Title: Combined Discussion on Statutory Resolution regarding Disapproval of Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance (Ordinance No. 5 of 2020) and Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020, (As Passed by Rajya Sabha) (Statutory Resolution –Negatived and Government Bill – Passed).
DR.T. SUMATHY (A) THAMIZHACHI THANGAPANDIAN (CHENNAI SOUTH):
Thank you Hon. Chairperson for having allowed me to have a discussion on this Epidemic Disease (Amendment) Bill.
Noam Chomsky, a celebrated linguist and artist, has recently warned: “We are at an astonishing confluence of very severe crises.” He enlisted three such crises – the growing threat of nuclear war, which is probably more severe than it was during the cold war; the growing threat of environmental catastrophe; and the third thing, that they have been picking up for the last few years, is the sharp deterioration of democracy.
In this pandemic, the latter two have reached their worst from worse. In India, this has been further propelled and geared up by the catastrophic loss to environment like EIA 2020, anti-democratic, anti-federal laws like CAA, NRC and more recently the NEP. The world has seen so many pandemics and epidemics from the bubonic plague in the 1300s to the Spanish flu in the 1900s and SARS epidemic. In all these plagues, the leaders came out to the streets together to guide their people and not to pass draconian Ordinances and amendments in the empty bowls of the poor people. Only this Government does it.
Before plunging into the discussion on this Bill, I would like to state how unprepared India is to combat this crisis. The COVID-19 crisis could have been handled well in India if the action packages of the Global Health Security Agenda started in 2014 of which India is a participant, had been implemented effectively. Also, we lost the golden hours of prevention when the Government and the Prime Minister was busy hosting Trump.
Our ancient poet Thiruvalluvar has rightly remarked:
“Varumunnar kavadhan vazhkai yerimunnar
Vaithuru pola kedum”
Meaning, the prosperity of him who does not timely guard against the faults, will perish like the straw before the fire. In brief, prevention is better than cure. But the Government did not take a cue and has lost so many battle grounds. Despite receiving grants from the US Centre for Disease Control, India is yet to fill the gaps to combat the present crisis. Amidst this raging pandemic, when the nation is under severe social, economic crisis with 122 million Indians losing their jobs in April alone, the BJP Government has prioritised passing Ordinances and amendments.
This Amendment Ordinance was promulgated at a time when crores of our students were pleading the Government to delay NEET examination. Back home, in Tamil Nadu, we have lost so many lives for the draconian NEET examination. Dr. Johnson, a famous English literary person, when he declared that he would compile an English dictionary within three years all alone, all critics wondered: “How can you do it? When 40 Frenchmen took 40 years to compile a dictionary, how would you do it within three years?” He replied, “An Englishman is equivalent to 40 Frenchmen.” An Indian medical student, an Indian doctor is equivalent to 40 European doctors. But you have severed their progress by bringing the NEET examination. That is why our Party leader, Mr. M.K. Stalin vehemently opposes it. When Dr. Kalaignar was the Chief Minister, irrespective of the entrance exams, the Board examinations were taken into account. That is how, even now, the US has been discussing whether standardised tests like the SAT should be used at all in the deciding administrations.
Coming to this Bill, my fate only lies in the will of the Indian people. The Amendment Bill under clause 3, which seeks to insert the new Section 1A, clearly states that violence or damage is to be during an epidemic. So, what will happen if the epidemic ends? The life of the frontline warriors as well as the nurses, police personnel has to be ensured even after the endemic.
There are a few lacunae. The Epidemic Act, 1897 is silent on the definition of ‘dangerous epidemic diseases’. Since it is a colonial act, issues like restricting international travel, especially the use of air travel, sea travel, increased migration, higher density, all these areas, remain still a grey area. The Bill has to specifically clarify in the Act whether it is too ship oriented and quiet on air travel.
Again, there is no classification of these words: lethal or infectious or contagious diseases. It has to be clearly stated. There are no stages, no differentiation, nothing. It has been left to the whims and fancies of the Government.
Regarding the vaccination, the Act and the Bill both fail to mention the priority for vaccination against COVID. I would like to know whether the Government has any standards to decide which States, districts, or individuals should get priority.
This has also surpassed the State rights. It is because implementation by a State of a Central law is not possible since the area of health including protection of doctors is a State Subject, which means only States have the power to frame and pass laws related to it. So, this is also still a grey area.
A Chinese woman Tu Youyou earned a Nobel Prize in 2015 for her work in creating anti-malaria medicine using ancient Chinese remedies. Why can Indian doctors using the Indian medicines not get a vaccine for this COVID-19? The Government should concentrate on promoting research and encouraging them rather than …* on the ‘Acts of God. The Government should realize that the purpose of the Government is to enable the people to fight the COVID-19.