Public Health Emergency Bill : TNA presents private member’s bill

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Member of Parliament (MP) M.A. Sumanthiran on Monday (19) presented a private member’s bill to the Secretary General of Parliament requesting to gazette the proposed Public Health Emergency Act in all three languages.

In a written request, Sumanthiran had requested the Secretary General to make arrangements to gazette the contents titled “Public Health Emergency Act, No. … of 2020”, which is to come into force on the date of certification as per Article 79 of the Constitution.

The drafted act calls for a declaration of a state of public health emergency given that the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread throughout the world.

The MP highlighted the need to: 

  • Convene Parliament, Cabinet, courts, and the Public Health Emergency Council using audiovisual technologies 
  • Allow the public to access service remotely including the issuance or renewal of identity documentation; the issuance of birth, death, or marriage certificates; the issuance of certificates of absence; and the issuance or renewal of licenses through remote electronic means
  • Appoint a Public Health Emergency Council inclusive of the President, who shall be the Chairman of the Council; the Prime Minister, who shall be the Vice Chairman of the Council; Leader of the Opposition; Cabinet Ministers of Health, Social Welfare, Environment, Home Affairs, Science and Technology, Defence, Police, Finance, Foreign Affairs, and Education; and the Director General of Health Services 

In addition, the Speaker in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition is to nominate five persons from the Opposition MPs to be members of the Council.

The draft act also suggests a 60-day period of public health emergency when declared and refers to a possible temporary restriction of fundamental rights up to 14 days, when necessary, over public assemblies; religious worship, observance, practise, and teaching in public; engagement in an occupation not specified in Section 10 as essential services; travel to and from places of dwelling; and being on any public road, railway, public recreation ground, the seashore, or in a public restaurant, public park, hotel, place of public entertainment, or any other such public place.

Essential services include healthcare; provision of a public utility service, including water, electricity, or sanitation; the production, transport, and delivery of medicines, healthcare technology, and medical/surgical devices; the production, transport, and delivery of agricultural and food products; law enforcement and defence; and any activity functional towards the public health emergency.

The draft act also includes specific clauses over the health sector, ports and transport, quarantine facilities, special assistance, educational premises, labour, etc.