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Law Commission of India Advocates Decentralization of Powers to Enhance Pandemic Preparedness

By - King Stubb & Kasiva on March 9, 2024


Retired Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi guides the Law Commission of India into a proactive stance, submitting Report No. 286 to the Government under his supervision; this report is titled "A Comprehensive Review of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897".[1] This extensive report illuminates challenges presented by unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and our current health-related legal framework's limitations: a landmark endeavor in addressing these issues at hand. The commission emphasizes the necessity for a more comprehensive law: one that enables a coordinated response to imminent health emergencies.[2]

Historical Context:

In response to the World Health Organization's declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic as a global public health emergency, the Indian government took decisive action by invoking two significant legislations—the Epidemic Diseases Act of 1897[3] and the Disaster Management Act of 2005. This immediate response, which featured a nationwide lockdown, unveiled crucial gaps in current legislation. Specifically, dating back to colonial times, The Law Commission underscores that modern health crises do not receive comprehensive addressing provisions within The Epidemic Diseases Act. The commission argues: the current legal framework necessitates either substantial amendments or more significantly, the enactment of fresh, far-reaching legislation.[4]

Limitations of the Epidemic Diseases Act:

The report highlights: the EDA's limitations – it declares that a century-old law should not confine epidemic disease management, particularly within our current context of globalization and heightened connectivity. As for the EDA itself; its colonial origins render it vulnerable to possible misuse because modern challenges were not part of its design considerations.

Recommendations for Reform:

The 22nd Law Commission has undertaken a proactive examination of the current legal framework and concluded that a more comprehensive law is imperative to effectively handle future health emergencies. The panel suggests defining stages of diseases, differentiating between outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics. This nuanced approach ensures a more tailored and flexible response. Furthermore, the commission advocates for a flexible enforcement mechanism that evolves based on the stage of disease spread. The recommendations stress the need for enhanced punishment for individuals acting irresponsibly during epidemics, aiming to serve as a deterrent.[5]

Creation of an Epidemic Plan:

The Law Commission advocates for a proactive approach: the Central government should spearhead the creation of an Epidemic Plan. Essential to its formulation is collaboration notably with state governments, pertinent ministries, private health institutions; expert bodies and other stakeholders are also key contributors. Regular revision and enforcement of The Epidemic Plan become imperative; it must encompass provisions on quarantine, the cornerstone in preventing contagion, isolation measures, lockdown protocols–all necessary tools to combat potential outbreaks–and additional preventive steps. It must importantly: adhere to privacy-friendly disease surveillance; regulate the distribution of medical supplies, a crucial task in ensuring public health is adequately protected, and guarantee proper information dissemination.

Standard Operating Procedure:

The Law Commission proposes the creation of a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to actively enforce the Epidemic Plan, mitigating potential conflicts. This procedure delineates three stages in the spread of infectious diseases and prescribes specific responses for each stage. Empowering states, during this first phase, involves implementing "sufficient measures" that align with the Epidemic Plan. In the second stage, the Central government actively formulates regulations while states align their actions accordingly. Moving to the third stage, marked by an intense threat: here is where either directly or through a central agency, the Central Government steps in imposing uniform measures.

Case Studies of State Responses:

1. Kerala's Exemplary Model:

Recognized for its proactive and meticulously crafted pandemic management strategy, Kerala swiftly positioned itself as a leader in the fight against COVID-19. The state swiftly adapted its tactics after reporting India's initial case in January 2020, thereby demonstrating the efficacy of decentralized governance. Pivotal to controlling the spread of the virus were local village councils and public health centers. Instrumental in the establishment of community kitchens to provide sustenance for those in isolation were community workers; local health officers, on their part, ensured a timely supply of medicines. Kerala's exemplary practices – effective contact tracing, volunteer-based home quarantine monitoring and transparent information sharing - not only commanded international admiration but also garnered accolades from the World Health Organization.[6]

2. Odisha's Resilience Amid Natural Disasters:

Despite the dual challenge of managing COVID-19 and grappling with frequent cyclones and floods, Odisha, a state known for its susceptibility to natural disasters, demonstrated resilience; it executed efficient crisis management. As the pioneer in declaring a lockdown among all states, Odisha escalated testing capacity, involved private sector actively, and established indispensable infrastructure. Significantly, the state's Mission Shakti Self Help Groups (SHGs) contributed by stitching masks to avoid shortages. Each panchayat received financial support for setting up temporary medical camps; this demonstrated a well-coordinated response to the pandemic.[7]

3. Rajasthan's Bhilwara Model:

The outbreak of COVID-19 transformed Bhilwara district in Rajasthan into a hotspot, spurring swift and effective actions from both the state government and local administration. They implemented the Bhilwara Model that encompassed rigorous contact tracing, institutional quarantine facilities, and testing centers. The district's commendable door-to-door screening process coupled with stringent isolation measures earned recognition as an exemplary model for other regions within the country to emulate. The local-level response: a vivid demonstration of swift actions and community involvement. This underscored–with graduate-level punctuation such as colons, semi-colons and dashes; avoiding the use of indeed anywhere – the paramount importance in controlling virus spread.[8]

4. Maharashtra's Success in Dharavi:

Maharashtra wrestled with a significant influx of COVID-19 cases; however, its triumph in curbing the virus within Dharavi, Asia's largest slum, is noteworthy. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) spearheaded an innovative strategy: the four T's—Tracing, Tracking, Testing and Treating. Proactive screening initiatives; community support programs – meticulously planned by experts–combined with routine sanitization efforts for local toilets all assumed pivotal positions on this successful front against viral transmission. "Fever camps were a part of Mission Dharavi"; through this initiative, residents could undergo symptom screening and necessary testing. The accomplishment underscored: in diverse urban settings, tailored strategies prove their significance, a crucial factor to consider.

5. Goa's Constitutional Tensions:

The pandemic prompted Goa to respond, thereby spotlighting constitutional tensions that arise due to heightened powers of local government. Although authorities originally designated it as a green zone, Goa encountered an upswing in cases. Dissatisfied with the state government's reaction, Panchayats declared lockdowns in their regions and thereby provoked questions about the legality of such measures. During a public health crisis, this situation underscored the precarious equilibrium of powers between central and local governments; it accentuated an urgent requirement for an unambiguous legal framework.

The unique approach that each state adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic provides valuable insights: it highlights the importance of decentralized governance and suggests tailored responses based on local conditions. These case studies, in empowering states and local governments to handle future pandemics, underscore a specific recommendation from the Law Commission.

Enhanced Punishments for Irresponsible Conduct:

The Law Commission further recommends: stringent punishments for individuals who act with irresponsibility during epidemics, this addresses a critical facet of public compliance. It proposes two measures; the first being enhanced punishment, and secondly, the designation of non-bailable offenses: these are intended to serve as deterrents against individuals flouting public health guidelines.[9]

The Law Commission acknowledges deficiencies in the current Epidemic Diseases Act and proposes amendments to address these gaps. It recommends that the suggested law not only offers stipulated powers but also shapes appropriate response mechanisms for preventing and controlling epidemic diseases.


The Law Commission's report: a significant milestone in India's approach to public health emergencies, advocates for decentralization. The commission has an aim; it seeks the empowerment of states and local governments, thus guaranteeing swift and effective responses to future pandemics. Influenced by the lessons learned during the COVID-19 crisis, proposed legislative changes could reshape India’s legal framework for epidemic management: this would create a more adaptive, robust system.


[2] DownToEarth. 2020. COVID-19: Future of pandemic will depend on India’s response, say WHO. covid-19-future-of-pandemic-will-depend-onindia-s-response-says-who-69951 (accessed July 5, 2020).

[3] Editorial, EPW. 2020. COVID-19 and the national disaster management act. Economic and Political Weekly 55 (19): 8.

[4] Kumar, Alok Prasanna. 2020b. Lawless lawmaking in a COVID-19 world. Economic and Political Weekly 55 (25): 10–12.

[5] Kumar, Arun. 2020a. Impact of Covid-19 and what needs to be done. Economic and Political Weekly 55 (14): 10–12.

[6] Biswas, Soutik. 2020. Caronavirus: How India’s Kerala state ‘flattened the curve’. com/news/world-asia-india-52283748 (accessed June 25, 2020).

[7] Patnaik, Amar, Sharma Anshuman, and Mohanty Asit. 2020. Odisha has emerged as an underrated leader in COVID-19 management. https://the ment (accessed August 5, 2020).

[8] The Economic Times. 2020. Centre may adopt Bhilwara model to contain spread of COVID-19 in other hotspots. https://economictimes.indiatimes. com/news/politics-and-nation/centre-may-adoptbhilwara-model-to-contain-spread-of-covid-19- in-other-hotpsots/articleshow/75021963.cms? from¼mdr (accessed October 6, 2020).

[9] Chatterjee, Patralekha. 2020. The pandemic exposes India’s apathy toward migrant workers. https:// (accessed July 30, 2020)

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