On March 11, it was decided that states and Union Territories should invoke provisions of Section 2 of Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, so that Health Ministry advisories are enforceable.

Need for Enforcement:

  • At present, at least 60 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in India
  • Around the world, more than 119,100 people have been infected and nearly 4,300 have died, according to Reuters. 

About the 1897 Epidemic Diseases Act

  • The colonial government introduced the Act to tackle the epidemic of bubonic plague that had spread in the erstwhile Bombay Presidency in the 1890s.
  • In 1897 Bal Gangadhar Tilak was punished with 18 months’ rigorous imprisonment after his newspapers Kesari and Mahratta admonished imperial authorities for their handling of the plague epidemic.
  • Key Provisions:
    • Section 2 empowers state governments/UTs to take special measures and formulate regulations for containing the outbreak like - 
    • Inspection of persons traveling by railway or otherwise,
    • The segregation of patients in the hospital 
    • Temporary accommodation of persons suspected by the inspecting officer of being infected such disease
  • Section 3 provides penalties for disobeying any regulation or order made under the Act. These are according to section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant).
  • Section 4 gives legal protection to the implementing officers acting under the Act.

Previous Instances of Enforcement:

  • The Epidemic Diseases Act is routinely enforced across the country for dealing with outbreaks of diseases such as swine flu, dengue, and cholera.
  • In 2009, to tackle the swine flu outbreak in Pune, Section 2 powers were used to open screening centers in civic hospitals across the city, and swine flu was declared a notifiable disease.
  • In 2015, to deal with malaria and dengue in Chandigarh, the Act was implemented and controlling officers were instructed to ensure the issuance of notices and challans of Rs 500 to offenders.
  • In 2018, the district collector of Gujarat’s Vadodara issued a notification under the Act declaring the Khedkarmsiya village in Waghodia taluka as cholera-affected after 31 persons complained of symptoms of the disease.
  • Recently Haryana Governor issued regulations to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the exercise of the powers conferred under Section 2,3 and 4 of the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897.

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