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Rajya Sabha passed Tuesday a bill that criminalises discrimination against HIV-positive people and seeks to provide them with equal access to jobs, education and treatment. The HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2014, also makes antiretroviral treatment a legal right of HIV/AIDS patients and prohibits employers and educational institutions from forcing people to undergo HIV tests for employment and education, respectively.
The bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on February 11, 2014 by then health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. It was referred to the standing committee before the NDA government assumed office. Since the earlier standing committee could not take it up once the Lok Sabha was dissolved, an extension was granted until April 30, 2015. The ministry accepted 10 of the 11 suggestions made by the panel.
The proposed law was passed only after Health Minister J P Nadda assured the House that the government was committed to providing treatment to anyone HIV positive. Opposition MPs had sought the assurance and an amendment to section 14 (1): “The measures to be taken by the central or state governments under section 13 shall include measures for providing, as far as possible, anti-retroviral therapy and opportunistic management to people living with HIV or AIDS.”
Congress MPs Jairam Ramesh and Rajeev Gowda, TMC leader D Bandopadhyay, CPI leader D Raja and Vijay Sai Reddy from YSR Congress party objected to the use of “as far as possible”. “The phrase defeats the purpose of the bill. This is an escape route provided to state governments which do not want to fulfil their responsibility,” Raja said. Responding to this criticism, Nadda said, “I would like to inform the House that while making the rules, we will ensure that nobody is denied treatment and we are committed to providing medical treatment to all those living with HIV or AIDS.”