No room for hostility against healthcare and civic workers.
Reports of violence against, and harassment of, healthcare professionals—doctors, ASHA workers, etc—and civic officials by the public amidst a raging pandemic, when their services assume much greater importance, is not just unconscionable, but criminal as well. Whether or not the provisions of the draconian NSA could be invoked for such acts is debatable—as per multiple news reports, the Uttar Pradesh government has charged some Covid-19-positive Tablighi Jamaat members for alleged harassment of doctors and nurses at an isolation facility in the state—but there can be no doubt that such behaviour needs to be punished in a manner that can prove a deterrent.
The Madhya Pradesh government has booked seven individuals for a mob attack on healthcare workers and civic workers who were visiting a locality in Indore to screen residents for Covid-19. Pelted with stones, two female doctors were left injured. This is not the only such incident of hostility against healthcare professionals. There have been reports of healthcare professionals being attacked and threatened in Hyderabad, Telangana, and Surat, Gujarat. There have been complaints by doctors and nurses, as well as airlines personnel and foreign nationals, of eviction attempts by landlords. Things have come to such a pass that the prime minister has had to urge citizens, in a televised address, not to mistreat medical professionals.
A crisis can be weathered better if members of the public act in a responsible manner, with full understanding of their individual and shared duties, and help keep essential services functioning to the maximum potential. Attacks on those in the healthcare sector, civic workers, etc, could gravely endanger optimal functioning of critical services, leading to chinks in the Covid-19 response. To that end, home secretary Ajay Bhalla writing to the chief secretaries of the states, asking them to strictly enforce the lockdown and book individuals under relevant sections of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and the Indian Penal Code for violating lockdown codes, could serve to deter people.
Under the Disaster Management Act, anyone obstructing a government authorised person from discharging her duties could face imprisonment upto one year, or a fine, or both. While a fine may prove sufficiently punitive for some, it would be the threat of imprisonment that should prove the real deterrent. Section 188 of the IPC deals with the disobedience of an order promulgated by a public authority, with a provision for imprisonment up to six months if such disobedience causes or tends to cause danger to human life, safety, or health, among others. Under this provision, the knowledge that such disobedience is likely to cause harm is enough to book someone, even when there is no intention to cause harm. Given that the Covid-19 threat not only poses a serious public health danger but also brings with it considerable adverse impact on the country’s economic well-being, there should be no sparing the rod for those who deliberately add to the risks.