logo
Follow US
Breaking News
Tip Off
COVID-19: Understanding Epidemic Disease Act, 1897

COVID-19: Understanding Epidemic Disease Act, 1897

Noticing surge in cases of COVID-19 in India, Central Government after imposing one day ‘Janta Curfew’ on March 22, 2020, has urged state governments for lockdown of districts that are in vulnerable positions in their respective states. After which all state governments ordered lockdown of 75 districts.

State governments such Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi etc. issued Epidemic Diseases, COVID-19 Regulations under the ambit of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 to curb the spread of coronavirus. Public transport, private establishments etc. are closed during this lockdown period. However, keeping in mind basic needs of the people, government exempted essential commodities such groceries shops, chemist shops, hospitals, petrol pump, ATMs etc.

In India, COVID-19 cases are evolving at exponential rate, till the time of writing of this article, there are almost 500 confirmed cases and 9 persons have died due to it. As per World Health Organisation (WHO) reports, in 186 countries 2,94,110 confirmed cases have been reported and 12,944 deaths have been caused due to COVID-19. China is the highest country and Italy is the second highest where such cases have been reported.

Now, few questions arise in our mind from legal point of view such as:

Q1. What is The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897?

Q2. Whether Central Government or State Government is responsible to combat virus?

Q3. What will happen if somebody does not cooperate with the government?

Q4. Can anyone file suit against government for taking steps to curb pandemic?

Now, let start from answering question one by one:

Q1. What is The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897?

The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 was passed in 1897 with the aim of better preventing the spread of “dangerous epidemic diseases”. It evolved to tackle the epidemic of ‘Bubonic Plague’ that broke out in the then Bombay state at that time. The Governor General of colonial India conferred special powers upon the local authorities to implement the measures necessary for the control of epidemics. It is one of the shortest Acts in India, comprising of just four sections. Section 1 of the act states extent of this act. Section 2 and Section 2A of The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 gives power to the government to combat such situations. As per this section, it is upon government to utilise this section when it is satisfied that “the ordinary provisions of the law for the time being in force are insufficient for the purpose, may take, or require or empower any person to take, such measures and, by public notice, prescribe such temporary regulations to be observed by the public or by any person or class of persons as [it] shall deem necessary to prevent the outbreak of such disease or the spread thereof, and may determine in what manner and by whom any expenses incurred (including compensation if any) shall be defrayed.” State government such as Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi have issued directions to close shopping malls, cinema halls, colleges, schools etc. Delhi government on March 16, 2020 banned even the Shahin Bagh protest in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak.

Historians have criticised the Act for its potential for abuse. In 1897, the year the law was enforced, freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak was punished with 18 months’ rigorous imprisonment after his newspapers Kesari and Mahratta admonished imperial authorities for their handling of the plague epidemic.

Q2. Whether Central Government or State Government is responsible to combat virus?

Section 2(1) and Section 2A of The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 empowers both State government as well as Central government respectively. It is upon both governments that “at any time”if they are “satisfied” that any territory in their authority or any part thereof is “visited by, or threatened with, an outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease”, then they can issue directions regarding the same.

Q3. What will happen if somebody does not cooperate with the government?

Section 3 of The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 empowers government or legal authority to punish, in accordance with Section 188 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC), any person disobeying any regulation or order made under this Act. Section 188 of IPC states that if any person abstains from abiding regulations, such person will “be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one month or with fine which may extend to two hundred rupees, or with both and if such disobedience causes or tends to cause danger to human life, health or safety, or causes or tends to cause a riot or affray, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.” The ingredients of Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code have been elaborated in a number of judgments of the Supreme Court as well as the High Courts. One notable judgment in this regard is the judgment of the Madras High Court in Chinnamuthu Ambalam vs S. Jagannatha Chariar [AIR 1959 Mad 89], wherein the following ingredients were elaborated:

  1. That there must be an order promulgated by a public servant
  2. That the public servant must have been lawfully empowered to promulgate such order.
  3. That a person having knowledge of such order and directed by such order (a) to abstain, from a certain act, or (b) to take certain order with certain properly in his possession or under his management, has disobeyed such direction.
  4. That such disobedience causes or tends to cause (i) obstruction, annoyance, or injury, or risk of it, to any person lawfully employed, or (ii) danger to human life, health or safety, or (iii) a riot or affray.
Q4. Can anyone file suit against government for taking steps to curb pandemic?

Section 4 of The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 states that “No suit or other legal proceeding shall i.e. against any person for anything done or in good faith intended to be done under this Act.”

However, many people criticise this section as this section provides immunity to the authority under the impugned act from legal proceedings. People say that authority which comes under following act can misuse this immunity.

Examples of implementation:

In 2018, the district collector of Gujarat’s Vadodara issued a notification under the Act declaring the Khedkarmsiya village in Waghodia taluka as cholera-affected after 31 persons complained of symptoms of the disease.

In 2015, to deal with malaria and dengue in Chandigarh, the Act was implemented and controlling officers were instructed to ensure the issuance of notices and challans of Rs. 500 to offenders.

In 2009, to tackle the swine flu outbreak in Pune, Section 2 powers were used to open screening centres in civic hospitals across the city, and swine flu was declared a notifiable disease.

Author – Satwik Sharma

580 Views

Leave a Reply

Top