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House panel to explore modernisation of legislation used to fight pandemic

The panel asked the government to furnish details about the number of shelters set up for migrants and the number of people accommodated, it was learnt.

Written by Liz Mathew , Manoj C G | New Delhi |
July 16, 2020 1:38:36 am
Protocol for Parliamentary panel meetings: 6-foot distance, only 2 witnesses at a time Though the content will largely be the same, LSTV will have Hindi programming while RSTV will be in English. (File)

With the central government having invoked the Disaster Management Act and Epidemic Diseases Act to fight the coronavirus pandemic, a parliamentary panel on Wednesday asked the government to see if there is any overlap between the two laws and decided to explore ways to make them futuristic, it was learnt.

The Standing Committee on Home Affairs chaired by Congress leader Anand Sharma, which met for the first time since the lockdown began in March, also observed that a national database of migrant workers and labour should be prepared immediately so that they are not left out of government benefits wherever they are. A similar arrangement for the urban poor was also talked about.

The panel asked the government to furnish details about the number of shelters set up for migrants and the number of people accommodated, it was learnt.

On the overlap of laws, the panel asked Home Ministry officials to get back to them on the provisions in both laws that need revisiting. “The members wanted to see if there is a need to correlate the two Acts. They also want to explore the possibilities of strengthening provisions in the laws that enable the government to fight a pandemic situation and make them futuristic,” said a source familiar with the developments.

The MHA invoked the Disaster Management Act in March to delegate powers to the Union Home Secretary to enhance preparedness and for containment of the virus. The Epidemic Diseases Act — a 123-year-old law aimed at “providing for better prevention of the spread of Dangerous Epidemic Diseases” — was used by the Centre to advise all states to restrict international and domestic travel to and from India. It also empowers state governments to prescribe regulations with respect to any person or group of people to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Wednesday’s meeting was cordial and members appreciated the steps taken by the government to contain the virus, it was learnt.

The committee called for drugs for Covid-19 treatment to be easily available and affordable, it was learnt. Some MPs raised the issues of black marketing of such drugs, “unaffordable” packages at private hospitals and personal health insurance cover not being extended to corona patients. Health Ministry officials said that IRDA has been asked to issue directions to extend personal insurance to corona patients.

Officials including Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla and Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal appeared before the panel.

The agenda of the meeting, according to the Rajya Sabha website, was “Management of the Covid-19 pandemic and coordination with state governments, phased unlocking, resumption of economic activities, inter-state movement of people and goods and state of preparedness”.

The meeting was scheduled in June, but it was cancelled as many MPs had expressed their inability to be present in the national capital due to the Covid-19 situation.

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