Centre invokes ‘Epidemic Act’ and ‘Disaster Management Act’ to prevent spread of coronavirus

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on March 12, 2020

The Centre has decided to invoke Epidemic Act 1897, an act to provide for prevention of the spread of “dangerous epidemic diseases,” to combat novel coronavirus in India. The decision was taken in a meeting convened by the Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba yesterday with representatives of the Indian Army, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and other ministries, according to media reports.

All the states and union territories of India are advised to invoke the provisions of Section 2 of the Epidemic Disease Act 1897. The section includes special measures to be taken by the Centre to “prescribe regulations as to dangerous epidemic disease.” It also includes the detention of people or any vessel that come from international shores and are seen potent to spread the epidemic in the country.

The home ministry has also prohibited cruise ships, crew, or passengers from coronavirus-hit nations to come to India till March 31 under the act.

Section 2 of the Act states: “When at any time the State Government (now Centre) is satisfied that the State or any part thereof is visited by, or threatened with, an outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease, the State Government, if it thinks 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.”

The Act was formulated pre-independence mainly to control plague in the late 1800s.

The provisions of the Act state that the government can fine people or imprison them for violating rules and regulations that will be set to contain the outbreak. Section 3 of the Act states: "Any person disobeying 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 (45 of 1860).

The law also safeguards officials and gives them overarching superintendence of power who act under the provisions of this law to contain the outbreak.

According to Section 4 of the act, no suit or other legal proceedings shall lie against any person for anything done in good faith under the act.

According to the officials cited in the News18 report, the Act can be used to restrict the movement of suspected coronavirus patients to prevent further spread of the disease. The officials said the need to invoke the Act was felt to empower the central government to tackle the outbreak.

The Centre noted that the powers held by the home ministry under the Disaster Management Act shall be “delegated” to the health ministry so as to prepare India against the outbreak.

Published on March 12, 2020

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