The court said there is no justification to treat a leprosy-afflicted person as a man to be kept away from the mainstream and suffer from ignominy that the disease is infectious or something to do with genetics.
A PIL highlighting the violation of fundamental rights of leprosy-affected persons due to existence of archaic central and state laws prompted the Supreme Court to ask the Centre on Monday whether such provisions need to continue in statute books.
Filed by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy (VCLP), the petition listed 119 laws that discriminate against leprosy patients and stigmatise them.
Such outdated provisions deny them access to public services, impose disqualifications on them under personal laws and prohibited them from occupying or standing for public posts or office, the plea said.
“The seminal issue highlighted in the petition is in the third decade of 21st century. There is no justification to treat a person suffering from leprosy as a man to be kept away from the mainstream and suffer from ignominy that the disease is infectious or something to do with genetics.
“With the discovery of modern medicine, the disease is curable,” a bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said, giving eight weeks notice to the Centre for placing its response.
VCLP supported its case by citing several provisions from various laws. One such is Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 that allows dissolution of marriage if one of the partners has been “suffering from a virulent and incurable form of leprosy.”
Similarly, Section 2 of the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act 1939 and Section 27 of the Special Marriage Act 1954, Section 18 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act 1956; Section 18 of the Jammu And Kashmir Hindu Adoptions And Maintenance Act 1960; Section 13 of the Jammu And Kashmir Hindu Marriage Act 1980 and Section 2 of the Jammu And Kashmir Dissolution Of Muslim Marriages Act 1999 perpetuate the stigmatization of those affected by leprosy.
The Orissa Municipal Corporation Act, 2003 disqualifies a leprosy patient from contesting the civil polls. Even the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act, 1994, has a provision that bars someone infected with the disease from fighting the elections for the post of a panch or any other member of the institution.
Section 35(2) of the Karnataka Rajya Dr. Gangubai Hangal Sangeetha Mattu Pradarshaka Kalegala Vishwavidyalaya Act, 2009, empowers the Syndicate of the University to remove those persons from membership of any authority of the University who suffers from leprosy. One of the objects of this law it to prevent transmission of the disease.
Some of the impugned provisions VCLP has quoted violate the right to move freely throughout the territory of India and the right to practise any profession.
Such restrictions, VCLP contended, are not reasonable restrictions in the interests of the general public, in the light of medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy that render the disease non-infectious.
Senior advocate Raju Ramchandran cited the Law Commission’s 256th report that recommended the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy.