GUWAHATI, April 11 - To deal with epidemics, the British rulers in India had enacted the Epidemic Diseases Act way back in 1897 and perhaps for the first time, the Act has been imposed in the entire country since Independence to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Interestingly, as no such epidemic broke out in the country for years, no government since Independence felt the need for amending the old Act though its application was amended in a few states, including Punjab and Madhya Pradesh.
During the British rule, India or other parts under the British faced epidemics such as cholera, Spanish flue, etc., which must have forced the then government to enact the legislation. Since Independence, though the country witnessed outbreak of different diseases from time to time, those were confined to certain pockets of India and perhaps for the first time, the outbreak of any disease has hit the entire nation.
The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 spelled out the measures that the government can take in the wake of outbreak of diseases in case the existing laws of the land are not adequate to deal with the same. Section 2 of the Act says, �Power to take special measures and prescribe regulations as to dangerous epidemic disease � 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 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 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.�
As per the Act, �the Government can go for inspection of persons travelling by railway or otherwise, and the segregation, in hospital, temporary accommodation or otherwise, of persons suspected by the inspecting officer of being infected with any such disease.�
Under the provisions of the Act, the government is carrying out inspections of people and quarantined a number of persons suspected to be affected by the disease and those who came in contact with coronavirus. Similarly, the Government of India has the powers to check the persons arriving from aboard.
The Act further said, �Any person disobeying any regulation or order made under this Act shall be deemed to have committed an offence punishable under section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860.�
Meanwhile, official sources said that though since Independence, the country was hit by outbreak of different diseases, there was no need for imposing the Act in the entire country as the outbreak of the diseases were confined to certain pockets. Moreover, the outbreak of diseases is rarely termed as epidemics. But in the case of COVID-19, the outbreak hit almost the entire world, forcing the World Health Organization to declare the disease as pandemic and the government was forced to impose the Epidemic Diseases Act in the entire country.