Legal Aspect of Corona virus Pandemic - ‘Evaluation of Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897’

Updated: Aug 15, 2020

Author- Shivanjali Mahadev Mane.

KLE law college, Chikodi


As the world is suffering from grapples now a day. Globalization makes the world closure to the infectious disease. In this regard the will of the state to maintain public health and safety is also in challenge. The all sectors of the society the world making effort to come out from pandemics. Country like India witnessed epidemiological transition from very long history. Such pandemic imposes very burden on so many things of the country not only during the pandemic but after the pandemic also. India still colonial era legislation to deal with epidemic situation. India delegates the power to various authorities in the ambit of this act only. When now situation like Covid-19, still we are clueless in what extent this legislation will going to work? This paper attempts to present comparatively analyses of provision of epidemic act and its relevance as per current scenario.

Keywords: Corona virus, Epidemic, Infection, Pandemic, Infection, Public health etc.


“Better Prevention of the Spread of Dangerous Epidemic Disease”

--------Objective of the Act.

India has witnessed many large outbreaks of emerging &reemerging infectious diseases in the recent past[1]. The novel corona virus disease (COVID-19[2])spread all over the world, almost 190 countries. This is highly transmitted viral infection which was emerged at Wuhan, china and now it is question of challenge before all over the world how to control this. Every country takes a various preventive major to stop the spreading. Speaking about India as compare to other nation despite of large diversity and problems, still the rate of cases ofcovid-19 is less. There are number of health mechanism, when it comes to India to deal with epidemic situation. One of the most important legislation from colonial era is “Epidemic Disease Act, 1897”. This act is very old framework almost 123 years old. As well as one of the best and last colonial era legislation.

Epidemic Disease Act, 1987

Background of the enactment

In 1896 Bombay (today’s Mumbai) was suffering from bubonic plague epidemic. On January 19 1897 after four month the plague was identified, Queen Victoria given a speech to the both the houses of the British parliament, and directed to take most stringent steps to dispose the eradication of the pestilence. The committee was formed, discussion was done. The Act is fruit of the measures taken by the government at that time. The Epidemic Disease Act came into force on February 4, 1897. This act confined plague to Bombay by a series of tough measures which prevented crowds from gathering[3].Also the Governor General of that time delegate power to the local authorities. This act is one of the smallest act in India where has only four The first section At that time the act gives power to the British section deals about title and extent. The second section empowers both the government i.e. central and state government to take special measures and prescribes regulations that are to be observed by public to contain the spread of disease. The third section describes about penalty for violating the regulations given in this act. & the last section gives legal protection to the person acting under the act.

Historical Aspect of the Act

The act once used to the imprison freedom fighters and now India’s primary weapon against covid-19 pandemic. The only way review working of good health system by reviewing legal framework which is available. When it comes to India regulatory options are on International level the International health regulation implemented and designed by WHO(World Health Organization), and on national level only Epidemic Disease Act, 1897. In case of any epidemic is concern e.g. covid-19 the only legal intervention which is available in India today is Epidemic Disease Act, 1897. There are various examples where the act is invoked recently in 2018 it used at the Gujarat against cholera.H1N1 influenza at Pune in 2009.Dengue &malaria in 2015 at Chandigarh. Historian David Arnold called the act “One of the most draconian pieces of sanitary legislation ever adopted in colonial India[4].” The two page law which was framed during the time of pre-antibiotic era, where the person tends to rely on indigenous medicine& not on foreign medicine. The situation in all over the aspect grows like anything still 123 years old act is existed because it is adequate in one or other way till today. On 30 January 2020 When the World Health Organization (WHO)declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Ministry of Health, Has implement s.2 &s.3 of century old Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 on 11 march 2020 all over the country.

Case study

The offence which is prescribed at S.3 of the Act is cognizable and bailable. The complaint filed in the preview of S.195 of CRPC. Patna High Court in the Case of Raj Mangal Ram v. State of Bihar[5], held that the relation to certain directions issued by the District Magistrate of Muzaffarpur for implementation of the ‘anti-kalazar’ scheme.

Orissa High Court in case of J. Choudhary v. the State[6]. The question before court that whether the refusal of the doctor to get himself vaccinated against cholera in accordance with the regulations passed by the State Government would be punishable under s .3 of the Act. The court held the answer affirmative.

Calcutta High Court in 1904 in case of Ram LallMistry v. R.T.Greer[7], held that an omission to pay compensation as prescribed under the regulations passed under the Act would not be protected under s.4.

Flaws or limitation of this Act

When many states in India apply various provisions of this act its need to critically evaluate the act. The century old act has quite flaws and loopholes. Some of them like it not give the exact definition of dangerous epidemic disease. This act need to modify as per today situation it is oriented towards the travel by ship but silent on the part of air travel which is common part today. Again the applicability of this act whole India except the territories which immediately before the 1st November, 1956 were comprised in part B states. This applicability needs to relook. Although the act given express provision regarding isolation , quarantine but the act is totally silent on distribution of vaccine and drugs and implementation of other measures. A recent review on challenge of infectious disease in India have concluded the inadequacy of our health system in tackling the infectious disease and recommended overruling our health system[8]. Again Human rights principle the act is mum about the human rights during the epidemic. The punishment for violation of regulation under sec 188 of IPC also need of revision can section 188 IPC guarantee justice to all those who suffered from the plague epidemic which cost the Indian economy over $600 million and took the toll of hundreds of lives is a big questions, and we certainly have no answer to that[9].Not only this but Myron Ehrenberg in his book “the potential for abuse was enormous”, states that the execution of this act remained more or less dormant after independence[10]. Today it’s almost 75 years to the independence and the act is insufficient to prevent and control the communicable disease. The object of the Act state Better prevention of “Dangerous epidemic disease”, coined out by the Sir John Woodburn, Indian civil servant of British origin. But the Act left to define this term only.

Current Scenario of the Act

In 22nd April 2020 Ministry of Law &Justice approved the Ordinance of Epidemic Disease Act, 2020. The major amendment of the act is attacking the healthcare workers or a doctor is a non-bailable& cognizable offence. Those who commit or attempt to commit violence against health care workers cause imprisonment 3 month to 5 years and fine up to 50,000 to 2 lakh. If the offence is more serious in nature the imprisonment may extends to 6 month to 7 years and with penalty from 1 lakh to 5 lakh. Also as per new Amendment the investigation of the attack on Doctors and health care workers done by the senior inspector and must be completed within 30 days. When in any case the person damage the infrastructures of the clinic or vehicle or any other thing of the doctors and health care workers he has to pay double of the amount of market cost of the thing as a compensation. If that particular person fails to give that amount then, can be recovered by arrear of land revenue under the Revenue Recovery Act, 1890. Court while deciding the case also in time limits that within the one year and inuring the proceeding unless the contrary is proved court shall presume that person as an offender of that offence. It is need of today to make a strong legal framework, sound health major laws, clear provisions for the areas like quarantine, isolation, suspected and infected person, travel plan restriction on domestic as well as international level. Many states in India today invoked the provisions of Epidemic Disease Act to deal with the current situation as per that context once again question emerged as how the act going to work here. It is felt here that this act as we already see has major limitation on various sectors and outdated, it’s only right based. So the comprehensive actionable ordinance by the government is welcomed step. The Epidemic Disease Act was enacted in 1897 and needs to be repealed. The Act does not provide any power to center to intervene in biological emergencies. It has to be substituted by an Act which takes care of the prevailing and Foreseeable public health needs, including emergencies such as BT attack and use of biological weapons by an adversary, cross border issue and international spread of disease[11]. The first time step to repeal the act taken by the UPA government but went to cold storage the Central government done well by proposing the ordinance. The new Amendment explains about the clear terms of the quartering of suspects and isolation of the infect also anyone who knowingly not follow the law fine up to 1 lakh rupee and imprisonment up to 2 years. This step is good while emerging and remerging infectious diseases. Because of no proper terminologies many outbreaks go unnoticed & unreported. The rise in the number, geographical extent, severity of outbreaks, threat of bioterrorism, emergence of emerging and reemerging infection, Volume of air travel, Globalization, & the complex lifestyle behaviors of the peoples has stressed the need of devising new public health interventions to respond the epidemic effectively and swiftly[12]. The new Amendment include the provisions regarding duties of government also rights of the citizens it also deal ethical aspect and considered the interest of the people. The Promulgation of Amendment of Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 in the very light of situation of corona virus. The reason is that when the country is in situation of lockdown the only person who is working day and night for the country is police and doctors. And some of the bad element of the society has doing attack on them. If them serving their lives for the society it’s our duty to protect them. Why they will be victims? Why they face the worse situation of harassment and unwanted violence? By taking all this into consideration Government amend the uniform central law.


Many states in India formulated their own health laws e.g. Madras was the first state in India to frame his own laws during Epidemic After that Bihar,Himachal Pradesh, Kerala frame some provision as per there capacity during epidemics. The other states like Gujarat, Karnataka drafted the health bill. The good integrated public health law not only shapes the legal framework of the government but also helps the government to work in uniform system during pandemics so as to control the damage. The lack of uniformity between different states highlighted above why it’s happening only because of there is no actionable, workable integrated act in central level. So the draft Ordinance is really one of the comprehensive steps to tackle and attend uniformity. The intention is to the health work force are our frontline soldiers during the battle of epidemics. &it’s our fundamental duty to protect the persons who taking risk of his own lives to protect lives of another. Happily, colonialists has been departed from our lands we also appointed makers to enact new laws. The Ordinance of Epidemic Disease Act,2020 helps to coordinated and scientific responses to prevent outbreak than century old Act, which has major limitation. But still it’s a very long gestation period and fate is unpredictable.

REFERENCES [1] Dikid T,Jain SK, Sharma A, Kumar A, Narin JP. Emerging and re-emerging infection in India: an overview. Indian J Med Res.2013;138(1):19-31 [2] In the Chinese version of this report, COVID-19 is referred to throughout as novel coronavirus pneumonia or NCP, the term by which COVID-19 is most widely known in the People’s Republic of China. [3]Epidemic Disease Act,1897, Available at : [4] Arnold D. Science, technology and medicine in colonial India. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press; 2000:p143. [5] 1993 SCC P.290 [6] AIR 1963 Ori 216 [7] (1904) ILR 31 Cal 829 [8] John TJ, Dandona L, Sharma VP, Kakkar M. Continuing challenges of infectious diseases in India. Lancet 2011;377:252-69 [9] Dennis D.T Plague in India. BMJ 1994; 309:86. [10] Echenberg M. Plague ports: the blobal urban impact of bubonic plague, 1894-1901. London: New York University Press; 2007:p 58. [11] Management of Biological Disaster Guideline, GOI,2008 [12]Patro BK, Triphty JP, Kashyap R. Epidemic Disease Act, 1897, India: Whether sufficient to address the current challenges?. J Mahatma Gandhi Med Sci 2013;18:109-11

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