Why the Epidemic Disease Act Got Invoked in India?

Updated: May 24, 2020

The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 is a law that was first enacted to tackle bubonic plague in Bombay state in former British India. The law is meant for the containment of epidemics by providing special powers that are required for the implementation of containment measures to control the spread of the disease. As India engaged in a close fight with the novel coronavirus outbreak, On March 11, 2020, the Group of Ministers formed by the Union Government to fight against Covid-19 in India invoked the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897. The Government Of India has invoked Section 2 of the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897. The act has been invoked as the number of infected persons in the country reached 73. Section 2 of the Act reads: 2. Power to take special measures and prescribe regulations as to dangerous epidemic disease (1) When at any time the [State Government] is satisfied that [the State] or any part thereof is visited by, or threatened with, an outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease, the [State Government], if [it] thinks that the ordinary provisions of the law for the time being in force are insufficient for the purpose, may take, or require or empower any person to take, such measures and, by public notice, prescribe such temporary regulations to be observed by the public or by any person or class of persons as [it] shall deem necessary to prevent the outbreak of such disease or the spread thereof, and may determine in what manner and by whom any expenses incurred (including compensation if any) shall be defrayed.

The Government Of India has also advised the international travel ban. Also, existing visas to India have been suspended till April 15, 2020. However, representatives from international organizations, diplomats and other project visits have been exempted. The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 uses the word “epidemic” to address the disease and not Pandemic as declared by WHO. Under Section 3 of the Epidemic Act, disobeying any regulation or order made under this Act shall be punishable under section 188 of the Indian Penal Code. The State Government is empowered to make changes to ordinary laws if there is a necessity of insufficiency of the existing laws to deal with the situation. For instance, travel inspection, segregation in hospitals, etc. Similar powers are vested with Central Government as well.

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