PROTECTION OF OUR COVID HEROES

PROTECTION OF OUR COVID HEROES

This post is written by Vismitha S.

Introduction

There was a cataclysmic outbreak of a lethal virus called Covid-19 in December 2019. The code for Coronavirus Disease of 2019 is Covid-19. A country-wide lockdown was put on 24 March 2020 in India. The whole country was forced to be indoors, but one community of individuals continued to operate tirelessly. The true heroes of our society are healthcare workers and their safety is of the utmost importance. Although doctors and healthcare workers aspire to work for the improvement of human life and community, it is the government’s duty to ensure their safety and security against any ill behavior.

Existing Laws for Protection of Doctors.

Last year, the Ministry of Health proposed the enactment of the ‘Health Services Personnel and Clinical Establishments (Prohibition of Violence and Property Damage) Bill’ which declares illegal acts of violence against healthcare workers and is punishable by imprisonment of up to 10 years and also imposes a fine of up to Rs.10 lakh on those who assault healthcare staff. The Ministry of Home Affairs, however, gave it a thumbs down, indicating that no separate legislation could be in place to protect doctors.

There is the ‘Delhi Medicare Service Personnel and Medicare Service Institution (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act, 2008’ in Delhi. This declares in the National Capital Territory of Delhi, any act of violence against healthcare personnel and damage to property in medicare service institutions illegal. Section 3 of this Act specifies that any act of violence or damage to property in a healthcare service institution against healthcare service staff is illegal. The act of violence under Section 3 is punishable by Section 4 of this Act with imprisonment of up to three years with a fine of Rs. 10,000 or both. The offence is therefore cognizable and non-bailable under Section 3. Such an enactment is required in all states throughout the nation.

In the absence of a Central law on this subject, attention is directed towards the Indian Penal Code. The provisions of the IPC, which covers assaults on public servants are:

  • Section 186: Obstructing Public Servant in the discharge of public functions- This section penalizes the offence of obstructing public servants from discharging their duties and the offenders under this section are punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months, or with a fine which may extend to five hundred rupees, or with both.
  • Section 332- Voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servants from duty- This section penalizes people who commit the offence of hurting public servants obstructing them from doing their duty and such people are punished with imprisonment of a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
  • Section 353: Assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty- Section 353 charges the offence of assaulting or using criminal force against public servants deterring them from their duty and such offenders are punished with imprisonment of a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

The presumption that the victim is a ‘public servant’ as specified under Section 21 of the IPC is the common denominator in all the above provisions. But the dilemma that remains is that these laws cover public hospital employees, but do not offer protection to private hospital healthcare providers. Therefore, the provisions of simple assaults and damage can apply to them, which carry very less serious penalties.

Protection of Healthcare workers during Covid-19

The Supreme Court in the case of Banait v. Union of India held that doctors and healthcare professionals are “warriors”. The harsh reality is that our healthcare workers are neither adequately supported nor secured. Two doctors at Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi were suspected of transmitting coronavirus disease in April 2020 and were reportedly attacked by their neighbours. Just a week before that, during a screening drive to identify potential Covid-19 patients in Madhya Pradesh’s Indore, two doctors and their team were assaulted and pelted stones at. The Supreme Court passed several directions for the government to ensure the safety of doctors and health care workers. It directed the Centre, states, union territories, and police authorities to provide police security to doctors and healthcare staff in hospitals and other medicare places, including quarantine facilities, where patients are diagnosed for  Covid-19.

As a result , President Ram Nath Kovind issued an ordinance aimed at protecting health workers. Not only does the ordinance protect the healthcare workers, but also those who attack their property. In such circumstances, the Ordinance provides for liability for injuries and damage to or loss of property. The Ordinance makes it punishable by imprisonment of three months to five years and a fine of Rs . 50,000 to Rs . 2 lakh for omitting or abetting acts of violence. If the attackers inflict significant harm, they may be imprisoned for six months, leading to a fine of Rs . 1 lakh to Rs . 5 lakh for up to seven years.

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