The Union Cabinet on Wednesday took the route of an ordinance to prevent acts of violence and harassment against healthcare personnel deployed in combating COVID-19.
The law has provisions for a non-bailable offence with a maximum punishment of seven years, imprisonment and Rs 5 lakh fine. The government through passing the ordinance fulfilled a key demand of health professionals in the wake of multiple recent attacks on them across various parts of the country.
Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said the proposed ordinance also has provisions for compensation for injury to healthcare service personnel or for causing damage or loss to property.
Affirming that the government has ‘Zero Tolerance’ for violence and harassment against doctors, nurses, paramedics and other healthcare personnel.
Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said a person can be sentenced to anywhere between three months and five years in jail, besides a fine between Rs 50,000 and two lakh, for such crimes under the new provision.
In cases where injuries are serious, the punishment will range from six months to seven years, and carry a fine between Rs 1-5 lakh, he said.
The same law will be invoked for landlords or neighbours harassing corona warriors
The ordinance is aimed at amending the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, and the amended law will also be invoked if healthcare personnel face harassment from their landlords or neighbours over doubts that they may bring the coronavirus infection due to the nature of their work, he said.
An offence under the amended law will be cognizable and non-bailable, Javadekar said. Cognizable and non-bailable offence means that police can arrest the accused, and only courts can release them on bail.
“Our government has zero tolerance against violence and harassment targeting doctors, nurses, paramedics and ASHA workers when they are doing their best to fight the pandemic,” he said, adding that people responsible for violence will also be liable to pay damages, which will be double the market value of the property vandalised.
“The government is ensuring that our health professionals can work without any tension,” he added.
Healthcare professionals have faced violent attacks in some areas during their drive to test people for suspected infection or quarantine them.
There have also been reports that their landlords or neighbours in some cases opposed their presence claiming they may be carriers of the infection.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had often condemned such cases of attacks and harassment, while lauding the role of healthcare professionals in combating the deadly disease.
Asked whether the changes in the law will be applicable even after the threat of COVID-19 is over, Javadekar told reporters that the ordinance has been approved to amend the Epidemic Act.
“But it is a good beginning,” he said, without elaborating.
Javadekar noted that Home Minister Amit Shah and Health Minister Harsh Vardhan had a meeting through video conference with a group of doctors and representatives of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) earlier on Wednesday.
The government assured them that they will be protected, he said.
Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan tweeted:
“The government has decided to promulgate an Ordinance to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 in light of the pandemic situation of #COVIDー19. This will facilitate punishment under the law in cases of violence against healthcare service personnel serving during an epidemic.”
The IMA, which had been demanding a law to protect healthcare professionals, called off its proposed ‘White alert’ and ‘Black day’ protests scheduled on April 22 and 23 following the meeting.
The minister stressed the government’s commitment to helping health professionals committed to fighting COVID-19 by noting that it had earlier brought them under an insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh.
As of now, over 723 COVID-19 hospitals, 1.86 lakh beds and over 24,000 beds with ICU facilities have been created to deal with the pandemic, he said. The amended law will come into effect after the President promulgates it and the government notifies it.