Medical Workers Have Protected Us Through Covid-19. A New Act Now Protects Them Against Violence

Social Commentary

Medical Workers Have Protected Us Through Covid-19. A New Act Now Protects Them Against Violence

Illustration: Mitesh Parmar

There have been some controversial bills passed in the Indian Parliament during the ongoing Monsoon Session, but one that will have support on both sides of the aisle is the amendment to the Epidemic Diseases Act, which makes violence against health workers fighting the Covid-19 outbreak a non-bailable offence. In cases where the attackers cause grievous hurt, the Act provisions for an imprisonment term of six months to seven years, and a fine of ₹1,00,000 to ₹5,00,000. In less severe instances, attackers can face a term of three months to five years, with a fine of ₹50,000 to ₹2,00,000.

Throughout the pandemic, there have been reports of patients or their relatives refusing to cooperate with doctors, which in some instances has led to incidents of violence. There have also been cases of discrimination toward healthcare workers by their neighbours, making their own homes inhospitable. In addition to the apathy or even scorn of some members of society, healthcare workers have also had to deal with non-payment of dues, lack of equipment, and an inhuman work schedule. Against this backdrop, the Centre recognising their sacrifice and passing strong legislation to protect them (as opposed to empty gestures like clapping in balconies) is a welcome move.

The current amendment to the Epidemic Diseases Act has already been in effect as an ordinance since April this year. The current session of Parliament served to allow it to be made into an Act. Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan observed that the ordinance played a role in reducing the frequency of attacks on health workers. “We have all noticed that there has been a dramatic decline in the incidents of violence against health workers all over the country,” he said. “There was a need to have a central law to put in place a prohibitory mechanism to stop such activities.”

With the pandemic not showing signs of abating anytime soon, protecting the rights of healthcare workers and ensuring their ability to work unimpeded is paramount.