Analysis of epidemic disease act

Title: Analysis of Epidemic Disease Act

Epidemic is a title which is often broadly used to describe ‘that has grown out of control’. It occurs when an infectious disease spreads promptly to several people within a country or a location and affects many individuals at the same time. It is generally a highly communicable disease that spreads through the population in a very short time. These diseases could be viral, bacterial or other health events such as obesity.

It is a law which was first sanctioned to tackle Bubonic plague in Mumbai in former British occupied India. This plague struck the city in late 19th century thereby killing thousands of people. First case was detected in 1896. At that time, anti plague activities of Health Department included Police searches, quarantine of sick, incarceration in camps of travellers and eviction of residents. These measures were widely regarded as offensive and scare criticism to the said measures thereby led to an outrage, and further resulted in murder of British Chairmen W.C. Rand of Plague Committee. Mortality rate from plague was 22 per thousand at that time. This act, confined plague to Bombay by a series of tough measures which prevented multitude from gatherings and endeavor to protect the common citizens in a particular area during the outbreak of an epidemic or a dangerous disease.

The Act was sanctioned in 1897 and came into force on 4th Feb 1897, as a response to plague epidemic in Bombay and came to be known as Epidemic Diseases Act. It extends to whole of India except the territories raised in part B States. It is the shortest Act as ever sanctioned by Indian Legislation comprising just 4 sections.

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Power of Central Government under the Act:

It empowers the Central Government to take measures, if, it is satisfied that an outbreak or spread of any dangerous epidemic disease is visited by or intimated India or any part thereof and the ordinary provisions of law therein are minimal to prevent aforesaid outbreak, and prescribe the following regulations:
To inspect any ship or vessel leaving or arriving at any port in the territories to which the act extends and for the restraint of the same. To restrain any person who is intending to sail or arriving on any such ship or vessel as the Central Government deems fit regards such epidemic.

Power of State Government under the Act:

It empowers to the State Government and Union territory to contrive necessary regulations to contain the outbreak or spread of any dangerous epidemic disease.
If the State government is satisfied that the State or any part thereof, is visited by or menace with an outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease and it thinks that the ordinary provisions of the law in force for time being are minimal for the purpose of constraints of such aforesaid epidemic, the State government may:

1. Take or require or empower any person to take such measures.
2. By public notice prescribe such temporary regulations to be observed by the public or by any person or class of person.
As the State government shall be 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 settled.

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Penalty:

Any person defy any regulation or order made under this Act shall be deemed to have committed an offence punishable under Section 188 of the Indian Penal code.
Provided that:

If such defying causes or tends to cause hindrance, vexation or injury, or risk of the same as aforesaid to any person lawfully employed, shall 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 both.
If such defying causes or tends to cause danger to human life, health or safety, or causes or tends to cause a rampage or fights, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or both.

Protection to persons acting under the Act:

This Act provides no suit or legal proceeding shall lie against any person for anything done or in bonafide intended to be done under the Act.
Examples of Implementation of the Act:

This Act has also prior which used for the restraint of diseases:
• Swine flue outbreak in Pune, 2009.
• In 2015, to deal with Malaria and Dengue in Chandigarh.
• In 2018, to deal with Cholera in Gujarat (Vadodara).

And the following, In 2019-2020 Corona Virus pandemic the cabinet secretary of India on 11 March, 2020 announced that all states and union territories should adduce the provisions of this Act.

If the Act stated clearly the situations under which the authorities may reduce the autonomy, liberty and privacy should be respected to the greatest extent possible, even during the enforcement of law.

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The Act says that State may empower any person to take some measures. Today, we have a better organize public system, with specific people in charge of delivering primary care services thereby recommend that any person may empowered does not make any sense. Any word cannot be accepted in current context, and who can do what needs to be specified.

There is a lack of consistency between various acts followed in different States although in India has number of legal methods to support public health measures in an epidemic situation, they are not being addressed under a single legislation .There is a need for a combined, comprehensive, actionable and relevant legal provisions for the control of disease outbreaks in India, so that execution of responses to an epidemic can be effectively observed.

Thus it is far beyond the doubt that this century old Act needs a complete rebuild to cater the changing public health priorities so there should be a uniform and sufficient law which should be right based, people focused and public health oriented.

Author: Prashanshu sharma,
Lloyd college and 1 year/law student

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