Yesterday, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released a draft Bill to address incidences of violence against healthcare professionals and damage to the property of clinical establishments. Public comments on the draft Bill are invited till the end of September. In this context, we discuss key provisions of the draft Bill below.
What does the draft Bill seek to do?
The draft Bill prohibits any acts of violence committed against healthcare service personnel including doctors, nurses, para medical workers, medical students, and ambulance drivers, among others. It also prohibits any damage caused to hospitals, clinics, and ambulances.
Under the draft Bill, violence means any act which may cause: (i) harm, injury or danger to the life of a healthcare service personnel, while discharging their duty, (ii) obstruction or hindrance to healthcare service personnel, while discharging their duty, and (ii) loss or damage to any property or documents in a clinical establishment.
What are the penalties for committing such acts of violence?
Currently, the Indian Penal Code, 1860 provides for penalties for any harm caused to an individual or any damage caused to property. Further, the Code prescribes penalties for causing grievous hurt i.e., permanent damage to another individual. The draft Bill additionally specifies penalties for similar offences caused to healthcare professionals and clinical establishments.
Under the draft Bill, any person who commits violence, or abets such violence may be punished with imprisonment between six months to five years, along with a fine of up to five lakh rupees. However, if any person causes grievous hurt to a healthcare service professional, he will be imprisoned for a period between three years to ten years, along with a fine between two lakh rupees and Rs 10 lakh. Note that, currently under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, an individual who commits grievous hurt is punishable with imprisonment of up to seven years, along with a fine.
In addition to the punishment for offences committed under the draft Bill, the convicted person will also be liable to pay compensation to the affected parties. This includes: (i) payment of twice the amount of the market value of the damaged property, (ii) one lakh rupees for causing hurt to healthcare service personnel, and (iii) five lakh rupees for causing grievous hurt to healthcare service personnel. In case of non-payment of compensation, the amount may be recovered under the Revenue Recovery Act, 1890. The Act provides for recovering certain public arrears by attaching the property of an individual.
How will these cases of violence be investigated?
All offences under the draft Bill will be cognizable (i.e., a police officer can arrest without a warrant) and non-bailable. An aggrieved healthcare service professional can write a request to the person-in-charge of the clinical establishment to inform the police of an offence committed under the draft Bill. Further, any case registered under this Bill will be investigated by a police officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.
This Bill is currently in the draft stage and has been released for comments by stakeholders and experts in the field. The draft will be revised to incorporate such suggestions. Note that, comments can be emailed to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare at us-ms-mohfwnic.in by the end of September.
In the last few years, several states have enacted laws to curb cheating in examinations, especially those for recruitment in public service commissions. According to news reports, incidents of cheating and paper leaks have occurred on several occasions in Uttarakhand, including during the panchayat development officer exams in 2016, and the Uttarakhand Subordinate Services Selection Commission exams in 2021. The Uttarakhand Public Service Commission papers were also leaked in January 2023. The most recent cheating incidents led to protests and unrest in Uttarakhand. Following this, on February 11, 2023, the state promulgated an Ordinance to bar and penalise the use of unfair means in public examinations. The Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Bill replacing the Ordinance in March 2023. There have been multiple reports of candidates being arrested and debarred for cheating in public examinations for posts such as forest guard and secretariat guard after the ordinance’s introduction. Similar instances of cheating have also been noted in other states. As per news reports, since 2015, Gujarat has not been able to hold a single recruitment exam without reported paper leaks. In February 2023, the Gujarat Assembly also passed a law to penalise cheating in public examinations. Other states such as Rajasthan (Act passed in 2022), Uttar Pradesh (Act passed in 1998) and Andhra Pradesh (Act passed in 1997) also have similar laws. In this blog, we compare anti-cheating laws across some states (see Table 1), and discuss some issues to consider.
Typical provisions of anti-cheating laws
Anti-cheating laws across states generally contain provisions that penalise the use of unfair means by examinees and other groups in public examinations such as those conducted by state public sector commission examinations and higher secondary education boards. Broadly, unfair means is defined to include the use of unauthorised help and the unauthorised use of written material by candidates. These laws also prohibit individuals responsible for conducting examinations from disclosing any information they acquire in this role. The more recent laws, such as the Gujarat, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan ones, also include the impersonation of candidates and the leaking of exam papers within the definition of unfair means. Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh prohibit the use of electronic aids. Maximum prison sentences for using such unfair means range from three months in Uttar Pradesh, to seven years in Andhra Pradesh.
Issues to consider
The Gujarat and Uttarakhand anti-cheating Acts have relatively stringent provisions for cheating. The Uttarakhand Act has a fixed 3-year prison sentence for examinees caught cheating or using unfair means (for the first offence). Since the Act does not distinguish between the different types of unfair means used, an examinee could serve a sentence disproportionate to the offence committed. In most other states, the maximum imprisonment term for such offences is three years. Andhra Pradesh has a minimum imprisonment term of three years. However, all these states allow for a range with respect to the penalty, that is, the judge can decide on the imprisonment term (within the specified limits) depending on the manner of cheating and the implications of such cheating. Table 1 below compares the penalties for certain offences across eight states.
The Uttarakhand Act has a provision that debars the examinee from state competitive examinations for two to five years upon the filing of the chargesheet, rather than upon conviction. Thus, an examinee could be deprived of giving the examination even if they were innocent but being prosecuted under the law. This could compromise the presumption of innocence for accused candidates. The Gujarat and Rajasthan laws also debar candidates from sitting in specified examinations for two years, but only upon conviction.
These laws also vary in scope across states. In Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, the laws only apply to competitive examinations for recruitment in a state department (such as a Public Commission). In the other six states examined, these laws also apply to examinations held by educational institutions for granting educational qualifications such as diplomas and degrees. For example, in Gujarat, exams conducted by the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board are also covered under the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2023. The question is whether it is appropriate to have similar punishments for exams in educational institutions and exams for recruitment in government jobs, given the difference in stakes between them.
Sources: The Rajasthan Public Examination (Measures for Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2022; the Uttar Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 1998; the Chhattisgarh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2008; the Orissa Conduct of Examinations Act, 1988; the Andhra Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Malpractices and Unfair means) Act, 1997; the Jharkhand Conduct of Examinations Act, 2001, the Uttarakhand Competitive Examination (Measures for Prevention and Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2023, the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Methods) Act, 2023; PRS.