Attacks on healthcare workers will carry stringent punishment — jail term of up to seven years and a hefty fine — the government said today as instances of such attacks spiraled across the country. In an executive order passed urgently this afternoon, hours after Union minister Amit Shah declared the safety of medical personnel as “non-negotiable”, the government also made it a non-bailable offence. The ordinance has been signed by President Ram Nath Kovind.
The government has also made the Epidemic Act a concurrent act so it can make decisions and take action during an epidemic for to control road, rail, marine and air traffic.
“While people across the nation salute the health workers and those in the field helping battle COVID-19, there are few who are attacking them, thinking they are spreading the virus,” Union minister Prakash Javadekar said after the cabinet meeting this afternoon.
“We have zero tolerance and will not allow this in a civilised society,” he added.
“Any attack on doctors or health workers will be liable to a penalty of anywhere between Rs 50,000 and Rs 2 lakh and for serious offences, where there are reports of serious injury, Rs 2 lakh to Rs 5 lakh,” the minister said.
“In addition to this, there will also be a jail term — a minimum of 6 months and up to 5 years and for serious cases up to 7 years. This will be a non-bailable offence,” he added.
The amended Epidemic Act — a 120-year-old law — will protect doctors, nurses, health workers, attendants and also Aasha workers, Mr Javadekar said. “Healthcare professionals will also be extended insurance cover,” he said.
Medical personnel have been playing a frontline role in the battle against coronavirus, the government has underscored repeatedly. But it has not stemmed the tide of attacks against doctors, nurses or paramedical workers, who were planning a symbolic protest on April 23.
The protest was called off after Mr Shah reached out to the Indian Medical Association, the nodal body of doctors in the country today, and assured that the government will do everything possible to protect them, sources said.
“Safety and dignity of our doctors at their work place is non-negotiable. It is our collective responsibility to ensure conducive atmosphere for them at all times. I have assured doctors that Modi govt is committed to their cause and appealed to reconsider their proposed protest,” Mr Shah tweeted after the meeting.