Bhubaneswar: Amid protests by opposition BJP and Congress members, the state Assembly on Wednesday passed the Epidemic Disease (Odisha Amendment) Bill, 2020 making provision of two years jail term and Rs 1 lakh penalty for violation of COVID-19 guidelines.
The bill introduced in the House by Health and Family Welfare Minister N K Das was passed in a voice vote after a discussion. He said the Epidemic Act, 1897 appears to be insufficient to take care of the pandemic situation. The prescribed punishment is still continuing since 1897 which is very less, he said.
While justifying the requirement of the bill, the minister said: "In spite of the aggressive awareness campaign undertaken by the government, some people are not complying with the social distancing guidelines, thereby endangering public health. Unless people comply with regulations, community transmission may happen."
He said community transmission will also result in loss of valuable lives. The minister said the bill is brought considering the need for stricter observance of guidelines for containing the spread of the disease and to interrupt human to human transmission.
"It is felt necessary to enhance the penalty amount as provided in the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897 to that of imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years of fine which may extend up to Rs 1 lakh or with both," the minister said.
At the same time, the minister said, it is also felt necessary to make an offence under the Act cognizable and bailable considering the present scenario and gravity of the spread of COVID-19. He said the state government had earlier brought an ordinance in this regard.
However, both the opposition BJP and Congress members strongly opposed the bill on the ground that the government will get a tool to suppress the voice of protest.
"The motive of the ruling BJD to bring the bill is to keep the opposition leaders including MLAs in jail for two years. How can a common man pay a penalty of Rs 1 lakh? The person who will be penalised cannot contest in local body elections. We condemn this bill," said senior Congress MLA Taraprasad Bahinipati.
Former minister and BJP MLA, Jayanarayan Mishra said the Epidemic Diseases (Odisha Amendment) Bill 2020 has some serious flaws. According to the bill, anybody who dares to question the government would be dragged to court.
Mishra alleged that if this bill is allowed to become a law, time will come when the government will not hesitate to pull the opposition parties to the court too for raking up issues concerning the common man.
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