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Thursday, May 30, 2024

New Law to protect Healthcare workers won’t change much

The Union Government has decided to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 via ordinance to penalize those who attack Healthcare workers. Importantly, the offence is going to be cognizable and non-bailable, with fines — and any damage to the vehicles or clinics can be recompensed from the guilty. While it is a welcome step meant to reassure healthcare workers and the wider public, the new law will not deter offenders.

The COVID-19 Pandemic has brought into focus the constant attacks and harassment faced by healthcare workers, especially from members of the Muslim community. While some, like ‘Professor’ Ashok Swain has attempted to excuse such activity by claiming the distrust of the community of the Indian State led by Supreme Leader Narendra Modi, such behavior in a situation like this cannot be excused. (Such behavior cannot be excused for any reason).

The current law was sufficient

The reason the wretched elements feel entitled to attack is because of the lack of fear of the law. The attackers could have already been booked under the existing provisions of the IPC — S.321(causing hurt) S.322 (causing grievous hurt) and S, 269- S.271. While some of these offences were Cognizable, most of them are bailable.

“Cognizable” offences are those offences that do not require a warrant to arrest a person. “Bailable” offences are those which bail can be deposited with the Police — bail is a matter of right. In non-bailable offences, only court can grant bail. Now, the situation in Bharat is such that most (if not all) offenders arrested under non-bailable offences are granted bail by the Criminal Justice System.

Further, the legal system is clogged, with trials and final convictions going on for years. In such a situation, criminals have minimal fear of law. Furthermore, Police have generally been more reluctant to act against members of the Muslim community than those of others.

Not everything is bad

While the move to make these offences cognizable and non-bailable are good, the structural flaws of the legal system mean that nothing much will change. It should be noted that the move to recompense losses is excellent.

Uttar Pradesh shows the way?

A potential way forward in tackling these menacing elements would be to follow Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh in imposing the National Security Act, a preventive detention law that allows the Governments to detain persons for up to a year. While ‘draconian’ such measures are necessary to prevent the free reign of such elements.

-by Krishna Thannezth

(This article was published on on April 22, 2020 and is being reproduced with the author’s consent.)

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