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Comprehensive Review of the Epidemic Diseases Act

Focus: GS-II Governance, GS-III Disaster Management, Prelims

Why in News?

The  22nd Law Commission of India has submitted its Report titled “A Comprehensive Review of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897″ to the Government of India.


  • The report identified certain limitations in the legal framework relating to health.
  • The report gains significance in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic unleashed an unprecedented challenge for the Indian health infrastructure.
  • The Law Commission suo motu undertook extensive examination of the existing legal framework on this subject.
  • In this highly globalized and interconnected world, future outbreaks of epidemics are a real possibility.
  • Further, given that the right to health is a fundamental right implicit in Article 21 of the Constitution and the State is duty-bound to ensure the same to the citizens, it becomes imperative to revisit and strengthen the law in order to effectively tackle any such future health emergency.
  • What does the report suggest:
    • The 22nd Law Commission holds the view that the existing legislation does not comprehensively address the concerns pertaining to the containment and management of future epidemics in the country as new infectious diseases or novel strains of existing pathogens may emerge.
  • The Commission has recommended that either the existing law needs to be suitably amended to address existing gaps or a new comprehensive legislation be enacted on the subject.

Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897

  • The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 is a law which was first enacted to tackle bubonic plague in Bombay state in former British India.
  • The law is meant for containment of epidemics by providing special powers that are required for the implementation of containment measures to control the spread of the disease.
  • The Act has been routinely used to contain various diseases in India such as swine flu, cholera, malaria and dengue.

Section 2 of Epidemic Diseases Act

2. Power to take special measures and prescribe regulations as to dangerous epidemic disease

(1) 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], if [it] 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 [it] 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.

3. Penalty.

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).

4. Protection to persons acting under Act.

No suit or other legal proceeding shall lie against any person for anything done or in good faith intended to be done under this Act.

February 2024