By Rishabh Kumar Mishra of ICFAI Law School, Dehradun, 2016-21 Batch
Epidemic Disease act is a two page law that has remained largely unchanged for more than 100 years of its existence.
We can’t control pandemic like 2020 by using this British era law.
100 years ago this act was passed by British government to control or tackle the epidemic of plague in Bombay, so this act can’t be helpful in controlling the today’s public health due to communicable diseases.
The epidemic disease act 1897 does not provide for specific roles, responsibilities, and clear hierarchy.
This act does not have pre-planned format to operate. This pre-constitutional act is now inadequate and need modification. Our constitution says that pre-constitutional law subsisted except the extent of its inconsistency with provisions of part 3.
This British era epidemic disease act 1897 is currently not able to fight the current diseases like COVID19.
The main intention of the legislature by constituting this act was to control the plague in Mumbai by seeing the situation of that time.
Now depending on today’s situation the legal framework need to be strengthened under sound public health law infrastructure under areas like isolation/quarantine or infected/suspected persons, travel or movement restrictions, prohibition of mass gathering, closure of educational institutions or other organizations.
This 100 years old act needs a complete modification in changing the public health.
The Disaster management act has all defined terms it has description of complete implementing bodies.
The disaster management act 2005 has policies, plans, and guidelines for management of disaster. The disaster management act provides effective management of disasters.
Like that the Epidemic disease act should also contain effective management of public health and communicable disease.
This act must have the provisions for appointment of Chairperson, response authority, and there should be a regulatory organization to mandate the funds.
If this Epidemic disease act is not modified then it will endangered the lives of citizens of country.
Entry 29 of the concurrent list in constitution of India empowers central and state government to legislate of matters pertaining to the prevention of an infectious or contagious disease spreading from one state to another.
Recent review on challenge of infectious disease in India has concluded the inadequacy of our health system in tackling the infectious disease and recommends the modification of our health system.
Review of health system readiness will not be complete without reviewing the available act that is Epidemic disease act 1897.
The act is not giving definition of Epidemic disease it require to give elaborate definition of epidemic disease and the definition of Essential services are also required.
Apart from isolation or lockdown the act requires many legal framework.
All the act supporting public health should be brought in one umbrella and have to be modified and single act should be made.
The Epidemic disease act 1897 is blunt and non-functional in itself it should be re-looked or modified. There should be a strong and separate act for public health and safety.
There should be effective collaboration between state and central government to introduce a legal framework for providing essential health service and functions and powers to respond to public health.
The government should introduce a bill for this.