COVID 19Legislation UpdatesStatutes/Bills/Ordinances

President gives assent for promulgation of Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020| To protect healthcare service personnel and property including their living/working premises against violence during epidemics.

The Ordinance provides for making such acts of violence cognizable and non-bailable offences and for compensation for injury to healthcare service personnel or for causing damage or loss to the property in which healthcare service personnel may have a direct interest in relation to the epidemic.

The current Ordinance is intended to ensure that during any situation akin to the current pandemic, there is zero tolerance to any form of violence against healthcare service personnel and damage to property. The general public fully cooperates with healthcare personnel and have expressed their gratitude in a very organized manner several times during the past month. Nevertheless, some incidents of violence have taken place which has demoralized the medical fraternity. It is felt that separate and most stringent provisions for emergent times are needed toact as effective deterrents to any such incidents of violence.

Violence as defined in the Ordinance will include harassment and physical injury and damage to property. Healthcare service personnel include 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.

The penal provisions can be invoked in instances of damage to property including a clinical establishment, any facility identified for quarantine and isolation of patients, mobile medical units and any other property in which the healthcare service personnel have direct interest in relation to the epidemic.

The amendment makes acts of violence cognizable and non-bailable offences. Commission or abetment of such acts of violence shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of three months to five years, and with fine of Rs.50,000/- to Rs.2,00,000/-.  In case of causing grievous hurt, imprisonment shall be for a term six months to seven years and with fine of Rs.1,00,000/- to Rs.5,00,000/-.   In addition, the offender shall also be liable to pay compensation to the victim and twice the fair market value for damage of property.

Offences shall be investigated by an officer of the rank of Inspector within a period of 30 days, and trial has to be completed in one year, unless extended by the court for reasons to be recorded in writing.

Looking at the interventions required during the current Covid-19 outbreak, the Central Government has been given a concurrent role with the State Governments to take any measures that may be needed to prevent the outbreak of an epidemic or the spread thereof. In addition, the scope of inspection of vessels arriving or leaving the country has been enlarged to include road, rail, sea and air vessels.

The health workforce are our frontline soldiers in battling the spread of Covid-19. They put their own lives at risk in order to ensure safety of others. They deserve our highest respect and encouragement at this moment rather than being harassed or being subjected to violence. It is hoped that this Ordinance will have the impact of infusing confidence in the community of healthcare service personnel so that they can continue to contribute to serving mankind through their noble professions in the extremely difficult circumstances being witnessed during the current Covid-19 outbreak.

To read the Ordinance, please click on the below link:

ORDINANCE


Ministry of Law and Justice

[Notification dt. 22-04-2020]

Case BriefsCOVID 19High Courts

Kerala High Court: A Division Bench of A.K. Jayasankaran Nambiar and Shaji P. Chaly, JJ. while addressing the urgent matter with regard to removal of blockade erected by Karnataka State connecting to State of Kerala in order directed Centre to take note of the same in order to save human lives.

In the present matter, Advocate General of Karnataka submitted that few of the road routes from Karnataka to Kerala bordering Kannur District, that had been blocked by the State of Karnataka could be opened and maintained as such till the lifting of the lockdown arrangement  to facilitate transportation of essential commodities to the State of Kerala.

Further he sought time to ascertain whether it would be possible to remove block over roads bordering Kasaragod District, so as to facilitate the movement of vehicles carrying patients who required urgent medical attention.

Central Government Standing Counsel submitted that efforts were on to try and bring about an amicable resolution of the issue and that a meeting with Chief Secretaries of the two States was also being considered.

Additional Advocate General of Kerala pointed that when the right to life of a citizen is at stake, and the action of State of Karnataka in erecting blockades that prevent the movement of persons seeking medical relief.

The said action goes against the guidelines issued by Centre under Disaster Management Act and Government of Karnataka under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 read with enabling provisions under DMA 2005, Court ought not to wait any longer and must pass urgent orders to protect fundamental right of the citizens.

Central Government Standing Counsel pointed out that although Centre has issued guidelines under DMA, State Governments have been given freedom to relax conditions based on ground realities.

Adding to his submissions, he stated that the issue in question involves policy considerations which this Court would not ordinarily interfere with.

Decision & Analysis of the Court

“We have no option now, but to pass this order with a view to safeguard fundamental rights of citizens during this grim period in our country’s history.”

Th restrictions imposed by the State of Karnataka, through the blockades erected has resulted in loss of many lives.

No results have been produced even after discussion between the Centre and State Government.

Any delay in resolving the stalemate could be catastrophic for the residents of Kasargod District in Kerala.

Bench observed that,

Right of a citizen to move freely throughout the territory of India, subject to reasonable restrictions that may be imposed in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, security of the State, public order etc. is recognised under Article 19 (1)(d) of Constitution.

A citizen also has a fundamental right to life and personal liberty guaranteed to him by the State under Article 21 of our Constitution.

The above stated rights are simultaneously infringed — in the case of a resident of State of Kerala when he/she is denied entry into State of Karnataka for availing medical treatment or is deprived of essential articles of food that are being transported into the State through blockades erected by State of Karnataka.

Restrictions imposed on transportation of essential articles of food would also amount to breach of rights protected under Articles 301-304 of Constitution of India.

State Government of Karnataka cannot be heard to contend that it is not obliged to respect fundamental right of a citizen who resides outside its territorial limits. 

Being a part of Union of India, State of Karnataka necessarily has to respect and guarantee the fundamental right of a citizen of this country irrespective of the place of his residence or domicile within the country.

Bench in the above view states that,

“..we hope that State Government of Karnataka would take note of the basic principles enshrined in our Constitution and take immediate steps to resolve the present stalemate.”

Hence, concluding it’s decision, the Court held that the material roads that connect Mangalore in Karnataka, to Kasargod in Kerala are a part of National Highway network and it is therefore Central Government’s duty to ensure that the said roads are kept free of blockades.

Restrictions may be imposed in times of national emergency as that is in the present times, but when the guidelines issued by Central Government merits travel for urgent medical treatment, then the said guidelines are necessarily to be enforced through the removal of blockades that prevent such travel.

Court directs Centre to intervene in the present matter and ensure that the blockades are removed without any further delay so as to facilitate free movement of vehicles carrying persons for urgent medical treatment across the border between two States.[Kerala High Court Advocates’ Assn. v. State of Kerala,  2020 SCC OnLine Ker 1302, decided on 01-04-2020]