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A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been filed before the Karnataka High Court seeking to amend the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 by inviting suggestions from various organizations and experts in order to make the Act more effective, in light of the Coronavirus outbreak. [Mohammed Arif and vs Union of India and Anr]
A Division Bench of Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Ashok S Kinagi will hear the matter on March 23.
The petitioner states that COVID-19 has affected more than 100 countries across the globe and has been spreading in India, affecting a large number of people.
The PIL further states that children, pregnant women and senior citizens are much more likely to be affected by the virus. This apart, the petition highlights the vulnerable condition of people in prisons. In this regard, the petition reads,
"That Once a contagious illness enters, conditions in correctional facilities are highly conducive to it spreading. People in prisons and jails live in close proximity to each other. Many are housed in large dormitories, sharing the same space. Even where people are housed in cells, the ventilation is often inadequate. People in prisons and jails are often denied adequate soap and cleaning supplies, making infection control nearly impossible. Many people in prisons and jails are in relatively poor health and suffer from serious chronic conditions due to lack of access to healthcare in the community..."
The safety and welfare of all the visitors, litigants, lawyers, court staff, security, maintenance and support staff, student interns and media professionals in all courts in the state is also brought up. In this regard, the plea states,
"On the other hand the lower district court are at major risk with poor infrastructure in some places makes it very crowded and sometimes claustrophobic, it is equivalent to any public gathering. And open pray to the novel virus is also pertinent to mention that all the Courts from lower district level to high Court of Karnataka at Bengaluru, Dharwad and Kalaburgi are fully still operational."
The plea further submitted that the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 needs to be amended, as the provisions of the said Act are insufficient to handle the present grave situation. On this aspect, the petition states,
"..the said act is Colonial Act of about more than 100 years old and now there need a mechanism which should decide and/or satisfy/itself that dangerous epidemic disease is visited/ threatened with, and outbreak in particular area and immediate action needs to be started so that, there should not be a lapse of time in taking measures to control such diseases. There need some specific parameters given about exactly at what juncture the Government should take serious cognizance of epidemic diseases as a dangerous disease."
Petition filed in Karnataka HC
In this light, there needs to be an Epidemic Disease Control Board to take immediate action to control and prevent the Coronavirus and other infections from spreading, the plea states.
On these grounds, the petitioner has prayed, inter alia, that
the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 be amended by calling upon suggestions from various organizations and experts
to direct the State to set up Epidemic Disease Control Board for prevention and spreading of epidemic diseases
to direct the State to draft Strategies for Social distancing measures at Schools, Workplaces and public places including Courts.
To direct for immediate isolation of symptomatic persons suspected or confirmed to be infected with COVID-19, and the suspension of mass gatherings for the timebeing.
Advocate Rahamathulla Kothwal will be representing the petitioners in the matter.