In between the Congress crediting Rahul Gandhi for predicting the Covid-19 pandemic well before a spike in infections and the Trinamool objecting to the amendment to the epidemic legislation saying it gives unqualified power to the Centre to meddle into state issues, the upper house passed the Epidemic Diseases Amendment Bill, 2020 on Saturday.
The Centre also gave a peek into a new legislation that it is working on.Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan informed the House that the government is working on a National Public Health Act for the past few years and it will be brought to the House.
The legislation is tipped to address the deficiencies of the NDMA Act and Epidemic Diseases Amendment Bill. “All issues not included under the Epidemic Act or National Disaster Management Act will be included in the Public Health Act,” he said.
Earlier, while introducing the bill, Vardhan said that there was a need for legislation at the central level so that there is a prohibitory mechanism to put an end to attacks and insults on healthcare workers.
But Congress didn’t lose time to talk about Rahul Gandhi’s warning. Neeraj Dangi said that the Centre did not take it seriously irrespective of that. While making a political statement, he said, “While Rahul Gandhi warned, the Centre was busy breaking state governments. They were successful in M.P., but not in Rajasthan.”
Dangi also alleged that the Centre used Covid as an “excuse to gloss over economic losses due to demonetisation and GST”. He added, 80 lakh people were forced to withdraw their EPF contributions.
BJP’s Saroj Pandey staunchly defended the government. She stressed that the ordinance was brought out because of the attacks on healthcare professionals, in the first place, thwarting Congress’s volley of political accusations. “We showered flowers on them, the healthcare workers couldn’t even meet their families for months as they wanted to protect them from infection,” Pandey added.
But Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien expressed the apprehension that it would give unqualified power in the hands of the Centre to meddle in what he calls state affairs. “The Bill is an attempt to encroach states’ constitutionally assigned functioning,” he said.
Meanwhile, Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal Yadav focused on alleged scams in buying PPE kits etc while claiming the Bill lacks any provision to punish such offenders. Yadav also asked for strict provisions for Covid medicines being sold at exorbitant prices. Yadav also demanded private hospitals be reined in for overcharging patients in this “extarordinary situation”. Interestingly, he argued for financial assistance for families of single bread earners who died owing to Covid-19.
DMK’s M. Shanmugam asked, “What actions are you going to take against contractors who brought migrant labourers to towns and left them there to die? Labourers simply cannot be treated as a commodity.”
RJD’s Manoj Jha raised the issue of ‘single source’ issue in a veiled reference to the Jamaat congregation at Delhi’s Nizamuddin area which created a Covid cluster and hence drew widespread ire for that. “Do recall what was being played on TV channels in the month of April and May? We were fighting against our own people – a cart puller was attacked. We are not fighting the disease, but our own,” Jha said.
Interestingly, Congress’s Anand Sharma supported the amendment but called for greater consultation with states so that a more “comprehensive” amendment can be brought.