A Delhi-based think-tank Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy had filed a PIL in the Supreme Court, praying to repeal 119 laws that allegedly discriminate against people suffering from leprosy. Acting on the PIL, the apex court on Monday issued notices to both Centre and all states.
These allegedly discriminatory laws are present in number of statutes. In fact, leprosy has been considered as a ground of divorce under the Special Marriage Act and the Hindu Marriage Act. The think-tank presented its case by stating that such laws and others are in violation of the fundamental rights of a person and requested the court to declare them as unconstitutional.
Here are some of these laws:
Personal laws: Hindu Marriage Act, Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, amended Indian Divorce Act, Special Marriage Act and Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act provide “virulent form of leprosy” as a ground for divorce, separation or annulment of marriage.
Beggary laws: State laws like Andhra Pradesh Prevention of Begging Act, Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, Gujarat Prevention of Begging Act and other such state laws allow detention and confinement of the affected beggars and their dependents to Leprosy asylums.
Office of civil post: Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and other state municipal and panchayat raj laws disqualify the affected to hold or contest a civic post.
Right to travel: The Railways Act and the Motor Vehicles Act can prohibit the affected to travel in trains and deny to grant a driving license.
Leprosy cases in India
Writing in the Indian Express, Union Health Minister JP Nadda had said, “Though the incidence of this disease has decreased substantially, the fight against leprosy is still far from over. In India, though we achieved leprosy elimination (<1 new leprosy case per 10,000 population) in 2005, 60 per cent of the world’s leprosy patients are in our country.”
In 2014-15 alone, 1.25 lakh new cases were detected across the country, according to the National Leprosy Eradication Programme.