COVID-19 OUTBREAK AND 123-YEAR-GRAYED EPIDEMIC DISEASES ACT 1897
Updated: Apr 4, 2021
Since 31st December 2019 and as of 6th May 2020, 3,778,012 instances of COVID-19 have been accounted for, including 261,243 passing worldwide and as yet checking. In India as of 6th May 2020, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare have affirmed an aggregate of 49,391 cases, 14,183 recoveries and 1694 deaths in the nation.
On 11 March 2020, deeply worried by the disturbing degrees of spread and seriousness, World Health Organization (WHO) made the evaluation that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic. The flare-up has been pronounced as an epidemic in different states and union territories, where provisions of The Epidemic Diseases Act,1897 have been invoked.
Further, on 24 March, the PM requested an across the nation lockdown for 21 days and on 14 April, the PM expanded the ongoing nationwide lockdown till 3 May which is additionally stretched out till seventeenth May.
In the midst of Covid-19 pandemic, which has ended business exchanges as well as the lives of whole 1.3 billion populace of India. The Indian Government found a way to keep away from mass spread of the infection and The Epidemic Diseases Act, all of 123 years of age, has by and by act the hero. The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 was first authorized to handle the flare-up of the bubonic plague in Mumbai in previous British India and is every now and again applied to the control of epidemics like cholera, malaria, dengue fever, and swine flu. Presently the Indian Government is utilizing said Act as a weapon to battle the novel virus.
The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 is the principle authoritative system for the counteraction and spread of dangerous epidemic diseases, however there are other significant arrangements of law which we may discover in the Constitution, the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Disaster Management Act, 2005, and so on.
Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 – A Brief Overview of the colonial vestige
As the preamble of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 says, it is to accommodate the better counteraction of the spread of Dangerous Epidemic Diseases, it empowers both the central as well as the state government to take up measures to forestall the spread of any epidemic within its authority.
The said Act was brought into impact by the frontier ruler to handle the scourge of bubonic plague that had spread in Bombay (presently Mumbai) Presidency during the 1890s and the Act has been acquired by Independent India through the Adaptation of Laws and has been summoned a few times in Independent India. This time too the Act has been conjured when Covid 19 was described as pandemic by World Health Organization. The Act, containing simply four sections, is among the shortest in India.
Section 2 of the said act communicates that whenever the State Government is satisfied that the State or any part thereof is visited by, or undermined with an erupt of any pandemic infection; and on the off chance that it feels that the conventional provisions of the law are inadequate for the reason then the state may take, or require or engage any individual to take a few measures and by open notification endorse such brief guidelines to be seen by the general population. The state government may recommend guidelines for examination of people going by railroad or otherwise, and the segregation, in hospital, temporary accommodation or otherwise, of people associated by the examining official with being contaminated with any such ailment.
Section 2A empowers central government for investigation of any boat or vessel leaving or appearing at any port and for detainment thereof, or of any individual meaning to cruise in that, or showing up along these lines.
Section 3 recommends punishment for defying any guideline or request made under the Act as per section 188 of the Indian Penal Code. Under this arrangement, under this provision, a punishment of 6 months imprisonment or 1,000 rupees fine or both will be dispensed to the individual who ignores any request under the Act.
Also, it is imperative to take note of that under Section 188, IPC, an intention to cause harm is not relevant as mere knowledge of the order gives sufficient cause for liability of committing the offence. Although an offence under Section 188, IPC is cognizable and bailable, courts won't take cognizance by just documenting a FIR. A complaint must be recorded by the concerned police officer under Section 195 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. Non-compliance of the provisions of Section 195 of CrPC may lead to the proceedings being quashed as held by the Apex Court in the case of C Muniappan and Ors v. State of Tamil Nadu.
In a judgment passed by the Orissa High Court in 1963 on account of J. Choudhary v The State, the question before the High Court was whether the refusal of the doctor to get himself vaccinated against cholera in accordance with the regulations passed by the State Government would be culpable under Section 3 of the Act. The Orissa High Court responded to the said question in the agreed and held that the intention of the said doctor was irrelevant, his disobedience in itself was punishable under the Act.
Section 4 of the said act gives assurance to local officials from lawful activity while acting in good faith under the arrangements of the Act. While talking about the ambit of Section 4, the Calcutta High Court in 1904 on account of Ram Lall Mistry v R.T. Greer  held that an omission to pay compensation as prescribed under the regulations passed under the Act would not be protected under Section 4.
The Present Times
On 22 April 2020, the Government of India reported the declaration of a statute, 'The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance 2020', to alter the demonstration, adding provisions to punish those assaulting doctors or health workers. The law takes into account as long as seven years of prison for assaulting doctors or health workers (counting ASHA working staff). The offense will be cognizable and non-bailable among other things.
Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, whether sufficient to tackle the current pandemic and future health crises?
Indian Epidemic Act is exceptionally old Act accumulated with a number of flaws and lacks reflections of modern-day realities of the spread of diseases. It is silent on the definition of dangerous epidemic disease. Also, it being century old act, the regional limits of the demonstration need a relook. Aside from the confinement or isolate measure the demonstration is additionally quiet on the legal framework of availability and distribution of vaccine and medications and execution of response measures.
There is no explicit reference with respect to the moral viewpoints or human rights standards during a pandemic emergency. The punishment for infringement of regulations under section 188 of IPC additionally requires a correction.
Despite the fact that India have other legal mechanism to support public health measures in a pandemic situation, they are not being addressed under a single legislation. There is an earnest need to assemble all the provisions in one single legislation, so that the implementation of the responses to an epidemic can be effectively monitored. Consistent endeavors are in progress to fortify public health legislation in India.
The Indian Government took notice of the reality and had presented a bill in 2017 called the ‘Public Health (Prevention, Control, and Management of Epidemics, Bio-terrorism and Disasters) Bill’ (“Bill”). The Bill empowers state government and other authorities to take such measures to prevent, control and manage public health, ban or regulate buy/transport/conveyance of materials containing harmful substance; isolate people presented to such a malady and spread such data as considered fitting and take pertinent activities including conclusion of business sectors, different establishments and social distancing. The Bill likewise records down in excess of 30 ailments as plague inclined infections, for example, bird flu, dengue, chikungunya, malaria, kala-azar and so on. Anyway, it is extremely sad that even after three years, it is yet to see the sunshine. With the alarming levels of spread and severity of infectious diseases and widespread global movement, the legal frameworks need to be strengthened under a sound public health law particularly in zones like separation or isolate of tainted or suspected patients, travel or development limitations, denial of mass social affairs, mandatory inoculation, and so forth.
Thus it is far beyond doubt that this colonial greyed epidemic act needs a total correction to take into account the changing public health priorities and we can sensibly assume that the Indian Government will make strides in managing the spread of pandemics and will deliver a complete enactment which will contemplate the cutting edge real factors and control measures for the spread of different infections in future. The legislators can draw a leaf out of the National Disaster Management Act 2005  (deals with public emergency) as it clearly defines all the terms and has an explicit description of all the implementing measures and and offices to be founded in case of any crisis.
 AIR 1963 Ori 216.
 (1904) ILR 31 Cal 829.
Government of India (1897) , The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 (PDF)
Ministry of Law and Justice (22 April 2020), The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment)
Ordinance, 2020 (PDF), The Gazette of India, Government of India.
Author - Advocate Akshay Bhambri.
PRACTICING ADVOCATE IN DELHI HIGH COURT.