News Excerpt
The Centre has decided to invoke Epidemic Act 1897, an act to provide for prevention of the spread of “dangerous epidemic diseases,” to combat novel coronavirus in India. All the states and union territories of India are advised to invoke the provisions of Section 2 of the Epidemic Disease Act 1897.

●    The colonial government introduced the Act to tackle the epidemic of bubonic plague that had spread in the erstwhile Bombay Presidency in the 1890s.
●    In recent years act was invoked to control spread of Cholera (Vadodara, 2018), Malaria and Dengue (Chandigarh, 2015) and Swine flu (Pune, 2009).

Provisions of the Act
→    The Act empowers state governments/UTs to take special measures and formulate regulations to contain any outbreak.
→    The state government may prescribe regulations for the inspection of persons travelling by railway or otherwise, segregation in hospitals, temporary accommodation or otherwise, of persons suspected by the inspecting officer, of being infected with any such disease.
→    The act empowers the central government to take steps to prevent the spread of an epidemic, especially allowing the government to inspect any ship arriving or leaving any post and the power to detain any person intending to sail or arriving in the country.
→    The state government can fine people or imprison them for violating rules and regulations that will be set to contain the outbreak.
→    The law also safeguards officials and gives them overarching superintendence of power who act under the provisions of this law to contain the outbreak.  No suit or other legal proceedings shall lie against any person for anything done in good faith under the act.

Criticism of the Act
→    While it empowers officials to enter into any house and forcibly examine a suspected sick person, it does not authorize the government to enforce a lockdownor even screening of passengers at the airports. There was no air travel when the law known as the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 was enacted to deal with bubonic plague outbreak in India's commercial capital of Mumbai.
→    The phrase “dangerous epidemic disease” has not been defined in the law and the lack of such a definition warrants a serious review of this law by Parliament.
→    The Act has also been criticized for its potential for abuse.
→    There is a criticism that the Act is purely regulatory in nature, lacking a specific public health focus. This has been termed as just "policing" acts aimed at controlling epidemics and do not deal with coordinated and scientific responses to prevent and tackle outbreaks

Invoking of Disaster Management Act, 2005
→    Since the Epidemic disease act does not authorize the government to enforce a lockdown, India declared the coronavirus outbreak a national disaster. The move helped the government to invoke the Disaster Management Act, 2005 (DMA) to order lockdown measures and give directions to state governments. It also paved the way to seek assistance available under the State Disaster Response Fund.
→    The Disaster Management Act also casts a duty on the states to follow the directions of the NDMA as mandated under Section 38 of the Disaster Management Act.

There is a need for an integrated, comprehensive, actionable and relevant legal provision for the control of outbreaks in India that should be articulated in a rights-based, people-focused and public health-oriented manner. Useful provisions of Epidemic disease act should be subsumed within such a law.

National Disaster Management Authority
Created under Disaster Management Act, 2005.It is headed by the Prime Minister
Important functions:
    Lay down policies on disaster management.
    Approve National Plan
    Lay down guidelines to be followed by the different Ministries
    Coordinate implementation of disaster management plans.
    Take other such measures as it may consider necessary for Prevention or mitigation of disaster and capacity building.

National Disaster management Act, State disaster management authority, National and state disaster management fund