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Law Commission asks to amend Epidemic Diseases Act to remove loopholes

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Indian Law Commission has recommended amending the Epidemic Diseases Act to remedy loopholes or introducing complete legislation to cope with future outbreaks. The panel said the current law had “significant deficiencies” in containing and managing future epidemics due to new infectious diseases or pathogen strains.

The Law Commission found “significant deficiencies” in the Epidemic Diseases Act and advised the government to reform it or pass a comprehensive epidemic-fighting law. The government received the findings of Justice (retired) Ritu Raj Awasthi’s group, which recommended a complete legislation change.

Justice Awasthi wrote in his cover note to Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal that the COVID-19 outbreak presented an unprecedented challenge to Indian health system.

“This catastrophe revealed health law limitations. He claimed the government responded quickly to the crisis, but a more comprehensive law would have helped “

He added the Law Commission believes the current statute has “significant deficiencies” in containing and managing future epidemics as new infectious diseases or pathogen strains emerge.

The Disaster Management Act, 2005, authorized a lockdown in reaction to COVID-19, he said.

Parliament revised the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 in 2020 to address present issues, particularly those facing healthcare professionals.

“However, these amendments fell short as critical gaps and omissions remained in the Act,” said.

The law group reported a “ardent need for comprehensive legislation” to address epidemics and coordinate a response in the case of an unpredictable incident.

Considering modern scientific advances, the new or revised Act should give the government “rather it should shape appropriate response mechanisms in preventing and controlling epidemic diseases,” it said.

The revised or new statute must define ‘epidemic’.

“For taking the appropriate measures to contain and control the epidemic diseases; and to demarcate the power between Centre and State, the stages of the disease must be defined such as a ‘Outbreak’ which further leads to a ‘Epidemic’ and a ‘Pandemic’,” it said.

It also advised defining ‘quarantine’ and ‘isolation’ to clarify their differences.

The Act must focus on the government’s duties in controlling or regulating the production, distribution, transportation, and storage of necessary vaccines, medicines, and other medical equipment, it said, adding that the Act does not guarantee the availability of essential vaccines and drugs during epidemics.

It advised decentralising and dividing power between central, state, and local authorities to manage an epidemic crisis in the Epidemic Diseases Act.

The legislation panel also recommended a flexible enforcement mechanism for epidemic illness prevention, control, and management based on disease stage.

Social distancing laws were enacted nationwide during COVID-19 to contain infection. The panel noted such a phrase must be defined in the parent Act.

For better results, employ ‘Physical Distancing’: “Physical Distancing: An exercise of maintaining sufficient physical distance between individuals to limit the spread of infection.”

It proposed a central ‘Epidemic Plan’ to identify the nodal institutes and agencies responsible for vaccine and medication research and development.

The government should also create a way to combine public and commercial medical research institutes, vaccine producers, and raw material suppliers to oversee vaccine research and production.

“By enacting provisions in the Epidemic Plan, the central government should regulate the purchase, supply, transportation, storage, distribution, and sale of such necessary vaccines and lifesaving drugs, (to avoid hoarding),” said.

It stated that the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, as modified, offers two types of additional penalties.

First, violating any Act provision, order, or rule is criminal under Section 188 of the IPC, 1860.

The 2020 amendment Act adds a second penalty for assault against healthcare workers or property damage.

“Thus, although the existing Act stipulates penalty for contravention of its provisions, the penalty as stated in Section 188 of the IPC is not stringent enough to act as an effective deterrent,” noted.

The panel conducted “a comprehensive review of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897” suo moto.

The committee also recommended that the ‘Epidemic Plan’ include a comprehensive framework for lockdown and vehicle and personnel limitations.

Besides quarantine and isolation, the Epidemic Plan must include instructions for disinfecting and decontaminating animals, products, enclosures, and other objects and substances to preserve hygiene and prevent spread.

Conclusion

Indian Law Commission recommends amending the Epidemic Diseases Act to remedy loopholes or introducing complete legislation to cope with future outbreaks. The panel, led by Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, found “significant deficiencies” in the current legislation for containing and managing future epidemics due to new infectious diseases or pathogen strains. The panel recommended that the new or revised Act define ‘epidemic’, distinguish quarantine from isolation, and emphasize the government’s role in vaccine manufacture, distribution, transportation, and storage. Based on infectious or contagious illness transmission stage, the panel offered a flexible enforcement system for epidemic disease prevention, control, and management.

Taushif Patel

Taushif Patel is a Author and Entrepreneur with 20 years of media industry experience. He is the co-founder of Target Media and publisher of INSPIRING LEADERS Magazine, Director of Times Applaud Pvt. Ltd.

Taushif Patel
Taushif Patelhttps://taushifpatel.com
Taushif Patel is a Author and Entrepreneur with 20 years of media industry experience. He is the co-founder of Target Media and publisher of INSPIRING LEADERS Magazine, Director of Times Applaud Pvt. Ltd.

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