New Delhi: An ordinance that makes acts of violence against healthcare personnel or damage to property during an epidemic a cognizable and non-bailable offence has come into effect.
The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 amends the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and provides for compensation for injury to healthcare service personnel or for causing damage or loss to property.
The President had given his assent for promulgation of the ordinance on Wednesday hours after the Union Cabinet approved it.
The ordinance was issued on Wednesday night and came into force "at once".
According to the ordinance, commission or abetment of such acts of violence is punishable with an imprisonment for a term of three months to five years, and with fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 2,00,000.
In case of causing grievous hurt, imprisonment shall be for a term six months to seven years and with fine of Rs 1,00,000 to Rs 5,00,000.
In addition, the offender will also be liable to pay compensation to the victim and twice the fair market value for damage of property as determined by the court.
The ordinance is intended to ensure that during any situation akin to the current pandemic, there is zero tolerance to any form of violence against healthcare service personnel and damage to property, the Health Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
"... some incidents of violence have taken place which has demoralized the medical fraternity. It is felt that separate and most stringent provisions for emergent times are needed to act as effective deterrents to any such incidents of violence," the ministry had said.
Violence, as defined in the ordinance, includes harassment impacting the living or working conditions of such healthcare service personnel and preventing them from discharging duties.
It also includes harm, injury, hurt, intimidation or danger to the life of such healthcare personnel either within the premises of a clinical establishment or otherwise and damage to any property or documents.
The penal provisions can be invoked in instances of damage to property including a clinical establishment, any facility identified for quarantine and isolation of patients, mobile medical units and any other property in which the healthcare service personnel have direct interest in relation to the epidemic.
Offences will be investigated by an officer of the rank of inspector within a period of 30 days, and trial has to be completed in one year, unless extended by the court for reasons to be recorded in writing.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been instances of the most critical service providers being targeted and attacked by miscreants, thereby obstructing them from doing their duties.
"This has led to cases of their stigmatization and ostracization and sometimes worse, acts of unwarranted violence and harassment. Such a situation tends to hamper the medical community from performing their duties to their optimum best and maintaining their morale, which is a critical need in this hour of national health crisis.
"While healthcare service personnel are duty bound to serve without discrimination, the cooperation and support from society is a fundamental need for them to perform their duties with confidence," the ministry had said.
Several states have enacted special laws to offer protection to doctors and other medical personnel in the past.
"However, COVID-19 outbreak has posed a unique situation where harassment of the healthcare workforce and others working to contain the spread of the disease has been taking place at all fronts, in various places including even cremation grounds," the ministry had said.