How the Disaster Management Act of 2012 Responds to Pandemic -Mobarak Hossain
The Whole world including Bangladesh has been passing a hectic and tough time to combat the pandemic covid-19, corona virus, since 31 December 2019 after found a new virus in the city of Wuhan of China. WHO (World Health Organization) declared the outbreak of corona virus and announced the health emergency of international concerned on 3oth January 2020. Bangladesh was precautious and aware of the virus at the early period of time during January and February, When China was being affected. As every state of the globe was locking down in order to maintain social distance among the mass people following the instruction given by WHO, Bangladesh also shut down all education institutions on 17th March and declared a general vacation for all public and private institutions except hospitals, public administrations and banks on 26th March to 4th April 2020 to ensure the social distance among the people and to dismantle the gathering of people anywhere in the country. The general vacation continues till today.As WHO declared that Covid-19 has been a pandemic because of its outbreak across the world within short period of time, Bangladesh also has taken the decision of WHO seriously and said that Bangladesh is now in the War combating the pandemic covid-19 on 26th March. Hence Covid-19 is a pandemic, Bangladesh has been functioning for the protection of people according to her capacity since January and accelerated the speed and extended the work regarding the prevention of the virus and protection of mass-people under the existing law. Many have urged for the declaration of emergency under Article 141A of the Constitution in order to take the necessary actions immediately. But Bangladesh government has not applied the emergency provisions yet. The other general laws such as The Infectious Diseases (Prevention, Control and Elimination) Act 2018 and The Natural Disaster Management Act 2012 can be applied in combating Covid-19.
Given the government measures so far to overcome the crisis of corona virus, the Infectious Disease Act of 2018 seems more functional though the corona virus is considered as a pandemic. As covid-19 is a pandemic disease in the world, the Natural Disaster Management Act of 2012 can also function during the crisis time to overcome the pandemic properly and smoothly. So far, Directorate General of Health Services, behalf of the Government of the People`s Republic of Bangladesh, has published the National Preparedness and Response Action for Covid-19 with a complete and comprehensive plans to tackle the crisis in March, 2020 taking consideration the legal framework under the Infectious Diseases ( Prevention, Control and Elimination) Act, 2018. The plan discusses the details of how to prevent and control the infectious disease corona virus including testing, surveillance, risk communication, public management, and diagnosis and makes different committee from National level to Upazila level. Though the Act does not carry the name of the novel corona virus in the list of infectious disease, the official gazette enlisted novel corona virus (covid-19) in that list under the Act on 19h March giving an effect from 8th March 2020. Therefore it can be said that the government has been carrying out all her functions under the above Act.
As WHO declared that covid-19 is a pandemic, we, the people of Bangladesh, have been saying the same since then. And the meaning of pandemic is related to a disease exists in almost all of an area or in almost all of a group of people, animals, or plants, provided in the Cambridge Dictionary (online version).
So does Bangladesh regard the covid-19 as a pandemic? So far I have not seen any notification or a declaration in this regard except the declaration of war as was addressed by the Prime Minister on 26th March 2020. So how does the covid-19 come under the legal framework of Disaster Management Act of 2012? But the Act does not provide the provision of requirement of any such announcement from the government to begin any activities under the Act. If so, why aren`t the government functioning under this Act? We do not know! But let`s discuss the legal frame work under this Act.
Does the Disaster Management Act of 2012 have the scope to deal with a pandemic disease? Section 2(11c) provides the meaning of disaster which mentions that disease causing pandemic, such as pandemic influenza, bird flu, anthrax, diarrhoea, cholera, etc. so a pandemic nature disease can be said a disaster under the said Act.
If corona-virus would be taken seriously, the government could have functioned in combine with both legislations because the disaster management Act seems a better legislation to overcome any disaster. Only functioning under the Infectious Diseases Act of 2018, it is an impossible to combat a pandemic disease like covid-19 comprehensively because the consequence of corona virus across the country and the world is a huge. The United Nations said that the world is facing ever a catastrophe after the WWII. It is causing huge damages to the world demography as well as to the business and trade. Apparently all kinds of economic activities have been shut-down across the country. As a result, less fortune people are suffering from a serious threat to starve. Hence the government have to do now to important functions, one is to prevent and control the corona virus across the country and, give medical treatment to the infected person, and second, is to give aid and relief to the people who are incapable to carry on daily meals to live on.
Bangladesh is not doing well in performing both the functions. In the former function, shortage of testing kits, PPE, ventilator, CCU, the number of testing centre and specialized hospital are acute, though the number of patients are few till today according to the stats of IEDCR. Where there requires the emergency purchase to response to a pandemic disease, the provision of section 33 of Disaster Management Act of 2012 allows Director General, Deputy Commissioner, and Upazilla Executive Officer to do an early purchasing with the approval of concerned Cabinet Committee on economic affairs which may accomplish under Public Procurement Act, 2006 and Public Procurement Rules, 2008. But such purchasing is not possible under the Infectious Diseases Act of 2018.
The government needs now the use or requisition of any private hospital to give service to the corona infected people. Then the Deputy Commissioner may take requisition of assets, service residence, vehicle and other facilities identified as emergency shelters from any authority or individuals under section 26 of the disaster management Act of 2012. This provision may help the government to fulfil the shortage of specialized medical hospital and testing centre. On the other hand, the Act of 2018 does not provide such a delicate provision in favour of the government. Furthermore, the president can declare a distress zone if the necessary and emergency situation of any place of Bangladesh exists which requires the enforcement of special power to take additional measures to deal any situation of disaster under section 22 of the Disaster Management Act of 2012. Such provision is not found in the Act of 2018 to deal with a pandemic disease.
In the later function, the Act of 2018 does not provide for the raising fund which is one of the most important functions to overcome the economic crisis during the period of lockdown across the country when every single economic activity has been closed due to pandemic covid-19. Though already a cell for monitoring by the office of Prime Minister upon the disaster management and distribution of relief has been opened and has been working for 24 hours, this is not good enough! These functions are not being done according to the provision of the disaster management Act of 2012 properly and comprehensively. But the distribution of relief and raising fund would be better, if the provision of section 32 would be applied.
The legal implication of closure economic activities of foreign investors in the country is very bad; sometimes they may bring investor-state dispute settlement claims under Bilateral Investment treaties against a state if the government does not take action according to the existing domestic laws properly. So to overcome the crisis brought by the pandemic covid-19, both legislations should be applied properly. A good combination of both would be a way-out!
The author is the Lecturer at Dhaka International University; He is also an Advocate, Dhaka Judge Court, Dhaka