Demand of the question:
It expects students to write a about the institutional and legal arrangements in place to address pandemics in India. It also expects how these arrangements have resulted out during COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shut businesses, disrupted supply chains ,and caused unprecedented loss to economy. Indian institutions and the foresighted legal arrangements are tackling this pandemic at breakneck speed as a result India’s death rate is low as compared to that of the developed countries.
Institutional and legal arrangements in place to address pandemics in India:
- Institutional arrangement like All India institutes of medical sciences are a group of autonomous government public medical colleges of higher education.
- These institutions have a pivotal role to play during pandemic as they provide the skilled workforce and necessary expertise during the pandemics.
- The National Institute of Virology, Pune is an Indian virology research institute. It is one of the major Institutes of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). As it is a virus research institute it provide the necessary research and development during pandemics.
- The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research, is one of the oldest and largest medical research bodies in the world.
- Ministry of health and family welfare and Ministry of Home affairs play a pivotal role during pandemic like crisis situations through the necessary guidelines, instructions, travel advisories for migrants and COVID-19 warriors etc.
- Reserve bank of India, Ministry of commerce and Industry, University grants commission, All India Council for Technical Education, Ministry of Human resource development also play a pivotal role to tackle the disruption of the economy and educational curriculum.
- The lockdown has been carried out by State governments and district authorities on the directions of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs under the Disaster Management Act of 2005, which was intended “to provide for the effective management of disasters and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.
- Under the Act, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was set up under the leadership of the Prime Minister, and the National Executive Committee (NEA) was chaired by the Home Secretary.
- The State governments and authorities exercised powers under the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 to issue necessary directions.
- Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code in public places authorizes the Executive Magistrate of any state or territory to issue an order to prohibit the assembly of four or more people in an area.
- The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 is meant for containment of epidemics by providing special powers that are required for the implementation of containment measures to control the spread of the disease.
- The Essential Services Maintenance Act is an act of Parliament of India which was established to ensure the delivery of certain services, which if obstructed would affect the normal life of the people.
Cumulatively, these institutions and legal frameworks have acted in consonance to contain the spread of pandemic and panned out in following way:
- The National Institute of Virology, Pune Isolated the 11 strains of SARS-COV-2 virus and helped India becoming the fifth country in world to isolate the strain.
- The ICMR made major scientific progress during COVID-19 as it developed PCR tests, 5 vaccines have gone for human trial.
- Council of Scientific and Industrial Research ( CSIR) has initiated a randomised clinical trial to reduce mortality in critical COVID-9 patients through drug efficacy evaluation.
- Relief measures announced by Reserve Bank of India e.g. reduction in repo rate, increasing loan moratorium. Also some tax relief measures are also announced by the finance ministry. Which benefitted the vulnerable section of population.
- The Finance Minister also announced medical insurance cover of Rs 5 million per healthcare worker. About 2 million health services and ancillary workers will benefit from such insurance scheme.
- NDMA and NEA issued orders directing the Union Ministries, State governments and authorities to take effective measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and laid out guidelines illustrating which establishments would be closed and which services suspended during the lockdown period.
- Under the Epidemic disease act, the Health and Family Welfare Department of Tamil Nadu issued a government order, to impose social distancing and isolation measures which directed “suspected cases and foreign returnees” to remain “under strict home quarantine” and people “to stay at home and come out only for accessing basic and essential services and strictly follow social distancing norms”.
- Due to the pandemic federalism in India also got much needed boost.
Worryingly, a consolidated, pro-active policy approach is absent. In fact, there has been ad hoc and reactive rule-making, as seen in the way migrant workers have been treated.
- The invoking of the Disaster Management Act has allowed the Union government to communicate seamlessly with the States. However, serious questions remain whether the Act was originally intended to or is sufficiently capable of addressing the threat of a pandemic.
- Also, the use of the archaic Epidemic Diseases Act reveals the lack of requisite diligence and responsiveness of government authorities in providing novel and innovative policy solutions to address a 21st century problem.
- Another serious failing is that any violation of the orders passed would be prosecutable under Section 188 of Indian Penal Code, a very ineffective and broad provision dealing with disobedience of an order issued by a public servant.
In contrast, the U.K. enacted the Coronavirus Act, 2020, which is a comprehensive legislation dealing with all issues connected with COVID-19 including emergency registration of healthcare professionals, temporary closure of educational institutions, audio-visual facilities for criminal proceedings, powers to restrict gatherings, and financial assistance to industry.
In past instance and present too, these institutional and legal measure have proved to be effective while dealing with the pandemic like situations. However, there are some 21st century challenges posed by the evolving global architecture fell vulnerable while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, necessary steps needs to be taken so a comprehensive approach can be followed to tackle the COVID-19 like situations in future and better health for all can be assured.