The Supreme Court Friday directed the central government to undertake periodic national surveys to determine the prevalence rate of leprosy and frame rules to grant disability certificates to leprosy patients for availing reservation and various welfare benefits, news agency PTI reported.
A bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud was hearing plea in Pankaj Sinha vs Union of India case. The top court issued a number of directions to the Centre and state governments to ensure the rehabilitation of leprosy patients and end discrimination against them in society, especially in hospitals and schools. “Medical staff in private and government hospitals be sensitised to ensure that leprosy patients do not face discrimination,” the bench said.
The bench pressed the need to launch awareness campaigns so that patients are not confined to isolations. It also asked the government to consider framing separate rules to assess disability for persons affected by leprosy under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016.
The Pankaj Sinha petition had asked for affirmative measures to be taken to conduct regular awareness campaigns to remove the stigma associated with leprosy, to prevent discriminatory treatment against persons affected by leprosy in schools and hospitals, to ensure proper sanitation facilities in colonies resided by such people and allow them to access and operate bank accounts easily.
Sinha, in his plea, has alleged that leprosy affects over 1.25 lakh people annually in the country. He had also alleged that the governments have failed to eliminate the disease despite medical treatment being available since 1981.
On July 5, the apex court had directed the Centre to file a ‘Draft Implementation Programme’ to ensure eradication of leprosy from the country. The top court had said the disease, which is curable, cannot be allowed to affect the people.
Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand, appearing for the Centre, had said that the government was not taking an “adversarial” stand on the PIL that has raised the important the issue. The Centre had said an online programme was being launched to detect the patients and their treatment.
The bench was informed that Delhi, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh were leprosy-endemic states and efforts were needed to eradicate the disease from these states.
Lauding the judgment, Executive Director, Sasakawa-India Leprosy Foundation, Dr Vineeta Shanker said: “The Supreme Court’s directive to ensure availability of drugs in PHCs, in providing reconstructive surgeries and in not isolating those affected by sending them to sanatoria, is right on the dot. The apex court, in asking the government to look at framing separate rules to assess disability for persons affected by leprosy under the Rights of Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, will help those who are left out of the purvey of government help on account of such rules.”
Another petition in this context, which identifies different laws across the Centre and States discriminating against leprosy patients, is still pending in the top court. The ‘Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy vs Union of India petition’ lists over 119 laws which disqualify such persons from election to municipal bodies, permit their removal from the governing board of universities, allows public authorities to prevent them from selling goods in a market place, prevents them to hold a liquor licence, as well as by recognises leprosy as a ground for divorce.
(With PTI inputs)