The Supreme Court today asked the Centre to respond in four weeks to the suggestions mooted by an NGO to eradicate leprosy and on aspects like rehabilitation and curbing discrimination against those suffering from the disease.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra also asked the Centre to consider framing a law to repeal all state and local laws that discriminate against those affected by the disease. It granted six weeks to the government for taking a decision on it.
The bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, perused the suggestions given by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy (VCLP), the NGO which has filed the PIL, on aspects like creating awareness, rehabilitation and sensitisation of common public about the disease.
Senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, appearing for the NGO, said the suggestions pertained to "awareness, sensitisation and dissemination of action taken, non-discrimination, pensionary benefits for persons affected by leprosy, health care and rehabilitation, housing assistance, education, employment, livelihood, welfare and language and expression".
The bench said "we would request Venugopal, the Attorney General, to assist with regard to the aforesaid nine aspects by filing his suggestions within four weeks hence. All the states shall file their responses with regard to the steps taken and to be taken, keeping in view the constitutional goal."
The VCLP has also sought a direction to the Centre to bring an affirmative law to confer certain rights and benefits on persons suffering from leprosy and repeal all existing state and local laws which were discriminatory against them.
Venugopal sought six weeks time for taking a decision to make a central law.
The court said the law-making exercise "pertained to the legislative realm". It, asked the Centre to respond within four weeks to the suggestions on issues like creating awareness and rehabilitation as they fell under the domain of the executive.
Earlier, the top court had asked the Centre to consider framing a law to stop discrimination observing that those suffering from leprosy should be brought to the mainstream.
It had also asked the Centre, states and union territories to undertake a campaign to make people aware about the curability of leprosy so that those suffering from it do not face discrimination.
It had recommended to the Centre and the states to repeal the archaic provisions from 119 statutes which discriminated against and stigmatised those affected by leprosy and directing that no government hospital shall decline treatment to such patients.
VCLP, in its PIL, had listed 119 state and central laws that discriminated against leprosy patients and stigmatised them. It said that such outdated provisions denied them access to public services, impose disqualifications on them under personal laws and prohibited them from occupying or standing for public posts or office.
It referred to one such provision of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 that allowed 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 perpetuated the stigmatisation of those affected by leprosy, it had said.
While taking note of the PIL, the court had said the "seminal issue" was that there was no justification to treat a person suffering from leprosy as one to be kept away from the mainstream and made to suffer from ignominy that the disease is infectious and has something to do with genetics.
The plea also referred to Section 70(3)(b) of the Orissa Municipal Corporation Act, 2003 that disqualified a person affected by leprosy from contesting elections for the post of corporator of the municipal body on account of the disease.
Similarly, section 19(f) of the Rajasthan Panchayati Raj Act, 1994, disqualifies a leprosy victim from contesting elections for the post of a Panch (head) or any other member of the Panchayati Raj Institution.
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