Written by-PRIYA RAJ
The main objective of this paper is to provide an analytical overview of whether there is need of amendment of Epidemic Disease Act. Our empirical results shows that there are some drawbacks of amending Epidemic Disease Act as well as its benefit. At last the paper is concluded by stating the reasons why the Epidemic Disease Act need amendment.
Keywords: Epidemic Disease Act, Integrated Disease Surveillance Project, Public Health Bill
Epidemic disease act was enacted for preventing spread of epidemic diseases. The act came into force on 4th February,1897 as a result to plague epidemic in Bombay. This act confined plague to Bombay by a series of tough measures which prevented crowds from gathering. It empowers both the central and state government to take necessary action to prevent the spread of such diseases. This act merely comprises of four sections which is among the shortest in India.
Section 1 says that the act may be called as Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and it extends to the whole of India except the territories which immediately before the 1st November, 1956 were comprised in Part B states.
Section 2 empowers the state governments to take special measures and also recommend regulations during the outbreak of an epidemic disease. This act states that if the state government feels like other acts are insufficient it may take required measures by way of public notice prescribe temporary regulations.
Section 2A empowers the central government for inspection of any ship or vessel leaving or arriving at any port and for detention thereof, or of any person intending to sail therein, or arriving thereby.
Section 3 prescribes penalty to those who disobey any regulation or order made under the Act in accordance with section 188 of the Indian Penal Code also a punishment of 6 months’ imprisonment or 1,000 rupees fine or both shall be meted to that person.
Section 4 clearly mentions that no suit or other legal proceeding shall lie against any person for anything done or in good faith intended to be done under this Act.
PRESENT SCENARIO: –
In the present time, act may contain the outbreak of the disease spread across world named corona virus, still it strikes chord that the act lacks some reflection of modern day realities of spread of disease. The act completely does not cover an effective framework to respond to such diseases also the four sections does not envisage the definition of an ‘epidemic disease’. Nevertheless, the Indian government did take the consideration of the fact and had introduced a bill in 2017 called Public Health Bill. The bill stated to repeal the act however even after three years it is yet to see any progress. The bill empowers the state government and other authorities to take necessary measures to control, prevent and manage public health emergency. The bill lists down more than 30 diseases like Spanish flu, dengue, malaria, etc.
In the era of non-communicable diseases, communicable diseases still continue to contribute 30% burden in India. Every year hundreds of epidemic occurs and we are still unable to respond to most of them. The act although is century blunt that need a considerable renovation to counter the rising burden of infectious disease. In the 21st Century country is encountering dual burden of diseases. To combat the burden of communicable diseases, the health system is accordingly challenged to address the chronic non-communicable diseases. Epidemics of the communicable diseases imposes heavy economic burden on families, individuals, communities and nations at large.
Today everyone is presuming that Indian Government will take steps in regulating the spread of epidemic disease act and will bring forth comprehensive legislation which shall take modern realities into consideration and control measures for the spread of such diseases. The Government had employed two prolonged strategies to control these infectious diseases. The first one is selective vertical diseases control program that focuses only one diseases at one time. This approach is believed to be suitable for epidemic diseases. The second approach is based on investigation, control of outbreaks and epidemics. This approach can be said suitable for short term containment of epidemics but completely inappropriate for endemic diseases. Both approaches actively require community participation and it also works within legal and administrative framework. A review on challenges of the Infectious diseases in India have concluded inadequacy of pour health system in fighting infectious disease and thus recommended the reconstruction of our health system. Regulatory options which are available in India are Epidemic Act 1897 and Internal health regulation.
Although India has number of legal mechanisms to support public health measures in epidemic conditions, still it is not being addressed under single legislation. It is very urgent that they assemble all provision in one over-arching public health legislation in order for monetarization of the responses of epidemic. Many efforts are being made to strengthen public health legislation in India.
A project named as Integrated Disease Surveillance Project (IDSP) was launched in 2004. It collected routine disease surveillance data to detect and respond to disease epidemic. First the provision seemed to be sufficient for the small scale emergencies but later it was found inadequate for the large scale health crisis during pandemics. With arrival of emerging infectious diseases with widespread global movement, the legal framework required strengthening under the sound public health law infrastructure under the areas like isolation or quarantine or infected patients, movement restriction, prohibition of mass gathering, closure of educational and institutions, compulsory vaccinations, etc.
Everything have some drawbacks. In this case, the definition of various terms is not defined in the entire legislation. The terms are ‘lethal’ or ‘infectious’ or ‘contagious disease’. The law is also unclear on criteria for classifying an outbreak such as ‘dangerous’. As mentioned above the act needs to address increase in use of international travel, increased migration, higher density and industrialization. These factors have contributed over years of change in propagation of communicable disease. As a result of emergency response of the outbreak, the legislation does not provide provisions for protection of human rights. It is mandatory as there could be no legal concern about safety of human rights during emergency times. Also, this act does not provide for how the powers bestowed on the government to be exercised in breach of any existing statute. Till now, the provisions of the Epidemic Disease Act have not gone under judicial scrutiny.
From the facts above stated, it can be concluded that the Epidemic Disease act has ample pitfalls in fighting the prevalence and re-emergence of communicable disease in the nation especially in transforming the nature of public health. The only thing that is required is a legislative structure that corresponds to present condition. Therefore, it is clear or beyond doubt that the century old act needs an overhaul to serve to the changing public health priorities. The role of the public health specialists in this regard cannot be ruled out. A leaf can be drawn out of the National Disaster Management Act 2005 (it deals with public emergency) which clearly defines all terms and have an explicit description of the measures and agencies that are to be implemented or instituted in the event of any emergency.
 Priya Raj is pursing B.A.LLB from Lloyd Law College Greater Noida
 Epidemic disease act 1897. Available on www.mohfw.nic.in
 John TJ, Danbona L, Sharma VP, Kakkar M. Continuing challenge of Infectious disease in India, Lancet 2011; 377:252-69
 National Disaster Management Act 2005. Available here: http://www.ndmindia.nic.in/acts-rules/DisasterManagementAct2005.pdf