SC Asks States Make People Aware About Leprosy

NEW DELHI — The Supreme Court today asked the Centre, states and union territories to undertake a campaign to make people aware about the curability of leprosy so that those suffering from it do not face discrimination.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra recommended to the Centre and the states to repeal archaic provisions from 119 statutes which discriminated against and stigmatise those affected by the disease , while also directing that no government hospital shall decline treatment to such patients.

“Persons suffering from leprosy also have the right to live with human dignity”, the bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, said, adding it was the duty of the Centre and the states to ensure that leprosy patients are rehabilitated and brought to the mainstream.

The bench passed a slew of directions including the one asking the Health department of the Centre, states and UTs to carry out awareness campaign at the grassroot level to put an end to discrimination of persons suffering from leprosy.

“Specific programmes be broadcast or telecast on All India Radio and Delhi Doordarshan at central and state level regional channels at prime time for educating people about the disease, such as it is not a communicable disease,” it said.

Stressing the need for awareness campaign right up to the ‘gram panchayat’ level, the bench said such measures would eventually help in eradicating the disease and “discrimination and ostracisation” of those suffering from it.

Attorney General K K Venugopal and Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand, appearing for the Centre, said that steps were being taken to repeal legal provisions in laws which discriminated against leprosy patients.

“The Central Government is taking steps to delete the provisions from number of enactments which cast stigma on the persons who are suffering from leprosy and also create a disability for them,” Venugopal said.

The court referred to 256th Law Commission’s report and said the recommendation on repealing discriminatory legal provisions has not been acted upon by the Centre and states.

The bench directed its registry to send its order to all chief secretaries of states through e-mails and speed post for compliance and listed the PIL filed by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy (VCLP) for further hearing on August 28.

VCLP, in its PIL, has listed 119 state and central laws that discriminated against leprosy patients and stigmatise them.

Earlier too, the apex court had asked the Centre and the states to “rise to the occasion” and work for eradication of “curable” leprosy, besides removing the archaic provisions from laws that discriminate against and stigmatise those affected.

The PIL said that such outdated provisions denied them access to public services, impose disqualifications on them under personal laws and prohibited them from occupying or standing for public posts or office.

It referred to one such provision of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 that allows dissolution of marriage if one of the partners has been “suffering from a virulent and incurable form of leprosy.”

Similarly, Section 2 of the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act 1939 and Section 27 of the Special Marriage Act 1954, Section 18 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act 1956; Section 18 of the Jammu And Kashmir Hindu Adoptions And Maintenance Act 1960; Section 13 of the Jammu And Kashmir Hindu Marriage Act 1980 and Section 2 of the Jammu And Kashmir Dissolution Of Muslim Marriages Act 1999 perpetuate the stigmatisation of those affected by leprosy, it has said.

While taking note of the PIL, the court had said the “seminal issue” was that there was no justification to treat a person suffering from leprosy as one to be kept away from the mainstream and made to suffer from ignominy that the disease is infectious and has something to do with genetics.

The plea also referred to Section 70(3)(b) of the Orissa Municipal Corporation Act, 2003 that disqualified a person affected by leprosy from contesting elections for the post of corporator of the Municipal Corporation on account of his or her affliction by leprosy.

Similarly, section 19(f) of the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act, 1994, disqualified a leprosy victim from contesting elections for the post of a Panch or any other member of the Panchayati Raj Institution.

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