New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government Wednesday promulgated an ordinance to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, giving it more teeth to protect doctors and health workers treating Covid-19 patients facing violence and harassment across the country.
The amendments approved by the Union cabinet will make any attack on health workers — be it doctors, paramedics, nurses or ASHA workers — a cognisable and non-bailable offence. The offence will carry a jail term of between 3 months and 5 years, and a fine ranging from Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh.
If a health worker suffers serious injury in the violence, the offence will invite a jail term of between 6 months and 7 years, and a fine between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 5 lakh.
If a doctor’s clinic or a health worker’s vehicle is damaged in the violence, the accused will have to cough up double the market value of the damaged property as compensation.
“We are amending the law in the light of the pandemic situation of Covid-19,” Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar said.
“The government’s message is clear. We will not tolerate attacks on our health workers who are rendering yeoman service. They are being looked upon as carriers of the virus and are attacked by people, including their neighbours. Be it harassment or violence, for the government, it’s a zero tolerance area,” he said.
The changes to the law, Javadekar added, will protect the entire health fraternity and help it work without fear. The ordinance will come into force immediately after the President’s assent.
It will now be mandatory to complete the investigation into such cases within 30 days, and a judgment to be delivered in a year’s time.
Amit Shah & Harsh Vardhan meet doctors virtually
The cabinet’s decision came soon after Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan’s video conference with doctors Wednesday morning to hear their grievances. The doctors were threatening to go on strike if the government did not step in to stop the attacks on healthcare workers.
Following the meeting, Shah had tweeted: “Safety and dignity of our doctors at their work place is non-negotiable. It is our collective responsibility to ensure conducive atmosphere for them at all times. I have assured doctors that Modi govt is committed to their cause and appealed to reconsider their proposed protest.”
Safety and dignity of our doctors at their work place is non-negotiable. It is our collective responsibility to ensure conducive atmosphere for them at all times.
I have assured doctors that Modi govt is committed to their cause and appealed to reconsider their proposed protest. pic.twitter.com/AJcxghGRkx
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) April 22, 2020
Since the Covid-19 outbreak hit India, the Modi government has taken other steps to protect the interests of health workers too, such as providing an accidental insurance cover of Rs 50 lakh for the 22.12 lakh healthcare workers drafted for Covid-19-related duty.
Javadekar said the government has also decided to allow the beneficiaries of Ayushman Bharat, the government’s ambitious health insurance program for India’s 50 crore poor people, to avail free treatment for any disease in non-Covid hospitals that are not empanelled under the scheme.
He also said the government has, in a very short time, ramped up health infrastructure in the country. “The first case was reported in India in January. Covid hospitals were zero then. Now, we have 700-plus Covid hospitals, almost two lakh isolation beds and 24,000 ICU beds, and nearly 15,000 ventilators,” he said.
He added that India, which did not produce personal protective equipment and N-95 masks for the last 70 years, is now producing them under Make in India.