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Law Commission’s Report To Deal With Future Epidemics

Context:

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

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Details of the Law Commission’s report
  2. Drawbacks of Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 (EDA):
  3. Key suggestions made by the Law Commission:
  4. Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897
  5. Section 2 of Epidemic Diseases Act
  6. Background to the Law Commission in India
  7. About the Law Commission of India

Details of the Law Commission’s report:

  • The 286th Law Commission Report recommended creation of an Epidemic Plan and Standard Operation Procedure to address future epidemics.
  • After the Covid-19 outbreak, the Law Commission suo moto decided to thoroughly examine the existing legal framework to tackle the “significant deficiencies in addressing the containment and management of future epidemics in the country.
  • The report highlighted the presence of uncoordinated responses among the Centre, state, and local authorities during an epidemic as there is no clear demarcation of powers between them.

Drawbacks of Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 (EDA):

  • The report brought out the limitations of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 (EDA).
    • It states that-“the management, control and prevention of epidemic diseases cannot be restricted to a century-old law.”
      • The report claims that as a colonial-era legislation, the EDA has great potential for abuse. 
    • It was not designed to combat modern issues with the spread of infectious diseases.
    • Why there is a need for the change?
      • In a globalised and highly connected world, there are high chances of an infectious diseases rapidly turning into epidemics or pandemics.

Key suggestions made by the Law Commission:

  • It seeks to make comprehensive recommendations for the amendment of the EDA or the introduction of a new law altogether.
  • It suggested the creation of an Epidemic Plan and a Standard Operating Procedure to address the spread of infectious diseases.
    • This ensures that the powers and obligations of different levels of government are clearly demarcated which in turn leads to coordinated response during public health emergency.
    • The report specifies that the duty to create an Epidemic Plan falls on the Central government and the report recommends doing so in collaboration with state governments and after consulting the ministries concerned, private health institutions, expert bodies and other stakeholders.
  • The EDA must be amended to ensure that the Epidemic Plan is prepared, enforced, and revised at regular intervals.
  • The plan should include provisions on quarantine, isolation, and lockdowns, while ensuring that the measures are implemented fairly, without violating the fundamental rights of citizens.
  • The EDA must contain provisions on
    • Privacy-friendly disease surveillance,  
    • Regulating the distribution,
    • Availability and transport of medical supplies,
    • Proper dissemination of information to the public,
    • Medical testing and research for vaccinations and medicines, and
    • Safe disposal of infectious waste

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.

Background to the Law Commission in India

  • Law Reform has been a continuing process particularly during the last 300 years or more in Indian history. In the ancient period, when religious and customary law occupied the field, the reform process had been ad hoc and not institutionalised through duly constituted law reform agencies.
  • However, since the third decade of the nineteenth century, Law Commissions were constituted by the Government from time to time and were empowered to recommend legislative reforms to clarify, consolidate and codify particular branches of law where the Government felt the necessity for it.
  • The first such Commission was established in 1834 under the Charter Act of 1833 under the Chairmanship of Lord Macaulay which recommended codification of the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code.
  • After independence, the Constitution stipulated the continuation of pre-Constitution Laws under Article 372 until they are amended or repealed.
  • The Government of India established the First Law Commission of Independent India in 1955 and since then twenty-one more Law Commissions have been appointed, each with a three-year term.

About the Law Commission of India

  • Law Commission of India it is an executive body established by an order of the Government of India.
  • The Commission is established for a fixed tenure and works as an advisory body to the Ministry of Law and Justice.
  • Its major function is to work for legal reforms and its membership primarily comprises legal experts.

Functions of the Law commission

  • The Law Commission, on a reference made to it by the Central Government or suo-motu, undertakes research in law and review of existing laws in India for making reforms therein and enacting new legislations.
  • It also undertakes studies and research for bringing reforms in the justice delivery systems for elimination of delay in procedures, speedy disposal of cases, reduction in the cost of litigation etc.
  • Identification of laws which are no longer relevant and recommending for the repeal of obsolete and unnecessary enactments, and giving suggestions for enactment of new legislation as may be necessary to implement the Directive Principles and to attain the objectives set out in the Preamble of the Constitution is also a part of the Law Commission’s functions.
  • It also conveys to the Government its views on any subject relating to law and judicial administration that may be specifically referred to it by the Government.
  • The recommendations of the commission are not binding on the government.

-Source: The Indian Express


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