A plea alleging discrimination against people afflicted with leprosy due to archaic provisions under numerous central and state laws today led the Supreme Court to seek the government's response on the issue.
The plea cited 119 legal provisions, both in central and in states, to justify its assertion that these discriminated against persons affected by leprosy in ways that caused stigmatisation and indignity to them.
The PIL also said that such laws denied them access to public services, impose disqualifications on them under personal laws and bar them from occupying or standing for public posts or office.
The plea came up for hearing before a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, which issued notice to the Centre and sought its response in eight weeks.
The PIL filed by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy (VCLP) substantiated its claim by citing Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, which allows a marriage to be dissolved by a decree of divorce on the ground that the other party has been suffering from a virulent and incurable form of leprosy.
Similarly, Section 2 of the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act 1939; Section 27 of the Special Marriage Act 1954 also discriminated with the persons suffering from leprosy.
It said that Section 70(3)(b) of the Orissa Municipal Corporation Act, 2003, disqualified a person affected by leprosy from contesting elections for the post of corporator of the Municipal Corporation on account of his or her affliction by leprosy.
Similarly, section 19(f) of the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act, 1994, disqualified a leprosy victim from contesting elections for the post of a Panch or any other member of the Panchayati Raj Institution.
Senior advocate Raju Ramchandran, appearing for VCLP, said these provisions in the central and state laws violated the fundamental rights of persons affected by leprosy under Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
"The provisions in these laws unfairly discriminate against persons affected by leprosy by denying them equal treatment under personal laws, in matters of employment and appointment or election to public office, as well as access to and free movement in public places," the senior advocate said.
He said the Law Commission in its 256th report had recommended the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy.
The plea said this unequal treatment irrationally treated such persons as a separate class on the basis of a medically inaccurate and outdated conception of the infectious nature of the disease and without taking into account the effectiveness of the prevailing standard treatment for the disease.
It said the very existence of such provisions in the statute books violated the right to life with dignity of persons affected by leprosy, which is an integral facet of Article 21.
"As such, the impugned provisions stigmatise and isolate persons affected by leprosy, even though with the latest medical advancements, leprosy is rendered non-infectious after the very first dose of Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT), the World Health Organisation-recommended treatment regime for leprosy," it said.
"Some of the impugned provisions additionally violate the right to move freely throughout the territory of India and the right to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business guaranteed under Article 19(1) (d) and Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution respectively."
The plea, filed by senior resident fellow Dhvani Mehta of an independent thinktank doing legal research and assisting the government in making better laws, said the restrictions that such legal provisions impose on these rights were not reasonable restrictions in light of medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy.
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