Some laws discriminate against persons with leprosy: Law panel

Tuesday, Apr 7, 2015,21:09 IST By metrovaartha A A A

New Delhi | With India having the largest number of leprosy cases globally, the Law Commission today batted for a new law to eliminate discrimination faced by those affected by it and recommended repeal and amendment of certain Acts which it felt were discriminatory in nature. In a report submitted to the Law Ministry, the law panel noted that in 2014, India had the largest number of new leprosy cases globally (58 per cent).
Although leprosy may cause irreversible disabilities, with medical advances, it is now a completely curable disease. However, a major obstacle is the social stigma associated with Leprosy, and many persons affected by leprosy continue to be outcast from society, it said. Another problem is that of Indian laws, which continue to directly and indirectly discriminate against persons affected by leprosy, the Law Commission report said.
Recommending amendments to Personal Laws, the Commission said under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939, the amended Indian Divorce Act, 1869, Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, leprosy affecting either spouse constitutes a ground for divorce, annulment of marriage or separation without forfeiture of maintenance.
One of the main objectives behind the inclusion of these provisions under the relevant legislations has been to restrain the spread of the infection of leprosy (given that it is a communicable disease) to the unaffected spouse, it said. It pointed out that leprosy is no longer an incurable disease and can be treated by MDT, which in its first dose itself kills 99.9 per cent of the leprosy bacillus and renders the infection noncontagious and non-virulent.
From 2005 till 2014, the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) recorded a rate of 1.25 to 1.35 lakh new cases every year. A majority of these are children, who are threatened with isolation and discrimination at a young age, the panel headed by Justice (Retd) A P Shah noted.
The Law Commission recommended that to tackle the issue of land rights, the proposed legislation — the draft Eliminating Discrimination Against Persons Affected by Leprosy Bill, 2015 — should take measures to legalise title and ownership of property in the 850 leprosy colonies in the country. In case land rights cannot be given, the alternative settlement options should be explored with the consent of the persons affected by leprosy and their family members.
Referring to the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, the panel said many employers misuse the existing employment legislations to terminate the employment of persons once they are diagnosed with leprosy. The Law Commission recommends that to tackle these issues of employment, the proposed legislation should include measures that prohibit termination of employment of persons affected by leprosy and their family members solely on the basis of the infection of the disease and the associated stigma, the report said.
It also said Lepers Act, 1898 should be repealed as it enforces compulsory segregation of leprosy patients. It recalled that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2007 promotes, protects and ensures the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities. India has signed and ratified the UNCRPD, and is also a member of the UN General Assembly that unanimously passed the Resolution on the Elimination of Leprosy.
However, the Indian government has taken no action to modify or repeal any leprosy laws, or to eliminate discrimination against persons affected by Leprosy. This is now an urgent need, and is the focus of this report of the Law Commission, Justice Shah wrote to Law Minister D V Sadananda Gowda.