Harsh Vardhan wants archaic leprosy laws repealed

“Even though the disease is now fully curable, it is disturbing to learn that there still exist 108 discriminatory laws against persons affected by leprosy including three Union and 105 state laws,” Vardhan wrote to the Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Social Justice Minister Thawarchand Gehlot. (PTI File Photo)

A year after the Supreme Court was informed on 100-plus laws that discriminate against a leprosy-infected person, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has written to 23 states and two central departments with a plea to repeal all such laws as leprosy is a completely curable disease.

“Even though the disease is now fully curable, it is disturbing to learn that there still exist 108 discriminatory laws against persons affected by leprosy including three Union and 105 state laws,” Vardhan wrote to the Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Social Justice Minister Thawarchand Gehlot. In his letter to the chief ministers of 23 states and Union Territories, Vardhan asked them to look into the matter and direct all the concerned departments to work for the amendments of the existing discriminatory laws against persons affected by leprosy.

The health ministry action comes a year after a non-governmental organisation named Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy moved public interest litigation in the Supreme Court citing 119 central, state and municipal laws that use leprosy as a ground to discriminate against a person having the disease.

At least half-a-dozen of such laws are from Karnataka.

“The number of such laws is now reduced by 11 because Parliament passed the Personal Laws (Amendment) Act that removed discriminatory provisions in five personal laws. Also, Rajasthan and Odisha repealed few laws,” Dhvani Mehta, advocate and one of the petitioners on behalf of Vidhi, told DH.

The archaic and discriminatory provisions, argues the PIL, violate Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution by restricting a person’s right to move freely throughout the country, the right to practise any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.

“The very existence of such provisions in the statute books violates the right to a life with dignity of persons affected by leprosy. As such, the impugned provisions stigmatise and isolate persons affected by leprosy, even though with the latest medical advancements, leprosy is rendered non-infectious after the very first dose of Multi-Drug Therapy, the World Health Organisation-recommended treatment regime for leprosy,” it noted.

While the PIL is still pending in the Supreme Court, Vardhan said if the process of repealing could be expedited, it would be befitting in the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

The health minister also sought to implement the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy, bill, drafted by the Law Commission in its 256th report. “A leprosy-affected person after treatment does not transmit the disease.

Hence, there exists no justification for the continued stigmatisation of the persons affected by leprosy,” he added.

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