The Centre on Wednesday said attacks on healthcare professionals, deployed on the frontlines to combat the coronavirus pandemic, will be a non-bailable offence and will carry an imprisonment from six months to seven years in severe cases where there are grievous injuries.
“Health workers who are trying to save the country from this epidemic are unfortunately facing attacks,” Union minister Prakash Javadekar said at a press briefing. “No incident of violence or harassment against doctors and health care workers will be tolerated. An ordinance has been brought in, it will be implemented after the president’s sanction. In case of grave injury caused, accused can get jail term from 6 months to 7 years.”
The Cabinet approved amendments to the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 to ensure that any attack on doctors or health workers will be liable to a penalty of anywhere between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 5 lakh. Punishment for others attacks will be three months to 5 years and a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh.
Javadekar said the investigation in the matter will be completed in 30 days and verdict will be given within one year. “If 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,” he added.
Javadekar said the amended law will protect doctors, nurses, paramedics and Accredited Social Health Activist, or ASHA workers. “Healthcare professionals will also be extended insurance cover,” he added.
He also said the government had arranged for 723 hospitals for Covid-19 patients, 1.86 lakh isolation beds, 24,000 intensive care beds and 12,190 ventilators in three months to tackle the pandemic.
The Union minister said no decision has been taken yet on the resumption of flight operations in the country. “An announcement will be made on time as to when it will resume,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded the move. “The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 manifests our commitment to protect each and every healthcare worker who is bravely battling COVID-19 on the frontline,” he tweeted. “It will ensure safety of our professionals. There can be no compromise on their safety!”
Earlier in the day, the Indian Medical Association withdrew its protest planned in the wake of a spate of attacks on doctors and healthcare professionals after an assurance by the Centre that all necessary steps, including relevant legislation, will be introduced for their safety and dignity.
Attacks against healthcare workers and those in the frontline in the fight against the coronavirus has increased in the last few weeks.
Meanwhile, the Faridabad Police arrested five people for allegedly beating up an ASHA worker during the door-to-door survey on behalf of the district administration on Tuesday, The Indian Express reported. Last week, health workers in Bihar were attacked by villagers in four different districts of the state during the door-to-door screening for the coronavirus. The attacks took place in Siwan, Begusarai, Nalanda and Nawada districts. Health officials were told to leave when they went to the affected areas. A day before that, similar incidents were reported from East Champaran district. At least nine officials were injured in an attack by a group of villagers.