The legislation was passed to ensure there was zero tolerance towards any act of violence committed towards healthcare workers Credit: Representational image

Guwahati: Rajya Sabha on Saturday passed the Epidemic Diseases Amendment Bill, 2020 bringing in a law that punishes anyone who attacks healthcare workers or doctors, who are fighting the COVID-19 outbreak or during any situation of the likes of the pandemic. The new law provides for up to five years in jail for those who attack any healthcare personnel.

While introducing the bill in the Upper House, health Minister Harsh Vardhan said that the ordinance introduced in April led to a downfall in cases of violence against healthcare workers. “We have all noticed that there has been a dramatic decline in the incidents of violence against health workers all over the country,” he stated.

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To amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, the Centre implemented the epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 so that they can offer protection to healthcare service personnel. This includes their living premises as well as their workplaces during a pandemic.

The minister also addressed the issue of stigma which is often associated with coronavirus. He said, “Many healthcare workers, including doctors, paramedics, were insulted in some form or the other, due to the stigma attached to COVID-19. The Central government acted on this situation and found that there was a need for a law, a prohibitory mechanism against such incidents.”

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This time, the legislation intends to give an attitude of zero tolerance to any violence against people working in the health care sector. “Public and clinical healthcare service providers such as doctors, nurses, paramedical workers, and community health workers; any other persons empowered under the act to take measures to prevent the outbreak of the disease or spread thereof; and any persons declared as such by the state government, by notification in the official gazette,” are the service personnel.

If damages are done to clinical establishments, isolation facilities, and quarantine centres of patients, mobile medical units, or any other property associated with health care personnel during a pandemic, the penal provisions can be provoked.

Additionally, penalty ranging from Rs 50, 000 to Rs 2, 00,000 can be attached to any individual who might be involved in the commission or abetment of such acts of violence. Moreover, it can also be punishable in the form of imprisonment for a term of three months to five years.

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However, Derek O’ Brien– Trinamool Congress leader and Member of Parliament—said that the Bill allows the Centre to ‘cross constitutional bars.’ Additionally, this also interferes with how the chief ministers run their states he said.

“Remember states of West Bengal, Punjab, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan rejected you. Chief Ministers there have been elected to run the states. You cannot cross constitutional bars. There are sinister provisions in the Bill. The states must be authorised to take decisions,” he added.

According to him, the Bill is nothing but an “imposition of Centre’s will on states,” adding, “The Centre cannot impose its will on states. It is unconstitutional.”

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