Daily Editorial Analysis for 4th August 2020

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Toxic brew


Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.

Why in news:

  • Consumption of illicit liquor has led to the death of more than 100 people in Punjab.


  • There have been many instances of large-scale loss of life due to consumption of illicit liquor in the recent past.
  • Such major incidents have been reported recently in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Assam.

Key Details:

Health impact:

  • The illicit liquor vendors in a bid to keep the costs low almost invariably use toxic methanol instead of ethanol.
  • Consumption of illicit alcohol produces long-term health impacts. Illicit liquor, apart from causing death in a few cases, has also been reported to cause permanent damage in the form of blindness and tissue damage.

Apathy by government:

  • The typical state government response in such cases has been providing financial relief for the affected families without addressing the root cause of the problem.
  • Notably, many States have accorded low priority to revamping the excise administration and policing, resulting in low regulation of the illicit liquor trade.

Issue of corruption:

  • There are also allegations that often corrupt bureaucracies allow the sale of illicit liquor by illicit liquor vendors in lieu of some share in the sales proceeds.
  • Illicit liquor is sold openly by small-time vendors in some places without the fear of the state.

Impact of the pandemic:

  • The issue has become further complicated during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people desperate for alcohol consumed hand sanitizer as a substitute, most recently in Andhra Pradesh.
  • People with limited means to consume commercial alcohol often turn to the cheaper illicit liquor. 

Way forward:

Priority area for the state:

  • The state must show determination to end the sale of illicit liquor. Governments should regulate the quality of legal alcoholic drinks, while actively tracing and tracking illicit alcohol.

Ensuring health infrastructure:

  • The capability of the health system in every district needs to be raised, to reduce the damage from methanol through immediate, simple detoxification therapies.

Public health campaign:

  • A sustained public health campaign to wean people away from the drinking habit and to warn them about the effects of contaminants in illicit liquor are key interventions that can help reduce the instances of fatalities caused by the consumption of illicit liquor.
  • The health communication about harm from alcohol is particularly relevant during the pandemic, since there is evidence of reduced immunity to viruses among those who are chronic alcohol consumers.

Cooperation with community:

  • To succeed in its efforts against the sale of illicit liquor, the state can consider cooperation with the community, particularly from women’s groups. This would allow the administration to address the issue at the grass-root level with the involvement of active stakeholders like women who often have to bear the brunt of alcohol consumption.

Profiteering during a pandemic


Mains: General Studies- II: Governance, Constitution, Polity, Social Justice and International relations.


  • The nationwide lockdown phase witnessed an exponential rise in prices of essential items like masks and sanitizers across the country.
  • With the rise in the number of cases, there have been reports of private hospitals overcharging patients, even after state governments capped COVID-19 treatment charges. In some private hospitals, patients have been asked to pay lakhs even before being allotted beds.
  • The cost of medicines like Remdesivir has also shot up leading to a situation where the poor have been unable to afford the essential medicines.
  • There have been reports of overcharging by the ambulance owners too in these pandemic times.
  • Buses operated by private agencies have charged exorbitant fares from poor migrants looking to go back to their native places.

Key Details:

Epidemic Diseases Act:

  • The British enacted the Epidemic Diseases Act in 1897 empowering the government to implement any measures that would prevent the outbreak or spread of any disease.
  • According to the law, anyone disobeying the orders of any public servant can be punished under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code.
  • However, the provisions of the Epidemic Diseases Act in 1897 seem insufficient to effectively curb the economic exploitation of the common man during the pandemic crisis.
  • The Epidemic Diseases Act is routinely enforced across the country for dealing with outbreaks of diseases such as swine flu, dengue, and cholera.

History of the 1897 Epidemic Diseases Act:

  • The colonial government introduced the Act to tackle the epidemic of bubonic plague that had spread in the erstwhile Bombay Presidency in the 1890s.
  • Using powers conferred by the Act, colonies authorities would search suspected plague cases in homes and among passengers, with forcible segregations, evacuations, and demolitions of infected places.
  • In 1897, the year the law was enforced, freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak was punished with 18 months’ rigorous imprisonment after his newspapers Kesari and Mahratta admonished imperial authorities for their handling of the plague epidemic.

Provisions of the 1897 Epidemic Diseases Act

  • The Act, which consists of four sections, aims to provide for the better prevention of the spread of Dangerous Epidemic Diseases.
  • Section 2 empowers state governments/UTs to take special measures and formulate regulations for containing the outbreak. It reads: Power to take special measures and prescribe regulations as to dangerous epidemic disease. —
  • When at any time the State Government is satisfied that the State or any part thereof is visited by, or threatened with, an outbreak of any dangerous epidemic disease.
  • The State Government, if it thinks that the ordinary provisions of the law for the time being in force are insufficient for the purpose, may take, or require or empower any person to take, such measures and, by public notice, prescribe such temporary regulations to be observed by the public or by any person or class of persons as it shall deem necessary to prevent the outbreak of such disease.
  • It may determine in what manner and by whom any expenses incurred (including compensation if any) shall be defrayed.
  • In particular and without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing provisions, the State Government may take measures and prescribe regulations for—
  • The inspection of persons travelling by railway or otherwise, and the segregation, in hospital, temporary accommodation or otherwise, of persons suspected by the inspecting officer of being infected with any such disease.
  • Section 3 provides penalties for disobeying any regulation or order made under the Act. These are according to Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code (Disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant)
  • Section 4 gives legal protection to the implementing officers acting under the Act.


  • The Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 promulgated over a century ago was initially legislated by our colonial masters in an effort to combat the then deadly bubonic plague.
  • The Act in its use was widely condemned in the India Journal of Medical Ethics.
  • The Act, last amended in 1956, lacks in most basic criteria when compared to comparable legislations as available in other democracies.
  • In England, the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 was promulgated with the aim of creating specific delineated roles of different authorities to combat infectious diseases.
  • The Act provides for notification of an infectious disease, the role and responsibilities of healthcare workers in identifying contagious individuals and a clear hierarchical chain in which the said identification is to be reported.
  • It further provides for measures in which the said disease is to be controlled and as mentioned above delineates specific roles, responsibilities and powers on specific authorities in the time of a crisis.
  • These include responsibilities undertaken by the local authorities right up to the national level.
  • The responding authorities thus have a pre-planned format within which to operate.
  • This undercuts the scope for confusion and jurisdictional issues amongst different state authorities in the time of crisis.
  • The Public Health Services Act from the United States, also like its English counterpart, creates an administrative superstructure through which any public health emergency must be routed.
  • The Act prepares for a nationwide epidemic by anticipating the need for additional manpower by creating a reserve corps to supplement commissioned corps on short notice.
  • Another key aspect of the Act is clear and to the point separation of the roles of the centre and states.
  • One of the more obvious defects of our Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897 is that it gives no clarity of how a public health emergency would impact the inherent federal structure of our Constitution.
  • Being a pre-independence Act, the same fails to provide any clarity on how the responsibility of controlling a nationwide epidemic is to be shared between the different states and the Union.
  • While the above-mentioned foreign legislations acknowledge the need for set and proven administrative channels coupled with detailed and well-rehearsed protocols, India’s one-page, four-section act is wholly incapable of providing adequate legislative backing towards dealing with even a minor Public Health Emergency.
  • The Act by its very nature provides for an abrupt knee-jerk reaction. Instead of anticipating that a public health emergency would require a robust and preplanned administrative framework, the Act merely gives the power to state authorities to subvert any and all existing laws and regulations while dealing with an epidemic.
  • There is no provision to delineate specific roles to certain organisations, nothing to mandate any sort of pre-planning or provide for any specific proforma that the local or state level health or other authorities may follow in the case of an emergency.
  • The Act even fails to clarify when and how a particular disease is to be declared as an epidemic, necessitating the evocation of the Act.
  • Without a proper and coherent command and control superstructure, what would result is a state by state response, with each state differing in its strategy to contain and overcome a public health emergency.
  • Each state would have to come up with administrative and health protocols on the fly whilst in the midst of a crisis.
  • There are currently some schemes operating at the national level like the Integrated Disease Surveillance Project which aims to monitor and provide rapid response to epidemic situations, however, the same lack any legislative backing. Being based on executive instructions, they are devoid of adequate powers to contain and handle an epidemic.

Way forward:

  • There is no law, for example, to sanctify the isolation and cordoning off of entire regions, nothing to mandate compulsory hospitalisation, no expert authority to oversee the logistics of the kind of shutdowns that would result from even a mediocre epidemic.
  • What is further required is a cohesive legislation that relates to areas outside of immediate treatment.
  • At present, at least 60 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in India.
  • The Indian Medical Association (IMA) said that sharing data of infected people on a daily basis with the public has created panic across the country.
  • It appealed to the government to “classify the data” of the pandemic and take appropriate action with “clinical precision.”
  • The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) have also issued new guidance to help protect children and schools from the transmission of the COVID-19.

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