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The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 Needs an Urgent Overhaul

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  • Categories
    Polity & Governance
  • Published
    18th Nov, 2020


  • The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 is a colonial era legislation that is still used as the primary law to control a mass epidemic. The act has been invoked by a number of Indian states to fight the COVID-19 pandemic

Key details of the Act

  • The Epidemic Diseases Act was enacted in 1897 to control the outbreak of the deadly bubonic plague in Bombay. 
  • The act is one of the shortest legislations in the country, containing four sections only.
  • It empowers the state governments to take such measures and prescribe temporary regulations as may be required to control an epidemic disease. It empowers the central government also.
  • Section 3 provides for punishment under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for any person disobeying the act.
  • Section 4 provides legal protection to persons for anything done under the act (Ministry of Law and Justice 2020).
  • Drawing from the act, many states took measures, such as the closing of schools, malls, gyms, institutional and home quarantine, in order to mitigate the crisis. 

Which acts were invoked during the pandemic?

  • The Disaster Management Act and the Epidemic Diseases Act were invoked to control the spread of the virus.

What amendments were made in the Act?

  • The act was amended by way of an ordinance in April 2020.
  • The amendment aimed primarily at protecting healthcare personnel engaged in combating the coronavirus.
  • It expanded powers of the central government to prevent the spread of such diseases.

Limitations of the Epidemic Diseases Act

  • The act is not in consonance with the changing requirements of modern-day epidemic disease prevention and control. 
  • There is no clarity on the criteria that need to be applied for declaring a disease as “dangerous” or “epidemic.”
  • It is silent on variables such as the magnitude of the problem, the severity of the disease, distribution of affected population across age groups, possible international spread, or the absence of a known cure. 
  • There is no underlying dissemination of fundamental human rights that need to be observed during the implementation of emergency measures during an epidemic.

Verifying, please be patient.