard them as ‘on the job’; to stop all development work quickly; to close night clubs and week by week bazaars and so forth.

Key notes – Epidemic, Diseases, Act, 1897, covid19, pandemic

Introduction

Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 – A Brief Overview –

The Act which was enacted for preventing spread of epidemic diseases empowers both the Central and State Government(s) to take certain actions to prevent spread of such diseases. The Act, comprising merely four sections, is among the shortest in India.

a) Section 2 of the Act empowers State Governments to take special measures and prescribe regulations during the outbreak of an epidemic disease. It states that if the State Government thinks that if other Acts are insufficient for the said purpose, it may take such measures by way of a public notice to prescribe temporary regulations for the public/class of persons to observe. The Regulations mentioned above have been enacted under Sections 2,3 and 4 of the Act.

b) Section 2A of the Act empowers the Central Government to take measures and pass regulations for the inspection of any ship arriving or leaving India and for detention of any person intending to sail, if the Central Government is satisfied that India or any part of India is threatened with, an outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease and the ordinary statutes in force will be insufficient to take an appropriate action.

c) According to Section 3 of the Act, any person who disobeys an order or regulation made by the government under the Act, shall be punished in accordance with Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”). Section 188, IPC imposes punishment for disobeying an order promulgated by a public servant. Disobedience of an order passed by a public servant and “if such disobedience causes or tends to cause obstruction, annoyance or injury, or risk of obstruction, annoyance or injury”, is punishable with simple imprisonment which may extend up to a month and/or a fine of up to Rs. 200.

However, if this disobedience “causes or tends to cause danger to human life, health or safety, or causes or tends to cause a riot or affray”, it shall be punishable with imprisonment extending up to six months and/or fine up to Rs. 1,000. Pertinently, violation of the regulations passed under the Act due to the outbreak Covid-19 would attract the latter punishment as it would tend to harm human life, health and safety.

Additionally, it is important to note that under Section 188, IPC, an intention to cause harm is not relevant as mere knowledge of the order gives sufficient cause for liability of committing the offence. Although an offence under Section 188, IPC is cognizable and bailable, courts will not take cognizance by merely filing an FIR. A complaint must be filed by the concerned public officer under Section 195 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (“CrPC”). Non-compliance of the provisions of Section 195 of CrPC may lead to the proceedings being quashed as held by the Patna High Court in the case of Raj Mangal Ram v State of Bihar. The said case was in relation to certain directions issued by the District Magistrate of Muzaffarpur for implementation of the ‘anti-Kalazar’ scheme.

In a judgment passed by the Orissa High Court in 1963 in the case of J. Choudhary v The State, the question before the High Court was whether the refusal of the doctor to get himself vaccinated against cholera in accordance with the regulations passed by the State Government would be punishable under Section 3 of the Act. The Orissa High Court answered the said question in the affirmative and held that the intention of the said doctor was irrelevant, his disobedience in itself was punishable under the Act.

d) Section 4 of the Act provides protection to public servants from legal action while acting in good faith under the provisions of the Act. While discussing the ambit of Section 4, the Calcutta High Court in 1904 in the case of Ram Lall Mistry v R.T. Greer held that an omission to pay compensation as prescribed under the regulations passed under the Act would not be protected under Section 4.

Provisions of the IPC attracted in such scenarios

In addition to Section 188, certain other provisions of the IPC relating to public health and safety may also be attracted during the outbreak of an epidemic disease.

  • Section 269 of the IPC prescribes punishment for negligent actions which may spread infection of any disease, thereby threatening human life, punishable with imprisonment which may extend to six months and/or fine.

  • However, pertinently, Section 270 is a more serious offence than the one listed under Section 269. It imposes punishment for malignant actions which may spread any disease dangerous to life. The punishment under this section may extend to two years imprisonment and/or fine.

  • Section 271 of the IPC prescribes punishment for disobeying quarantine rule. Such punishment may extend to six months imprisonment and/or fine.

Implementation of the above IPC provisions can be well seen in one such order passed by the Government of Kerala imposing lockdown in the State on March 23, 2020. Additionally, the orders passed by the State Governments of Haryana, Maharashtra, Telangana, etc. state that disobeying such an order shall result in inter alia punishment under the Act, i.e. Section 188 of the IPC. Presently, FIR has been lodged against a singer for negligence and disobedience of an order passed by a public servant under Section 188 as well as Sections 269, 270 and 271 of the IPC based on a complaint filed by the chief medical officer. According to reports, 141 cases have been registered under Section 188 of the IPC in Mumbai.

Limitations of the Act as of Today

The Act is more than 120 years old, enacted by the then British Parliament to curb a situation that arose only in one part of undivided India i.e. the Bombay Presidency. The real motive of the British Parliament behind the said act can be doubted for a simple reason that, the Act was misused by the British officers to arrest and confine public gatherings led by the freedom fighters.

The object of the Epidemic Act is more for prevention of the spread of the disease not to curb or eradicate the disease which has already started to spread. The Act does not define the term epidemic or disease. The Act does not give specific measures or directions to the government to follow at the time of an epidemic. The Act simply empowers to prescribe general temporary notifications/regulations if it thinks that the epidemic cannot be controlled by the existing laws of land.

Conclusion

The Epidemic Act doesn’t give any rules for arrangement of a unique board of trustees or a debacle supervisory crew which can act upon the crisis in an endorsed and prudent way without trusting that the state government will act in the wake of thinking about different factors of the state. The Act doesn’t give measures to isolation of the speculated patients and isolation centers. There ought to be arrangements guiding the state governments to manufacture isolation centers in all clinics and lodging social orders to be utilized as isolation centers at the hour of epidemic. The Act is quiet with respect to how the immunizations and medications can be conveyed by the government. As the Act is quiet on every one of these angles it leaves no ground for the general population everywhere to consider the government answerable for any sort of carelessness with respect to the government in the official courtroom as there is no appropriate system on which the government can act on. The arrangements give the freedom to the State Government to recommend transitory regulations which can be a greater amount of experimentation as opposed to being thorough measures to control the epidemic.

References –

· https://corporate.cyrilamarchandblogs.com/2020/03/epidemic-diseases-act-1897-dusting-an-old-cloak/

· https://indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/10469/1/the_epidemic_diseases_act%2C1897.pdf

Author Details: Dr. Trupti Jadhav is currently an Assistant Professor, M.P. Law College, Aurangabad,(MH)

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