Almost 12 years after the government first announced its plan to bring in a law to check discrimination against people suffering from HIV/AIDS,the proposed law,which is still in the works,has hit yet another roadblock.
For a law that seeks to establish a humane,legal regime to support prevention,treatment and care to HIV/AIDS patients as well as preventing discrimination against anyone suffering from the same,the Union Health Ministry is opposed to
any punishment clause in the proposed HIV and AIDS (Prevention and Control) Bill,2013 to punish any employer or individual who
discriminates against anybody suffering from the disease.
However,the Union Law Ministry is refusing to buy the Health Ministrys logic that any punishment clause for offences under Section 3 in Chapter II,which deals with prohibition of certain act (against those infected with HIV/AIDS),would turn the proposed law draconian.
Sources told The Indian Express that during discussions on the subject,senior officials of the Union Ministry of Law and Justice made it clear to functionaries of the Union Health Ministry that without any penal clause that prescribes punishment for offences under the law,the purpose of enacting the law would be completely defeated.
However,the Health Ministry officials have,so far,refused to budge,insisting that a punishment clause is not acceptable.
Having failed to convince the Health Ministry,the Law Ministry has now put its objections on paper and asked the Health Ministry to let the Cabinet take a decision on the matter when it takes up the Bill for clearance.
We have held many meetings with the Health Ministry officials. But they are adamant. Our viewpoint is that unless punishment is prescribed for an offence under the proposed law,the entire purpose of the law would be defeated.
For example,it says that no person shall discriminate against a protected person (anybody suffering from HIV or AIDS) on any ground,including denial or termination from employment. But there is no punishment prescribed for anybody who commits this offence. How can this work? But,Health Ministry is refusing to accept this, said a Law Ministry official on condition of anonymity.
Under the proposed law,among other things,HIV/AIDS-infected persons will be provided protection against discrimination in employment,healthcare,education,travel and insurance,in both the public and private sectors.
The first draft of the proposed law was finalised in 2006 after many rounds of consultations with state governments,State AIDS Control Societies (SACS) and NGOs. But,the Bill is still to be tabled in Parliament.