The central government has brought an ordinance for the protection of healthcare professionals amid reports of attacks on doctors, nurses and other healthcare personnel treating COVID-19 patients. The ordinance was promulgated to amend Epidemic Diseases Act, 1827. It also aims to protect the property of these medical professionals, including living and working premises, against violence during epidemics. The ordinance has made violence against healthcare professionals a cognizable and non-bailable offence. The law also offers compensation to healthcare professionals for injury and damages to their property.
As per the ordinance, the commission or abetment of violence on healthcare workers shall be punished with imprisonment for a term ranging from three months to five years and with a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 2,00,000. For causing grievous hurt, the prison term shall be for six months to seven years, with a fine of Rs 1,00,000 to Rs 5,00,000. The compensation for the victim shall be charged from the offender, as per the ordinance. For damage to property, the offender shall be charged twice the market value of the property. The ordinance stipulates that offences against healthcare professionals shall be investigated by an officer of the rank of inspector within a period of 30 days and the trial has to be completed in one year.
Following the COVID-19 outbreak in India, healthcare professionals were widely attacked in different parts of the country on the suspicion that they are carriers of the virus. This, in turn, affected the morale of the healthcare personnel engaged in a battle of life and death to contain the rapidly unfolding pandemic. According to the medical fraternity, healthcare professionals became targets of the attack because of the stigma caused by the disease.
In Chennai, people even opposed the burial of a doctor who had lost his life to COVID-19, based on the suspicion that it will lead to the spread of the disease in their area. Following the incident, Indian Medical Association,
the body representing the allopathic doctors of the country, reiterated its long-standing demand for a central law to ensure protection of healthcare workers.
According to the central government, several states have enacted special laws to offer protection to doctors and other medical personnel in the past. However, the COVID-19 outbreak has created a unique situation where the harassment of the healthcare workforce and others working on containment efforts has been seen on unprecedented levels in various places, including even cremation grounds. The existing state laws do not have such a wide sweep and ambit. They generally do not cover harassment at home and workplace and are focused more on physical violence only.
Dr R V Asokan, Secretary General, IMA, said, “It’s highly appreciable that the central government has brought a strong law for the protection of healthcare personnel. Some of the provisions in the ordinance are very strong. As per the ordinance, it’s the responsibility of the accused to prove his innocence. It shows the seriousness of the government.”
Welcoming the ordinance, Jasmin Sha, President, United Nurses Association, said: “A strong law was the need of the hour for protection of healthcare personnel. We had demanded a strong law for the protection of healthcare professionals as nurses were attacked in many states on the suspicion that they are carriers of coronavirus. The law will enable the police to act tough against people who attack healthcare professionals.”
Dr Asokan, however, pointed out that the changes were brought in by amending Epidemic Act, and hence, the enhanced protection will only be available during the time of an epidemic. “The ordinance won’t deal with the violence that happens after the epidemic is over. We hope that the government will bring in a law for the protection of the healthcare personnel.”