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Epidemic Disease Act, 1897: Whether sufficient to combat deadly Coronavirus in India?

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The current COVID-19 pandemic has exposed conspicuous gaps in India’s domestic legislation. The Centre has opted to activate Epidemic Disease Act 1897 along with some other legislation in order to curb novel coronavirus in India and prevent its proliferation across the country.While this act provides the government with some extraordinary power to help combat the infectious disease, this law is not enough, as there are major loopholes that are needed to be filled.

This article reviews the entire legislation ‘Epidemic Disease Act’ and extract out its drawbacks and shortcomings. This article further advocates for a stronger legal framework to be instituted to combat outbreaks of infectious diseases such as COVID-19 more efficiently and adequately.

Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897

It came into effect on 4 February 1897 as a reaction to the plague epidemic at Bombay. This act confined plague to Bombay through a series of tough measures which prohibited the assembly of crowds.

This Act consists of four sections, section 1 specifies the title and scope of the act. Section 2 empowers the State and Central Government to take preventive steps and enforce laws that are to be followed by the public in order to prevent disease transmission. These measures entail the screening of passengers commuting by rail or otherwise and the quarantine or isolation in hospital, temporary accommodation of persons accused of being infected with any such disease. Section 3 prescribes penalty for disobeying any law or order issued under the Act, in accordance to section 188 of the Indian Penal Code. Section 4 clearly states thatno complaint or other legal action shall be taken against any person for anything done or supposed to be undertaken in good faith under this Act.

Although the Epidemic Disease Act is over 100 years old, it has a vital role to play in combating the latest corona epidemic. However, this colonial period law has many drawbacks that need modification and adjustments to brace the country for possible disease outbreaks.

Major drawbacks

-The definition of ‘lethal’ or ‘infectious’ or ‘contagious diseases’ is not given in the entire legislation. The law is unclear on the criteria for classifying an outbreak as “dangerous”, based on variables such as the severity of the outbreak.

-Some of the aspects that the act now needs to address are increasing international travel, especially the use of air travel relative to sea travel, increased migration, higher density, urbanization and industrialization. Such factors have contributed over the years to a change in the transition and propagation of communicable diseases.

-For example, the act is too much ship-oriented and quiet on ‘air travel,’ which was rare at the time it was created but is now essential to be given proper consideration.

-In an emergency response of the outbreak, the legislation does not provide provisions for the protection of human rights. It is necessary as there could be little to no legal concern about the safety of human rights during emergency times.

Moreover, this act does not provide for how the powers bestowed on the government may be exercised in breach of any existing statute. A legislation born before our first Republic Day will exist within our legislative system provided it is compatible with the constitutional provisions.  The provisions of the Epidemic Disease Act have not, till now, gone under judicial scrutiny.

What is the way forward?

The creation of a new comprehensive legislation by taking a more systematic approach, keeping in mind all the above-mentioned drawbacks, is required to tackle such outbreaks in future.

Though attempts have been made in the past to amend the law. The proposed 2017 Public Health Bill, which looked at monitoring epidemics, disasters and activities related to bio-terrorism, also intended to overhaul the existing system. The bill would have repealed the Epidemic Diseases Act, but it has not yet been presented in the Parliament, and it is under the consideration of the law ministry.

However, replacing one law with another clearly doesn’t solve the problem. The efforts to curb infectious outbreaks cannot succeed without an appropriate surveillance network, strong public health systems and epidemiologists providing organizational information and policy support.

Conclusion

The global health emergency COVID-19 offers a solid chance for the Union Government to amend the country’s legislation.To prevent and control the entry, propagation and presence of any infectious disease in India, strengthening of the legal structures is required.

The Epidemic Diseases Act has considerable pitfalls in combating the prevalence and re-emergence of communicable diseases in the nation, especially in the changing and transforming nature of public health. What we require is a legislative structure that corresponds to the present situation.A strong public health regulation system guides government’s position in avoiding and regulating diseases. While there are several other minor rules as well, the need is to synchronize all regulations into a common and efficient legislation.

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Towards Dual-Tripolarity: An Indian Grand Strategy for the Age of Complexity

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International Relations are in an unprecedented flux as the world enters a period of full-spectrum paradigm changes involving everything from science and technology, health, geo-economics, geopolitics, and the socio-cultural sphere. Never before has everything unfolded in such an accelerated and compressed way, which has understandably become overwhelming for many people. Few can foresee what the future will hold—other than the broad forecast that its geo-economic structure will be influenced by the Fourth Industrial Revolution while that of geopolitics will disproportionately be shaped by the global competition between the superpowers of the U.S. and China.

The unprecedented U.S.-led Western sanctions against Russia in response to Moscow’s ongoing special military operation in Ukraine proved that economic interests are subservient to political ones since there’s no economic logic behind the EU dutifully complying with Washington’s demands to decouple from Russia other than the fact the bloc lacks the political independence to say no to America. This observation confirms that identifying the key geopolitical trends of the emerging world order is crucial to predicting its most likely geo-economic contours. To this end, acknowledging the worldwide competition between the American and Chinese superpowers is the first step towards that goal.

The second entails becoming aware of Indian thinker Sanjaya Baru’s bi-multipolarity concept that the author of the present piece elaborated more about in his RIAC column from last December titled “The Neo-NAM: From Vision To Reality”. To summarize, Mr. Baru posited that this superpower competition will disproportionately shape the emerging world order but that the growing number of great powers below them in the international hierarchy will balance between themselves, the American and Chinese superpowers, and the comparatively medium- and smaller-sized countries at the bottom of this hierarchy in pursuit of maximizing their strategic autonomy.

Russia and India can play a unique role in this respect because their time-tested special and privileged comprehensive partnership coupled with their shared goal of complementarily maximizing their strategic autonomy in the present bi-multipolar intermediary phase of the global systemic transition to multipolarity enables them to jointly pursue the creation of a new Non-Aligned Movement (“Neo-NAM”). This proposed structure would serve the purpose of pioneering a third pole of influence and thus transitioning International Relations away from bi-multipolarity and towards tripolarity ahead of its final outcome of complex multipolarity.

The same author’s latest column in early June about how “India Is Irreplaceable Balancing Force In Global Systemic Transition” explained how Delhi decisively intervened after Moscow’s special operation to avert its partner’s potentially disproportionate dependence on Beijing by becoming its valve from Western and Eastern pressure, which in turn preserved Russia’s strategic autonomy under these new international conditions. While the global polarization over this conflict reduces the chances of the jointly led Russian-Indian Neo-NAM becoming a force to be reckoned with anytime soon, the trappings of a third pole of influence are already apparent between them and Iran.

Even so, this emerging triple pole of influence between Russia, India, and Iran is still a far way’s off from what the Neo-NAM entails though it could still provide proof of Mr. Baru’s prediction that Great Powers will multi-align between themselves to maximize their strategic autonomy vis-a-vis the American and Chinese superpowers. It is with this incipient trend in mind what is now unfolding in Eurasia as India would do well to attempt its replication in the Indo-Pacific region with respect to ASEAN. To explain the reason behind this policy proposal, it’s enough to cite the opening remarks of the Singaporean Foreign Minister during mid-June’s special ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting with India.

Mr. Vivian Balakrishnan declared that “The sharpening superpower rivalry between the US and China has direct implications for all of us in Asia. These developments, if left unchecked, can threaten the old system of peace and stability, which we have been dependent on for the basis of our growth, development, and prosperity over many decades.” Although he didn’t employ Mr. Baru’s bi-multipolarity terminology, his acknowledgment of America and China as superpowers very closely aligns with that Indian thinker’s worldview and thus provides the geostrategic basis upon which ASEAN and that South Asian civilization-state can build their future relations.

Just like India decisively intervened to avert its Russian Eurasian partner’s potentially disproportionate dependence on either the U.S. or Chinese superpowers in the newfound Age of Complexity that characterizes the present phase of the global systemic transition to multipolarity since COVID-19 and the onset of Moscow’s special operation, so too can it do the same with its ASEAN Indo-Pacific partner as well. After all, ASEAN just like Russia doesn’t want to be coerced into becoming either superpower’s junior partner even if some of its members independently decided that choosing one or the other is in their objective national interests. As a whole, the bloc’s interests are best served by remaining neutral.

Nevertheless, it’s being increasingly forced to choose between the U.S. and China, which is in turn reducing its strategic autonomy and risks fracturing this fulcrum of the Indo-Pacific region within which the full-spectrum paradigm changes associated with the Age of Complexity are rapidly converging. That outcome would destabilize this pivotal geo-economic space and lead to even more unpredictable consequences for the global systemic transition, perhaps even ultimately giving an edge to one of the superpowers and in turn endangering the grand strategic interests of Great Powers like Russia, India, and ASEAN (if one conceptualizes the bloc as whole as one like some do the EU).

For this reason, it is incumbent on India to do its utmost to avert that scenario by replicating its policy towards Russia in ASEAN in order to jointly create a third of pole influence in the Indo-Pacific exactly as it’s actively attempting to do in Eurasia. The simultaneous attempt to facilitate tripolarity in the two most dynamic regions of the Eastern Hemisphere can be described as dual-tripolarity and should become the guiding principle upon which India’s grand strategy be formulated throughout the Age of Complexity. Its success would revolutionize the global systemic transition by resulting in complex multipolarity after India midwifes the transition to dual-tripolarity from bi-multipolarity.

To explain it more simply, India is the only great power with a dual geostrategic identity in the sense that it sits within both Eurasia and the Indo-Pacific, meaning that nobody else other than this fiercely independent state has the capability to simultaneously lead tripolarity processes in its respective regions. Moreover, India enjoys excellent relations with Russia and ASEAN, sharing the desire to complementarily maximize their strategic autonomy in the present bi-multipolar intermediary phase of the global systemic transition to complex multipolarity that’s unfolding within the newfound Age of Complexity that emerged as a result of COVID-19 and Russia’s special operation.

Wrapping up this piece, all responsible stakeholders aspire to build a Multipolar World Order since the former system of unipolarity was unfair for the vast majority of humanity while the present bi-multipolar intermediary phase still doesn’t sufficiently meet the interests of most players. What’s needed is for International Relations to transition to tripolarity as soon as possible so that complex multipolarity can follow, after which the largest number of countries can have the greatest opportunities for safeguarding their strategic autonomy. India is uniquely positioned to bring this about and should thus prioritize it by considering the author’s grand strategic proposal of dual-tripolarity.

From our partner RIAC

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South Asia

Regime Change Operation Theory: Another Crack in Narratives

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“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”, is a cardinal of propaganda or a propaganda technique often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels. Psychologists somehow call it as the “illusion of truth” effect. This actually sums up what is happening today in Pakistan. From foreign conspiracy to the cracked narrative of now Regime Change Operation, all has been illusion or delusional. Historically, Regime change is an ancient and special kind of intervention, the kind of intervention President Bush had in mind for Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Since World War II, regime change is exclusively quoted as toppling an existing regime that displeases the Superpower. The regime change phenomenon has been brought in the public domain repeatedly in the world and maybe that is the inspiration for PTI as well. In 2016, when ICIJ leaked 11.5 million files of Panama paper, Russians called it as “CIA Operation against Vladimir Putin”, in Pakistan it was called as a “Foreign conspiracy against Nawaz Sharif with an involvement of Establishment” and today, Imran Khan and his team continue to peddle this flawed narrative of a Regime Change Operation in the public domain without giving an iotia of evidence. Hence, it has become equally important today to dissect the difference of regime change in Pakistan and a constitutional No confidence motion. 

To begin this dissection, let us first analyze the capacity of CIA. Does CIA really have the capacity to contact, persuade and in other terms recruit 172 constitutionally elected MNAs along with 22 angry MNAs of the ruling party for a “Regime Change Operation”. You will be surprised to know this absurd logic by PTI that CIA has today recruited Jahangir Khan Tareen, Abdul Aleem Khan, Nadeem Afzal Chan and Yar Muhammad Rind?

Consider the amount of stakes United States has in the World Bank. It has a total of 2,925,790 votes. But if the US was planning a regime change operation in March 2022, why would the World bank disburse an amount of $529 million in February 2022. At the IMF, US has 831,401 votes. If the CIA was planning a ‘regime change’ in March 2022 why would the IMF which has so much of the US influence, distribute $1.053 billion in February 2022? On February 4, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) received $1.053 tranche of its three-year, $6 billion IMF loans. At the Asian Development Bank, the United States has subscribed 15.5% of the total capital and controls 12.75% of the votes. If again CIA was planning a ‘regime change operation’ in March 2022 why would the ADB disburse $461 million in February 2022? If United States was conspiring a regime change operation inside Pakistan, why was a US official invited to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation conference in Islamabad on March 21?

Imran Khan’s regime change theory has a huge evidence gap. Since he claims that there is a proof of contacts between Pakistani members of Parliaments and Americans, why has no evidence been revealed? Can he give some other evidence to prove his regime change operation mantra? Only one more evidence, which he claims to be a threatening letter but that too was busted by the National Security Committee, highest forum of the country. Khan claims that the no-confidence vote was a plot by the United States to avenge his defiant trip to Moscow. But the Joint opposition has been thinking about and preparing for the no-confidence move for months. Even towards the end of last year, it was widely known that the opposition intended to make such a move. The no confidence vote had been anticipated for a long time before it was moved, so the fact that it happened only after the trip to Moscow does not imply that it was triggered by it.

Whatever happened in Pakistan is not a CIA driven regime change operation but in fact it is a constitutionally driven legal process of Vote of No Confidence. All relevant stakeholders of the country are on the same page that there was no Regime Change Operation. No such evidence has been found by Intelligence agencies of the country. However, Khan still believes on it. Is it an illusion or a reality? 

But remember the propaganda technique “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth” and may be PTI believes the same while it continues to mislead the public to mint its political dividend.

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Bulldozing Dissent in India

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State brutality and hostility have emerged as the defining factors in BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party)  policy toward Indian Muslims. From mob lynching and punishment on beef consumption to imposing a ban on the ‘hijab’ in universities, BJP continues to find novel ways and means to target Muslim society and enforce the concept of Hindu supremacy in India. While deliberate marginalisation of Indian Muslims is not new and remains an important part of India’s policy towards its minorities, the intensity of this campaign is soaring with every passing day. 

Recently, two senior BJP members made disparaging remarks against the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), brushing aside the sentiments of the state’s largest minority. The comments drew criticism from around the world, creating a diplomatic row for India.While PM Modi decided to remain silent on the issue, the concerned BJP members had to be suspended from the party given the intense backlash from several countries, especially the Gulf states.

On the other hand, the remarks also sparked a wave of anger in the Indian Muslim communities, who registered their grievances by holding protests on the streets in various parts of the state.  However, to deal with its own citizens, India resorted to using force and refused to let the Muslims protest peacefully, depriving them of their fundamental democratic rights. Amidst the demonstrations after Friday prayers, clashes between protesters and police broke out in several parts, the most notable one occurred in Uttar Pradesh (UP). Two teenagers lost their lives, and several were injured. The Indian police also arrested approximately 300 individuals taking part in the protests.  

The most concerning event that followed afterwards was bulldozing the houses of Muslim activists who were either present at the demonstrations or were apparently the organisers. The demolitions were justified on the pretext that they were illegal establishments. In reality, these criminal activities were done on the behest of the Chief Minister of UP, Yogi Adityanath, who is an ardent RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) follower – the most projected political figure in BJP (after Narendra Modi) and a torchbearer of Hindutva politics.  

It has been observed that the frequency of the use of bulldozers to demolish personal property is increasing in Muslim-majority areas in India. CM Adityanath himself is considered the pioneer and advocate of this ‘bulldozer strategy’, which is now frequently being executed throughout India by other BJP leaders. His ardency with the idea of demolishing Muslim houses can be sensed from the fact that bulldozers are displayed at BJP rallies to demonstrate them as a symbol of state power. Mrityunjay Kumar,  Adityanath’s media advisor later tweeted a photo of a bulldozer with the caption, ‘Remember, every Friday is followed by a Saturday,’ which conveys the government’s unapologetic stance on its actions and the intent to use such equipment without hesitation. 

Whats worse, the state machinery deliberately orchestrates the scenes of Muslim houses being turned to rubble to instil a fearful impact. Its purpose is to deter the Muslim communities from protesting against the ‘saffronized’ state. Such images are meant to signal that the state will not tolerate such kind of opposition in the BJP-led India and will not hesitate to exercise the use of force against such segments. The prime objective is to bulldoze their courage to stand against oppression in the future. 

Another way to look at this violence is the long-term dynamics of Indian politics. While it is apparent that Narendra Modi will contest the next Indian elections for BJP, it is fairly evident that an alternative leadership is preparing to succeed him in the future. The potential candidates are replicating his past machinations to strengthen their personal and political statures. Akin to Modi’s Gujarat massacre, his party members are recreating events that can bear similar impacts in order to emerge as radical leaders in accordance with BJP’s vision.  This includes intense and targeted verbal and physical attacks on Muslims. Hence, the use of force against Muslims will likely be a prominent factor for capitalising on the majoritarian Hindu vote bank.  

Lack of accountability, persistent silence of key leadership and the embedded political objectives are fanning dangerous flames in an already fraught environment for Muslims in India. The repressive attitude toward Indian Muslims has now been institutionalised at the state level and suggests that life will only worsen for them. India’s belligerent policy and confrontational actions will fuel further divisions in a society that has become extremely polarised along religious lines. Political interests are overshadowing national interests and the trend is likely to continue.

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