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Coronavirus outbreak: Union govt invokes Disaster Management Act to regulate prices and ensure availability of vital protective items

Amidst the unprecedented scare kindled by the spread of the novel Coronavirus, the central government has decided to invoke the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and the Epidemic Act of 1897.

Amidst the unprecedented scare kindled by the spread of the novel Coronavirus, the central government has decided to invoke the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and the Epidemic Act of 1897, to ensure regulation of prices and availability of surgical and protective mask, hand sanitiser and gloves.

There have been reports that the medical stores across the country have run out of surgical masks, gloves and hand sanitisers. Due to the sudden spike in the demands, these products are either going out of stock or being black marketed. To address this issue and to enhance the preparedness in the wake of the crisis, the Modi government has invoked these two laws.

Disaster Management Act, 2005:

The Centre noted that the powers held by the home ministry under the Disaster Management Act, 2005 shall be “delegated” to the health ministry so as to prepare India against the outbreak.

The Union Home Ministry order said the powers are exercised by the Union Home Secretary under Section 10 of the Act, as he is the chairperson of the National Executive Committee (NEC).

The section talks about monitoring the implementation of the national plan and the plans prepared by the ministries or departments of the central government and gives overarching superintendence power to the officer executing it.

In order to abide by the directions conveyed by the health ministry, vide order dated March 13, 2020, under clause (I) of sub-section (2) of section 10 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) has been ordered to regulate the availability and prices of the surgical and protective masks, hand sanitisers and gloves.

Accordingly, NPPA vide order dated March 13, 2020, has directed to all State /UT Governments, in the public interest, in order to deal with the situation arising out of COVID-19, to take necessary steps to ensure sufficient availability of Surgical and protective masks, Hand sanitizers and Gloves at prices not exceeding the maximum retail prices (MRP) printed on the pack size.

State and the Union Territory Governments have also been directed to monitor the production and distribution of above-mentioned items by the Manufacturers or Importers, Stockists and Retailers and ensure that hoarding, black marketing and profiteering may not happen.

On March 12, 2020, during the review meeting chaired by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, the centre had decided to invoke Epidemic Act 1897 to ensure that multiple government advisories issued from time to time by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare/State/UTs on COVID-19 becomes enforceable. In this regard, all the states and union territories (UTs) of India are advised to invoke the provisions of Section 2 of the Epidemic Disease Act 1897.

Epidemic Disease Act 1897:

The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, is the nodal legislation meant “to provide for the better prevention of the spread of dangerous epidemic diseases”. It allows the State Governments and the Central Government to adopt any measures to prevent the outbreak of a dangerous disease once confirmed as an epidemic.

Section 2A of the Act allows the Central Government to take any measures and prescribe regulations for the inspection of any ship or vessel leaving or arriving at any port, or to detain any person arriving or leaving on such a vessel.

Violations of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, invite penalty under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code.

“When the central government is satisfied that India or any part thereof is visited by, or threatened with, an outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease and that the ordinary provisions of the law for the time being in force are insufficient to prevent the outbreak of such disease or the spread thereof, the central government may take measures and prescribe regulations for the inspection of any ship or vessel leaving or arriving at any port in the territories to which this Act extends and for such detention thereof, or of any person intending to sail therein, or arriving thereby, as may be necessary,” says the Act.

The British-era Act was mainly used to control plague in the late 1800s. 

Officials said the Act can be used to restrict the movement of suspected coronavirus patients to prevent further spread of the disease. They said that the need to invoke the Act was felt to empower the central government to tackle the outbreak.

“Health is a state subject, but by invoking Section 2 of the Epidemic Act, advisories and directions of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare are enforceable across the country,” they said.

Why is invoking both laws simultaneously important:

Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, gives the Central and State Governments overarching powers but it lacked speedily set up management systems required for a coordinated and concerted response. Therefore, the Disaster Management Act, 2005, also enacted to provide for an exhaustive administrative set up for disaster preparedness.

The novel Covid-19 has recently been declared as a pandemic by the WHO after the disease was found to have transmitted at an alarming rate across the world. So far, approximately 4600 people have died of the contagion, with about 3000 in Mainland China alone. Outside Asia, Italy has been the worst-hit country as the death toll crossed the 1000-mark.

South Asia too has been reeling under the novel coronavirus as the cases in India have steeply risen to 75, including the death of the 76-year-old Karnataka man who had recently returned from Saudi Arabia. Delhi has reported 6 confirmed corona cases while Uttar Pradesh has registered 10. Maharashtra has 11, Karnataka has 5 and Ladakh three. Kerala has reported 17 cases so far. Besides, Rajasthan, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab have reported one case each.

Both Central and State governments of India are leaving no stone unturned to fight the zoonotic contagion Coronavirus.

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Staff reporter at OpIndia

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