Violence against healthcare workers now punishable by up to 7 yrs in jail
New Delhi: In the wake of rampant attacks on doctors and frontline health workers treating COVID-19 patients, the Centre on Wednesday announced amendment of the Epidemic Diseases Act, stating that such hostilities will be treated as cognizable and non-bailable offence wherein the guilty can be sentenced to seven years of imprisonment along with a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh.
"Health workers who are trying to save the country from this epidemic are unfortunately facing attacks. No incident of violence or harassment against them will be tolerated. An ordinance has been brought in, it will be implemented after the President's sanction," Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said while addressing a media briefing.
The Cabinet approved promulgation of an Ordinance to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, making such acts of violence as cognizable and non-bailable offences and to provide compensation for injury to healthcare service personnel or for causing damage or loss to the property.
According to the amended law, any damage to a doctor or a health professional's property; including their personal vehicles will result in the recovery of double the cost from the person responsible for the act of violence.
"The ordinance proposes that within 30 days the investigation will be over and within one year, the final decision will come. The punishment ranges from three months to five years, and fine from Rs 50,000 to 2 lakh. In terms of severe cases where grievous injuries have taken place, the punishment starts from six months to seven years and the fine starts from Rs 1 lakh to 5 lakh," Javadekar explained.
This ordinance, the Union minister said, will protect the whole health fraternity, including doctors, nurses, paramedics, up to ASHA workers.
The Cabinet decision comes hours after Union Home minister Amit Shah and Health minister Harsh Vardhan interacted with doctors and senior representatives of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), through a video conference, in New Delhi.
Allaying all concerns of the medical fraternity regarding their security in the fight against the novel Coronavirus, the Home minister has assured them that the government would leave no stone unturned in ensuring their wellbeing and security. Following the meeting with Shah, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) decided to withdraw their symbolic protest.
"Safety and dignity of our doctors at their workplace are non-negotiable. It is our collective responsibility to ensure a conducive atmosphere for them at all times. I have assured doctors that Modi government is committed to their cause and appealed to reconsider their proposed protest," Shah tweeted after the meeting.
Reflecting on the development, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: "The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 manifests our commitment to protect each and every healthcare worker who is bravely battling COVID-19 on the frontline. It will ensure the safety of our professionals. There can be no compromise on their safety."
Subsequently, the Ministry of Home Affairs wrote to all states to ensure adequate protection to healthcare professionals, medical staff and frontline workers by augmenting their safety and security cover.
In a related decision, the Cabinet also approved a Rs 15,000 crore for "India COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health System Preparedness Package" which is to be utilised in three phases.
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