THE third wave of Covid-19 pandemic across the country has forced federal and provincial governments to adopt stringent measures including lockdown. For taking action against violators of restrictions placed by the government, different laws have assumed importance and have often been invoked by the administration.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a mix of old and new laws have been utilised by the provincial government and district administration to tackle the pandemic.
Among the new laws, the most important one is Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Epidemic Control and Emergency Relief Act, 2020, which was passed by the provincial assembly on July 17, 2020. This law was first introduced in form of an ordinance in May 2020.
Through this Act, seven categories of designated officers have been empowered to perform different functions under the law. These designated officers include home secretary, health secretary, elementary and secondary education secretary, director general health services, commissioner of a division, deputy commissioners and officers of district administration.
The provincial health secretary has been empowered to issue a notification, with approval of chief minister, to declare a serious and imminent infectious threat to public health in the whole or part of the province.
The Act, which is having overriding effect over any other law presently in practice in the province, also provides relief to students initially for a period of three months by introducing categories in fee concession. An educational institution charging monthly fee of more than Rs6,000 shall not charge from its students more than 80 per cent of total monthly fee whereas institutions charging up to Rs6,000 fee shall not charge more than 90 per cent of the total monthly fee.
Moreover, no educational institution shall give effect to annual increase in monthly fee during the period of relief.
The law defines potentially infectious person (PIP) as a person, who is suspected to be infected or contaminated with an infectious disease; or, is a risk that such person might spread, infect or contaminate other persons with an infectious disease; or, has arrived from or through an area affected by an infectious disease within 14 days or such other period as specified by the health secretary.
The law empowers director general health services to assign duty to all registered medical practitioners and health facilities in an area to record, communicate and treat cases of infection or contamination; or impose one or more restrictions or requirements on or in relation to persons, things or premises asking them to undergo specific medical examination, be disinfected; wear specified protective clothing; abstain from working or trading; etc.
Moreover, a designated officer may for a specified period impose a specific or general restriction or requirement relating to the handling, transport, burial or cremation of dead bodies or the handling, transport or disposal of human remains; impose conditions for attending public places, etc.
The Act further empowers a designated officer to place certain restrictions in relation to holding of an event or gathering for a specified period. The officer can also issue directions for imposing different restrictions in relation to entry into, exit from a location of certain persons or premises for a specified period. He or she can also order closing or sealing of premises.
A designated officer, a notified medical officer or a police officer may give instructions to a person under the ordinance and can retain the person at a place under the law. A police officer is also empowered to use reasonable force in exercise of powers conferred under the ordinance.
A person guilty of first offence under specific provisions of the law shall be punished with imprisonment up to two months or a fine up to Rs50,000, whereas for a repeated offence he or she shall be punished up to six months or fined up to Rs100,000.
Moreover, if a person runs away or attempts to run away, while being moved to or kept at a place on order of notified medical officer, he shall be arrested and kept in a forced quarantine and he may also be liable to fine up to Rs50,000.
All offences shall be tried summarily by magistrates of first class or special magistrates appointed under section 14A of Code of Criminal Procedure.
Apart from this Act, the existing laws invoked for tackling Covid-19 pandemic include National Disaster Management Authority Act, 2010; KP Public Health (Surveillance and Response) Act, 2017; Code of Criminal Procedure specially its section 144; Pakistan Penal Code and Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance.
The NDMA Act, 2010 deals with both natural and manmade disasters.
That law defines a disaster as “a catastrophe, or a calamity in an affected area, arising from natural or man-made causes, or by accident which results in a substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of, property.”
The law provides for setting up of a National Disaster Management Authority on central level and that of provincial authorities in each of the provinces. These authorities have to perform specific functions provided in the law.
The provincial assembly had passed National Disaster Management (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) (Amendment) Act, 2019, on August 28, 2019.
Through the amendment the provincial government inserted a new section 16 (A) in the law related to declaration of emergency.
Moreover, in Oct 2017, the KP Public Health (Surveillance and Response) Act, 2017, was introduced through which The West Pakistan Epidemic Disease Act, 1958, was repealed to the extent of KP. This law provides for establishing KP Public Health Committee under the chairmanship of provincial health minister with the director public health as its secretary.
Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2021