The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897
The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, aims to provide for the prevention of the spread of ‘Dangerous Epidemic Diseases’. This 773-word legislation was adopted when India was under British rule, in order to contain a bubonic plague outbreak in Bombay Presidency.
World Health Organization defines an ‘epidemic’ as the occurrence of cases of a
specific illness, health-related behaviour or other health-related events in a
community or region, which is clearly in excess of what would be normally expected.
Act extends to the whole of India.
What powers does the Act confer upon state governments to control the spread of epidemic diseases?
When, at any time, a state government is satisfied that the state or any of its parts is visited by, or threatened with, an outbreak of a dangerous epidemic disease, it may take – or empower any person to take – measures to prevent the outbreak or spread of the disease; it may take such measures if it considers the ordinary provisions of the law in force as insufficient. The state government may, for this purpose, prescribe temporary regulations for the public, a person or a class of persons. It may determine in what manner and by whom any expenses incurred (including compensation, if any) shall be covered.
In particular, the state government may prescribe regulations for the inspection of persons travelling by railway or otherwise, and the inspecting officer may mandate segregation – in hospitals, temporary accommodations or otherwise – of anyone suspected of being infected with any such disease.
What powers does the Act confer upon the central government to control the spread of epidemic diseases?
When the central government is satisfied that India or any of its parts is visited by, or threatened with, an outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease, and that the ordinary provisions of the law in force are insufficient prevent the outbreak or spread of such a disease – the central government may then take measures for the inspection of any ship or vessel leaving or arriving at any port in India; it may prescribe regulations for the detention of any person intending to sail in or arrive by a ship or vessel as may be necessary.
What are the penalties prescribed in the Act?
The Act stipulates that any person disobeying a regulation or order made under it shall be deemed to have committed an offence punishable under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, which relates to ‘disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant’. Section 188 also says: “…if such disobedience causes or trends to cause danger to human life, health or safety, or causes or tends to cause a riot or affray, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.”
No suit or legal proceeding shall be levied against a person for anything done or intended to be done “in good faith” under this Act.
Focus and Factoids by Oorna Raut.
PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.
Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India
Government of India, New Delhi
04 Feb, 1897