KDMC order social boycott of COVID – 19 healthcare workers, only to withdraw the order later

The Kalyan Dombivli Municipal Corporation (“KDMC”) had announced on May 5, 2020 that from May 8, 2020 until May 17, 2020 entry shall be denied to local residents employed for essential services in Mumbai, which has reported the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Maharashtra. Issuing an order, the KDMC commissioner had appealed to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (“BMC”) and other establishments to arrange for the stay of their employees who travel from KDMC to Mumbai.

However, due to ambiguities over the legality of such an order, on May 6, 2020 the KDMC stayed the decision.

The May 5 decision was very detrimental to the interest of all the people especially health care workers who would travel from KDMC to Mumbai.

The Uttar Pradesh Model for protection of COVID warriors

Taking a stern view of the attacks against health workers, police personnel and sanitation workers working at the frontline of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the Uttar Pradesh government on May 6, 2020 promulgated an ordinance to introduce harsher punishments for those found guilty of such crimes. The ordinance has been cleared by the state cabinet but awaits the assent of the Governor. The ordinance, entitled the Uttar Pradesh Public Health and Epidemic Disease Control Ordinance, 2020, provides for a maximum punishment of life term if “death be caused by intentional COVID – 19 afflictions”. While Section 24 of the ordinance on “punishment for intentional affliction” provides for rigorous imprisonment of 2-5 years for any person found guilty of “intentionally” infecting another person with a contagious disease, Section 26 further prescribes rigorous imprisonment for a minimum of seven years “but may extend to imprisonment for life”. The harsher measures under Section 26 of the ordinance apply to those found guilty of causing “death by affliction under Sections 24 and 25”. Section 25 defines “mass affliction” as infecting five or more persons. It also provides for punishment by way of a fine ranging from Rs 3 lakh to Rs 5 lakh.

The ordinance brought by the Uttar Pradesh government also prescribes stringent punishment for attacks on healthcare workers, including punishment between six months and 7 years, and fine ranging from 50,000 to Rs 5 lakh for assault or misbehaviour with health workers, paramedical staff, police personnel, sanitation workers or any corona warrior deployed by the government.

The ordinance also proposes punishments for those who spit on coronavirus warriors, throw filth on them, violate isolation norms during quarantine or incite people to attack or misbehave with corona warriors.

Steps taken by the Union Government for protection of COVID warriors

The Union Government has recently promulgated the Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, that has made attacks on doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers a non-bailable offence punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Our Opinion

It is pertinent to note that the May 5, 2020 order of the KDMC was in absolute disregard of the coronavirus warriors who are facing the risk of losing their lives while selflessly and tirelessly working in their capacity as healthcare professionals. While it is necessary that healthcare workers carefully sanitize themselves prior to entering their residential localities in order to prevent the spread of the infection, subjecting them to social boycott is not only inhuman but also counterproductive. Further still, when governmental authorities such as the KDMC pass orders and resolutions that give legitimacy to such acts of social boycott and encourage the masses to ostracize healthcare workers, it is a rather shameful state of affairs.

By

Sakshee Kumar | Abhay Nevagi & Associates