New Delhi: Taking stringent note of growing attacks on healthcare workers who are in the frontline of treating COVID-19 patients, the Central government on Wednesday promulgated an ordinance to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act entailing stringent punishment for attacks on healthcare personnel. The ordinance provides imprisonment from three months to 7 years and fine up to Rs. 5 Lakh for the offenders. The offenses are made cognizable and non-bailable and investigation in such cases would be completed in 30 days and verdict to be announced in a year. Besides, for any material loss, the guilty party will be made to pay double the market value of losses or damages. Both Centre and States can exercise powers in this connection thereof.
Union Minister Prakash Javadekar tweeted about the ordinance and stated: “Modi government brings safety net for Corona Warriors. Attacks against the life saviours will not be tolerated.
The Ordinance was promulgated after Union Minister for Home Affairs, Amit Shah and Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Dr. Harshvardhan interacted with doctors and senior representatives of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), through a video conference, in New Delhi on Wednesday.
The IMA had warned against a protest following cases of attacks on healthcare workers. During the video conference, Shah allayed all concerns of the medical fraternity regarding their security in the fight against Coronavirus and assured them that the government would leave no stone unturned in ensuring their wellbeing and security. He strongly condemned the recent attacks on health professionals and assured the medical fraternity that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was himself closely following all issues and concerns of doctors. “All necessary arrangements would be put in place to prevent such incidents in future,” Shah said while appealing to doctors not to do even a symbolic protest as proposed by them, as it was not in national or global interest.
Considering the immediate high level response from the Union government and assurance given by the Union Home and Health Ministers, the IMA has withdrawn the proposed protest to maintain the fight against COVID-19 in an uninterrupted manner.
In the meantime, the Home Minister also issued fresh directive to all States/UTs today to ensure adequate security to healthcare professionals, medical staff & frontline workers to prevent violence against them. “In spite of the said communications, some incidents of violence have been reported from different parts of the country against healthcare professionals/frontline workers. It is evident that at this time, any single incident of violence against healthcare professionals is likely to create a sense of insecurity amongst the entire healthcare community,” a Ministry of Home Affairs official communication to states and union territories said. The MHA had issued advisories to all States/UTs in this regard on March 24, April 4 and April 11, 2020.
It may be pointed out that the Supreme Court of India, in its direction on April 8, 2020 had observed that the Government of India, respective States/Union Territories and respective Police authorities should provide necessary police security to doctors and medical staff in hospitals and places where patients who have been diagnosed COVID-19 or patients suspected of COVID-19 or those quarantined are housed. Further, the Court had directed to provide necessary police security to doctors and other medical staff who visit places to conduct screening of people to find out symptoms of disease.
“In line with the Supreme Court directions and provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, MHA has urged upon all State/UT and District authorities to invoke the provisions of the Act, or any other law in force, to take strict penal action against the offenders, who obstruct Government health officials, or other health professionals and/ or related persons, who are authorized under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, in the discharge of their lawful services,” a Home Ministry release stated.
The MHA has further requested State Governments/UT Administrations to appoint Nodal Officers at State/UTlevel and at District level, who would be available 24×7 to redress any safety issue on the functioning of medical professionals. They should also take immediate and strict action in case any incident of violence takes place, it was requested. In addition to this, States/UTs have been requested to widely publicize details of preventive measures taken and appointment of Nodal Officers, amongst the medical fraternity, including the local chapters of the IMA, as well as to the public at large, to ensure compliance at ground level.