Inaugurating it, Mr. Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Chairperson, NHRC, said that the Commission is deeply concerned about the human rights of the people affected with leprosy as they face stigma and discrimination in society despite the fact that leprosy is curable.
He said that all efforts have to be made by various stakeholders to spread awareness about the scientific facts related to the disease and break the myths attached with it.
The discriminatory provisions in the law violating the rights of leprosy affected persons also need to be removed. Under Section 13 (v) of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 if one party has been suffering from a virulent and incurable form of leprosy, it becomes one of the grounds for divorce. Under Section 18 (2) (c) of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, if a person is suffering from a virulent form of leprosy, his wife is entitled to live separately from her husband without forfeiting her claim to maintenance. There are similar provisions in other personal laws which need amendment to prevent discrimination.
Justice Balakrishnan said that 33 States and Union Territories almost attained the level of less than one case of leprosy per 10 thousand population, but it is a cause of concern that new cases of leprosy continue to occur despite various preventive measures. The issues of bringing the leprosy affected persons in the mainstream of society with their proper rehabilitation and financial assistance with uniform approach across the country remained a challenge.
Addressing the gathering, Bhanu Pratap Sharma, Union Health and Family Welfare Secretary, said the issue of rehabilitation of the leprosy affected persons is a stupendous task and cannot be handled by one ministry. Barring Chhattisgarh, most of the States achieved the elimination targets, but the occurrence of fresh cases of leprosy is a worry. However, the Centre is committed to achieving the elimination target by 2017, as set out in the 12thFive Year Plan, with the cooperation of States. He said that all States need to appoint District Leprosy Officers along with District Leprosy Consultants. The States also need to fill up the vacant posts of para-medical workers meant for the care of leprosy affected patients. He lauded the role of NGOs involved in the identification, treatment and facilitation of leprosy affected persons and underlined the various incentives given by the Government for such work.
Rajesh Kishore, Secretary General, NHRC, said that the Commission is consistently keeping a tab on the protection and promotion of human rights of leprosy affected persons. He expressed the hope that the discussions would provide an opportunity to know the progress made by the States and UTs towards the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission in this regard given in the year 2012 and also come out with more suggestions for the betterment of people affected with leprosy.
The participants include, NHRC Members, Mr. Justice Cyriac Joseph, Mr. Justice D. Murugesan, Mr. S.C. Sinha, senior officers, representatives ofNational Commissions,State Human Rights Commissions,other State Commissions, officials/representatives of Central/State Governments and Union Territory Administrations, health experts and health scientists, legal experts, representatives of technical organizations, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and civil society.