Shield for the COVID-19 warriors: How the Center's new bill protects the healthcare workers?

With the view of protecting the medical personnel and other frontline healthcare workers who are battling against the COVID-19 pandemic from the grounds of violence, the Rajya Sabha had on Saturday passed legislation that provides for up to five years prison sentence for those attacking doctors and healthcare workers who are on their front leg in containing the spread. 

Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan had introduced the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020, in Rajya Sabha on Saturday to replace an ordinance issued by the government in April.  The Union Cabinet has given its nod for the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, to protect healthcare service personnel and property, including their living and working premises against the violence while they are fighting the pandemic. 

By tabling the bill in the Upper House of the Parliament, Harsh Vardhan said that the ordinance had to be brought as the sequel of the increasing number of incidents of harassment and violence against the health workers while they were returning from their duties after treating the virus-hit patients. The Minister stated that the medical personnel and healthcare workers are being treated with stigma and not allowed to enter their houses or residential areas. 

The frontline workers are reportedly beaten up and chased away when they went out for surveillance. The minister further stated that after the ordinance was proposed, there has been a dramatic decline in the incidents of violence against health workers across the country. According to reports, the ordinance had come into effect to make incidents of violence on health care workers attending COVID-19 a non-bailable offence with provisions of the penalty and a jail term of five years. 

The penal provisions can be slapped against the miscreants for the incidents of damaging the property including a clinical establishment, any quarantine and isolation facilities of patients, mobile medical units, and any other property in which the healthcare service personnel have a direct interest in relation to the epidemic.

As per the provisions of the bill, the offences will be probed by an officer of the rank of inspector within a period of 30 days and trial has to be completed in one year and such acts of violence will be punishable with imprisonment for a term of three months to five years, and with a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 2,00,000. 

According to the bill, the healthcare personnel includes 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 diseases and its spread.