Limitations of the Disaster Management Act 2005 and Epidemic Disease Act 1897

Written by Aadarsh Kumar Shrivastava

Final Year student, BA. LLB. Government New Law College, Indore, Madhya Pradesh

Source: The New Indian Express

Disclaimer: Please note that the views expressed below represent the opinions of the article's author. The following does not necessarily represent the views of Law & Order.

Introduction The Epidemic Diseases Act 1897[1] is codified legislation with respect to the prevention of Epidemics, pandemics, and emerging health diseases. This act provides authority to the State and Central Governments in order to adopt different measures and to take steps in order to protect and for prevention of outbreak of dangerous health diseases. Similarly, the Disaster Management Act enacted in December 2005, is a comprehensive law for the management of sudden outbreaks of disasters and health challenges. It provides a comprehensive and administrative system for disaster preparedness. Both acts are made for the security of state from health emergencies, so any violation of their provision is punishable under Indian Penal laws.

The Epidemic Diseases Act enumerates the provisions for government machineries to speedily set up management systems required for reposeful and concerted response. The integrated use of these two acts is an innovative and a more extensive way to deal with such pandemic situations and sudden health emergencies.

The need for the diseases and Pandemic Control Acts

India has witnessed many large outbreaks of emerging and re-emerging infectious and dangerous diseases in history. The raging of the cholera epidemic in 1992, then pandemic of pneumonic plague in 1994, after that the spread of H1N1, H5N1, Chikungunya & dengue, etc. which caused widespread havoc. The revival of diphtheria; and the outbreaks caused by the deadly diseases Nipah and Japanese encephalitis viruses and Crimean–Congo hemorrhagic fever also caused a great threat to public health. The emergence of such epidemics is a matter of grave concern for the state machinery. Diseases with the potential for international spread, such as Ebola virus disease and the Zika virus, also posed threats to the public health security of India.

So there is a dire need for proper legal frameworks to tackle emergency situations and pandemics. It is also important for creating awareness among the citizens by providing them with duties and rights during these unprecedented times. The current statutes and laws safeguard the officials in times of pandemic and allow them to formulate and implement guidelines to curtail the spread as well as handle the panic and chaos in the public. The government and officials can find people or send them for imprisonment for the violation of rules to deal with the outbreak of a pandemic.

The emergence of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and Disaster Management Act, 2005

The Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 was enacted to control the bubonic plague epidemic in Bombay with tough measures to prevent the crowds from gathering in 1896. The said Act was recently amended by an ordinance passed by the Central government in 2020, due to the urgent need to control and eradicate the emerging health disease COVID-19 which has taken the form of a global pandemic. The Disaster Management Act 2005[2] was enforced for the effective management of disasters and epidemics connected or incidental thereto. This act provides for a three-tier Disaster Management structure in the country at different levels i.e. National, State, and District along with different management funds such as NDMA, SDMA, NEC, NDRF, NIDM were established under the said Act.

Are these Acts adequate enough to control and manage a pandemic/health emergency?

The Epidemic Diseases Act is not only outdated but also a mere regulatory Act in nature. SIt is not good enough for controlling sudden pandemics and lacks a specific public health focus.[3] It also doesn’t enumerate the duties of the state machinery for the prevention and control of epidemics. The Act lays down the different powers of the government but is silent on the rights of citizens during epidemics. This act doesn’t have any of the methods for taking people’s interest into consideration such as their needs, values, desires, lifestyles, social circumstances during the time of the pandemic. This act is silent on the issues of human rights and ethical aspects such as governments jeopardizing its citizens’ personal data to keep a track of the spread of the virus. Although, it is believed that privacy and liberty should be respected to the greatest possible extent and at all times, even during the pandemic. This act seems to be a guiding document instead of setting out clear executive mandates. It does not provide the ways and steps that the government needs to take or to work on for preventing the spread of disease.

In 1999, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution i.e. the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), and created the Secretariat of the ISDR (UNISDR) with the objective of ensuring its implementation. The Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, 2011[4], of the ISDR indicates that a majority of the existing legislation on disaster management was drafted or reformed from the mid-1990s onwards. In other words, the UNIDNDR (1990-1999) and the subsequent ISDR (from 2000 onwards) played an important role in accelerating the process of enactment of disaster management legislations. According to the above report, by 2011, 48 countries reported substantial achievements in developing a national policy and legislation on disaster management.

In the Indian context, some form of the legal framework was introduced during the late 1870s when the first Famine Commission suggested the formulation of Famine Codes. After the Independence of India, a Scarcity Relief Division was set up in the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, to deal with the problem of food scarcity.[5] Subsequently, it was assigned work relating to various natural calamities. At a later stage, its nomenclature was changed to the Natural Disaster Management (NDM) Division. Thus the Ministry of Agriculture became the nodal Ministry for disaster management at the national level. In 1995, the National Centre for Disaster Management (NCDM) was established within the Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA) & later on the disaster management act came into force in 2005 with the setup of National Disaster Management Authority which is the highest authority to lay down the plans, principles, and guidelines to tackle the disasters on time.[6]

Acts are not enough for protection, prevention and management of health pandemics and emergencies because these are the regulatory bodies and are not effective enough without the help of Indian Penal code u/s 188, 269, 270, 271 and u/s 144 Cr.P.C. as for the ethical aspects of a national epidemic law i.e. the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, it is important to maintain and provide equitable access to healthcare to all the strata of society. The Disaster Management Act was in question regarding the role of the National Disaster Management Authority during the Uttarakhand Floods of 2013, whereby the National Disaster Management Authority failed in detecting and informing the people about the approaching danger of the floods and landslides. The post-disaster relief response by the National Disaster Management Authority was also poor.[7]

Along with the shortcomings of the act, the management i.e. National Disaster Response Force members are also not properly trained and the equipment, facilities and residential accommodation to tackle the crisis situation are also not sufficient and good enough.

Furthermore, the act is silent on the issue of misuse of funds for disaster and epidemic management. Audit findings reveal that almost every state has misutilised the funds given for expenditures for coping up from emergency situations. In an article, ‘Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, India: Whether sufficient to address the current challenge? Binod K Patro, Jaya Pd Tripathy, Rashmi Kashyap stated that- “Without a comprehensive public health act we are dependent upon old, blunt instruments like Epidemic Act 1897 which is non-functional in itself.”[8]

The Epidemic Diseases Act lays emphasis on isolations and quarantines in order to stop the spread of diseases, but remains silent on scientific methods and processes of outbreak prevention and control, such as vaccination, surveillance and organized public health response, etc. It is a catastrophe in itself that the Epidemic Diseases Act has remained in the books for 123 years without a single amendment.

With the advent of emerging and re-emerging dangerous diseases and health problems, legal frameworks need to be developed in a comprehensive manner so as to cover various fields of protecting public health such as isolation, quarantine and tracking infected and suspected persons, valid and lawful restrictions over traveling and mass gatherings and force closure of institutions and public places and the most important provision for compulsory vaccination provided by the government.

The Epidemic Diseases Act vis-a-vis COVID-19 pandemic

Most of the states including Maharashtra, Gujarat, Assam, Punjab, and Delhi have already issued the notifications regarding the implementation of the Epidemic Act in order to curb the global pandemic COVID-19. These states have not been able to control COVID-19 even after imposing certain restrictions under this Act and like other states and countries, they are also struggling with the growing pandemic as there are no specific guidelines for the prevention and protection from the pandemic and no scientific methods for State Governments to act in a prescribed manner for the protection of public health at the time of crises. This Act is even older than the organizations like WHO and the UN, so it lags behind in implementing the guidelines issued by these organizations. In India, there are several legislations for the protection and management of public health such as the Vaccination Act 1880[9], the Protection of Human Rights Act 1993[10], the Essential Commodity Act 1955[11], etc. which are not addressed under single enactment and may cause non-uniformity due to which it is of utmost importance today that laws for epidemics should be unified and amendments are brought in the existing century-old law in order to be prepared in fighting sudden epidemics such as the novel Coronavirus.

Major Limitations of these Acts at a glance [12]

1. First, the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 fails to define important terms such as “dangerous”, “infectious”, or “contagious diseases” etc thus creating confusion and lacunas in the implementation of the law.

2. The Disaster Management Act only works for the sudden calamities and there is no scope of management related to the outbreak of diseases.

3. Second, The Acts does not contain any provision for the circulation of drugs/vaccines, quarantine measures, and other preventive steps that need to be taken by the authorities in these unprecedented circumstances.

4. Third, there is no mention of the underlying delineation of the fundamental principles of human rights that need to be observed during the implementation of emergency measures in times of an epidemic.

5. The Act lays down the powers of the central and state machinery during the epidemic but does not emphasize the rights of the citizens and the government’s duties in preventing and controlling the epidemic.


The invoking of these acts has maintained the balance of work between state and union as there is direct coordination between the two in order to undertake various measures and directions to control the spread of the source of such outbreaks leading to a pandemic. But the Epidemic Act is not sufficiently capable to deal and for resolving the threat of COVID-19. Implementation of such an act reveals the expected inertia and lack of accountability of government officials in providing modern and innovative solutions and policies to cope with the epidemic.

Thus, there is a need for integrated and updated health laws for the nation as well as guidelines governing the Centre and State and citizens of the State to cope with these chaotic and unusual situations.

[1] The epidemic diseases act 1897- [2] the disaster management act 2005-,%202005.pdf [3]India needs a new epidemic control and management law- [4] Report of United Nations office for disaster risk reduction- [5]Report of the taskforce of disaster management of ministry of home affairs Govt of [6] Report of the taskforce of disaster management of ministry of home affairs Govt of India- [7] The Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897: public health relevance in the current scenario [8] Reference to an article, ‘Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, India: Whether sufficient to address the current challenge?’;year=2013;volume=18;issue=2;spage=109;epage=111;aulast=Patro [9] the vaccination act 1880 - [10] the protection of human rights act 1993- [11] the essential commodity act 1955- [12] Reference article of Epidemic diseases act 1897, India: Whether sufficient to address the current challenges?;year=2013;volume=18;issue=2;spage=109;epage=111;aulast=Patro Bibliography Articles

1. Binod K Patro, Jaya Pd Tripathy, Rashmi Kashyap, Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, India: Whether sufficient to address the current challenge?-;year=2013;volume=18;issue=2;spage=109;epage=111;aulast=Patro

2. Rakesh PS, The Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897: public health relevance in the current scenario

3. Amar Patnaik and Nikhil Pratap, India needs a new epidemic control and management law-


1. Report of United Nations office for disaster risk reduction-

2. Report of the taskforce of disaster management of ministry of home affairs Govt of India


1. The epidemic diseases act 1897-

2. The disaster management act 2005-,%202005.pdf

3. The vaccination act 1880 -

4. The essential commodity act 1955-

5. Indian penal code 1860 -

6. Criminal procedure code 1973-

7. The protection of human rights act 1993-