Centre enacts tough law to protect doctors, healthcare workers

Last Updated 22 April 2020, 13:51 IST

The Centre on Wednesday decided to promulgate an ordinance making attacks against healthcare professionals a non-bailable offence with a jail term of up to seven years, and stringent provisions to make the attacker pay damages tp property.

The decision came at a time when doctors and healthcare workers engaged in the fight against COVID-19 were facing discrimination and even assaults are some parts of the country and had threatened to observe a ‘Black Day’ on Thursday.

The Union Cabinet, at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, decided to amend the 123-year-old Epidemic Diseases Act to insert provisions to take action against those attacking doctors and health care workers.

“Such crime will now be cognizable & non-bailable. An investigation will be done within 30 days. Accused can be sentenced from three months-five years and penalised from Rs 50,000 up to Rs two lakh,” Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters here.

He said in case of grievous injuries, the accused can be sentenced from six months to seven years in jail and a penalty ranging from Rs one lakh to Rs five lakh.

“If the damage is done to the vehicles or clinics of healthcare workers, then a compensation amounting to twice the market value of the damaged property will be taken from the accused,” Javadekar said.

Asked whether the legal protection to doctors would extend beyond the COVID-19 outbreak, Javadekar merely said that the Ordinance was approved to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1987. “But it is a good beginning,” he said

“Our message is very clear. Attacks on doctors and healthcare workers will not be tolerated,” he said.

The decision to promulgate the ordinance came hours after a delegation of the Indian Medical Association met Home Minister Amit Shah over the attacks on doctors and healthcare workers involved in the fight against COVID-19.

They also flagged the instance of a Chennai doctor, who succumbed to COVID-19, was denied burial by two cemeteries and an ambulance carrying his mortal remains was attacked.

On Wednesday, Shah also asked state governments to take strict action against those who obstruct the performance of last rites of medical professionals or frontline healthcare workers succumbing to COVID-19, while discharging their services.

(Published 22 April 2020, 10:18 IST)

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