Pandemic impact: House panel calls for database on migrant workers

Committee wants overhaul of archaic Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897

December 19, 2020 09:06 pm | Updated 09:06 pm IST - New Delhi

Migrants in A.P. on their way to their home States, earlier this year.

Migrants in A.P. on their way to their home States, earlier this year.

A national database of migrant workers should be collated at the earliest to ensure that if there is ever a repeat of a COVID-19-like pandemic, the relief measures should reach the intended beneficiaries, the Standing Committee on Home Affairs has noted in its report. The committee also recommended an urgent review of the 123-year-old Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, which predates even the Spanish Flu of 1918.

The committee headed by senior Congress leader Anand Sharma unanimously adopted the report “Management of COVID-19 pandemic and related issues” at a meeting on Friday.

The committee noted that during the extended lockdown, the task of identifying the location and disbursing relief measures to the migrant workers became very difficult as the central government did not have any data of the migrant workers.

Comprehensive numbers

“The committee appreciates the efforts made by the government to extend various relief measures to the vulnerable sections of the society. However, in the absence of a comprehensive national database, it is difficult to extend the relief measures by the government to the intended beneficiaries,” the committee report said. The database, as per the committee should have details of the source State, the destination State, skill set of the worker and other contact details.

Many members at Friday’s meeting noted that this pandemic might not be the last one to hit the country and the government should not depend on international trends to tackle it. The Disaster Management Act, 2005, and the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 — the two guiding laws during the pandemic — are insufficient, the committee has said.

The Home Ministry is already reviewing the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. The committee has recommended that a similar effort needs to be made for the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.

Ancient provisions

“The Committee observes that the provisions of the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897, have helped in managing the COVID-19 but this Act is outdated as it was framed in the colonial era which was even well before the Spanish flu of 1918. Therefore, the committee recommends that the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, should be revisited updated and amended so that it is fully equipped to respond to the challenges posed by the an anticipated onset of the pandemic in the future,” the report notes.

The colonial government had introduced the Act to tackle the bubonic plague of 1890 that had spread in the erstwhile Bombay Presidency. Using powers conferred by the Act, colonial authorities would search for suspected plague cases in homes and among passengers, with forcible segregations, evacuations, and demolitions of infected places. The Act empowers the State governments to take such measures and prescribe temporary regulations as may be required to control an epidemic disease. This law enabled the government to issue directions to isolate and quarantine the affected persons.

Committee, while lauding the government for taking several steps to screen passengers coming from abroad into India ahead of other nations, said that the incoming international passengers who entered throughout March 2020 were screened only for high temperature and there was no testing facility established at the airport.

“Thus, asymptomatic patients as also those who travel after taking medicines for controlling temperature could not be diagnosed at the time when they could practically be the only source of infections of COVID-19 in the country,” the report said.

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