Rajya Sabha

September 19, 2020

Derek O’Brien speaks on The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020

Derek O’Brien speaks on The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020


Thank you Sir.

Whenever any legislation or ordinance comes here, I always tell myself, we always tell ourselves, that we need to look at it against a certain backdrop. What is this backdrop? The backdrop is that in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP government, led by Narendra Modi, had won 303 seats, with a 37 per cent percent vote share. We remember that. At the same time I would request this government to also remember that the States of Bengal, Punjab, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Rajasthan rejected you. The Chief Ministers there are elected to run their States. You cannot cross the constitutional bar. You do your work, let them do their work. They too are elected Chief Ministers. This is E Bill we are passing, the Epidemic Diseases Bill; in 1975, there was another ‘E’ that somebody tried to cross, and then you know what happened.

Sir, there are sinister provisions also in this Bill. Of course we want to take care of healthcare workers; who doesn’t want to? You thought about it in 2020. My State, Bengal, has the West Bengal Medicare Service (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act. This Bill is from 2009. What happens to this Bill? You are poking your nose into my State yet you are not elected there.

Look at the amendment in section 2A. Look at the original Bill. Now, the Bill says you can search without any reason. It gives unqualified power to the Central Government. The Bill says the Centre may prescribe regulations for the inspection of any bus or train or goods vehicle or ship or vessel or aircraft, arriving at or leaving any land port, port or aerodrome, and for detention of any person intending to travel or arriving thereby. This is an attempt to encroach on the constitutionally assigned functions of the states. Don’t use the excuse of the epidemic, don’t.

Sir, take a look at the imposition of the fines. Yes, you can impose fines. We have the Bill already, but what are you trying to do? The States must be authorised to take the decisions at the level of the State—Rs 7 lakh fine, five years, etc.—you cannot take the right away.

The BJP is now telling us ‘no politics’. Of Course we also don’t want politics. That’s why we haven’t given any amendments. In the true spirit of ‘no politics’, I am not moving any amendments. I am only going to give the government some suggestions. Let it listen to these suggestions and see whether they make any sense or no sense.

Bengal has the Clinical Establishment Regulatory Commission, headed by a retired High Court judge. It was established in 2017. It has capped private hospitals from overcharging patients, including for all tests. Why didn’t you consider this?

Then there is health insurance.You have health insurance, but our health insurance in Bengal is worth Rs 10 lakh per person. Your health insurance covers only  healthcare workers, ward boys, ward girls, etc. Okay, good. But what about the allied workers? In Bengal, the allied workers are also covered. The police, courier service workers and journalists are covered as well.

Another suggestion, this being about psychological stress. The mental health of doctors and healthcare workers is not covered in this Bill. Take our suggestion and make it a part of the rules.

Sir, the Centre is paying 60 per cent for all the schemes.  States  are paying 40% for all the schemes. But when it comes to taking the credit, the Centre wants to take all the credit.

Take Ayushman Bharat, for example. You thought of Ayushman Bharat,very good. After all, imitation is the best form of flattery. Bengal did Ayushman Bharat two years before you. Its features include: Fully cashless; paperless; card is not in the name of the man but the woman of the household; includes the wife’s parents; can be used for private hospitals; can be used outside too.

What I hear from the BJP is that we did this first, we did that first. But please look at the States too, and not just Bengal; look at everyone. The only time you become interested in a State is when you want to manufacture a majority. You manufactured a majority in Madhya Pradesh and you got excited; the same for Karnataka and Manipur—you got excited. And of course today, one of your loyal State allies told you to take a walk, but that is another story.

Sir, the Centre cannot impose its will on the States. It is constitutionally wrong. We will have a debate next week on GST and we will tell you about it.

Sir, in conclusion, since we are talking a lot about the British, about 1897 (when The Epidemic Diseases Act was first enacted). There are only three parliamentary democracies in the world where ordinance raj is still possible— India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. So, the emergency ordinance route is dangerous.

I want to end with something very interesting. Before joining politics, I used to do quizzing for my livelihood. Where do these ordinances actually come from? It’s interesting. They come from The Government of India Act, 1935. That’s the root of all these ordinances. And why? Because the viceroy could pass anything he wanted at any point. The viceroy and that attitude is gone, but the attitude of arrogance still remains with this BJP government.

Thank you, Sir.