New Delhi/Bengaluru: President Ram Nath Kovind on Wednesday gave his assent for promulgating an ordinance making acts of violence against healthcare personnel fighting COVID-19 pandemic as cognisable and non-bailable offences. The ordinance, which amends the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, also provides for compensation for injury to healthcare service personnel or for causing damage or loss to property.

"The President has given his assent for promulgation of the ordinance," the health ministry said in a statement, adding that commission or abetment of such acts of violence will be punishable with an imprisonment for a term of three months to five years, and with fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 2,00,000.

In case of causing grievous hurt, imprisonment shall be for a term six months to seven years and with fine of Rs 1,00,000 to Rs 5,00,000. In addition, the offender will also be liable to pay compensation to the victim and twice the fair market value for damage of property, the ministry said.

The Union Cabinet on Wednesday afternoon approved promulgation of The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, to protect healthcare service personnel and property, including their living/working premises against violence during epidemics.

The current ordinance is intended to ensure that during any situation akin to the current pandemic, there is zero tolerance to any form of violence against healthcare service personnel and damage to property, the health ministry said in a statement.

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"Some incidents of violence have taken place which have demoralized the medical fraternity. It is felt that separate and most stringent provisions for emergent times are needed to act as effective deterrents to any such incidents of violence," the ministry said. Violence as defined in the ordinance will include harassment and physical injury and damage to property .

The healthcare service personnel include public and clinical healthcare service providers such as doctors, nurses, paramedical workers and community health workers; any other persons empowered under the act to take measures to prevent the outbreak of the disease or spread thereof; and any persons declared as such by the state government, by notification in the official gazette.

Offences will be investigated by an officer of the rank of inspector within a period of 30 days, and trial has to be completed in one year, unless extended by the court for reasons to be recorded in writing.

"While healthcare service personnel are duty bound to serve without discrimination, the cooperation and support from society is a fundamental need for them to perform their duties with confidence," the ministry said. Several states have enacted special laws to offer protection to doctors and other medical personnel in the past.

"However, the COVID-19 outbreak has posed a unique situation where harassment of the healthcare workforce and others working to contain the spread of the disease has been taking place at all fronts, in various places including even cremation grounds," the statement said.

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"It is hoped that this ordinance will have the impact of infusing confidence in the community of healthcare service personnel so that they can continue to contribute to serving mankind through their noble professions in the extremely difficult circumstances being witnessed during the current coronavirus infection outbreak," the ministry said.

The Karnataka government too passed an ordinance to protect public servants  in the state  fighting against COVID-19 in the precedent of the Padarayanapura attack in Bengaluru. 

Whoever obstructs any officer or public servant from  discharging his/her duty shall on conviction be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with a fine which may extend to Rs 50,000. In addition to the punishment specified, the offender shall also be liable for a penalty of twice the value of public or private property damaged and loss caused to the public or private property as determined by the deputy commissioner after such enquiry as he deems fit. 

With PTI Inputs