Health dept. staff rue lack of powers

Epidemic Bill gives power to police

The Assembly recently unanimously passed the Kerala Epidemic Diseases Bill, 2021, empowering the State government to enforce restrictions on public life during epidemic outbreaks.

However, Health Department staff claim that they may not get powers to book those who violate the law.

An official told The Hindu that only station house officers, police officials in charge of respective stations, had been termed as ‘authorised officers’ under Section 7 of the Ordinance, which also dealt with the penalties for violators. Though the Ordinance had not specifically given powers to the police, they were included when the rules were framed.

Another official pointed out that the focus of the Bill seemed to be tackling COVID-19 only. “There should be a long-term approach in dealing with epidemics. We may need the help of the police in containing COVID-19. What happens if there is another cholera or other such epidemics? How will the police be of help?” he asked.

“If revenue inspectors, food safety inspectors, rationing inspectors, excise inspectors, and motor vehicle inspectors can take action against the respective legal violations in their department, why not the Health Department staff?” the official asked.

The Health Department has such a wide network of officials including district medical officers, deputy district medical officers, district technical assistants, medical officers, health supervisors, health inspectors and junior health inspectors. Among them, health inspectors have been trained in dealing with epidemics and have other enforcement powers as well.

“Ideally, the authorised officer should have been station house officer/an officer not less than the rank of health inspector. The current move will only demoralise the staff who have been striving to contain the pandemic,” the official added.

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