New Delhi: A “dramatic” decline in the number of incidents of violence against health workers has been witnessed in the country after an ordinance was brought, making such activities a non-bailable offense, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan informed the Rajya Sabha on Saturday.
The government brought an ordinance on April 22 to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 to make incidents of violence on health workers treating COVID-19 patients a non-bailable offense with provisions of the penalty and a jail term of up to seven years.
Moving an amendment bill in this regard for passage in the Upper House, the health minister said after the ordinance, such incidents against healthcare workers have declined.
“We have all noticed that there has been a dramatic decline in the incidents of violence against health workers all over the country,” he said.
Vardhan explained that the ordinance had to be brought as there was a rising number of incidents of harassment and violence against health workers while they were returning from their duty amid a lack of awareness about the coronavirus.
They were treated with stigma and not allowed to enter their houses or residential societies. They were beaten up and chased away when they went out for surveillance, he said, adding that this had significantly reduced the morale of the health workers.
“Everyone was feeling sad and bad. That was the time the government thought of taking a proactive step. When the government reviewed, it found there were minimal laws and powers in some states. There was a need to have a central law to put in place a prohibitory mechanism to stop such activities,” Vardhan said.
Binoy Viswam of the Communist Party of India (CPI), who moved a statutory resolution on the bill, said there are serious lapses in it as it does not address the issue of violence on health professionals within the hospitals.
Many hospitals are not paying the salaries of the doctors and nurses, PPE kits are not being given and safety concerns are being ignored — these issues have not been addressed by the bill, he added.
Participating in the debate, Saroj Pandey of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spoke in favor of the bill and said it aims to instill confidence in the health workers, who are treating patients during the COVID-19 pandemic risking their lives.
She also attacked Neeraj Dangi of the Congress, who spoke just before her on the bill without touching upon the sensitive issue of health workers.
She said it is saddening to see that the opposition member chose to politicize even the issue of COVID-19 and did not even bother to mention the bill in his maiden speech.