Law Commission of India Submits its Report on Leprosy Laws; Proposes Legislation to Eliminate Discrimination against Persons affected by Leprosy
The Law Commission of India has submitted its Report No. 256 on “Eliminating Discrimination Against Persons Affected by Leprosy” to the Union Minister of Law and Justice today. The report also provides a model draft law to eliminate discrimination faced by Persons affected by Leprosy.
In 2014, India had the largest number of new Leprosy cases globally (58%). From 2005 till 2014, the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) recorded a rate of 1.25 to 1.35 lakh new cases every year. A majority of these are children, who are threatened with isolation and discrimination at a young age.
Although Leprosy may cause irreversible disabilities, with medical advances, it is now a completely curable disease. However, a major obstacle is the social stigma associated with Leprosy, and many persons affected by Leprosy continue to be outcast from society. Another problem is that of Indian laws, which continue to directly and indirectly discriminate against Persons affected by Leprosy.
In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a Resolution on the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons affected by Leprosy, accompanied by Principles and Guidelines listing out measures to improve the living conditions of such persons. Additionally, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2007 (“UNCRPD”) promotes, protects and ensures the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities.
India has signed and ratified the UNCRPD, and is also a member of the UN General Assembly that unanimously passed the Resolution on the Elimination of Leprosy. However, the Indian government has taken no action to modify or repeal any leprosy laws, or to eliminate discrimination against persons affected by Leprosy. This is now an urgent need, and is the focus of this report of the Law Commission.
Accordingly, along with its report and recommendations on the issue, the Law Commission has prepared a model draft legislation, titled “Eliminating Discrimination Against Persons Affected by Leprosy (EDPAL) Bill, 2015”. This draft law contains principles of non-discrimination and equal protection before law that must be guaranteed to all persons affected by Leprosy or members of their family. It also seeks to promote the social inclusion of persons affected by Leprosy and their family members through affirmative action.
The key aspects of the draft law are as follows:
- Repeal and amendment of certain laws: Besides the repeal of the Lepers Act, 1898, the Law Commission recommends the repeal of discriminatory provisions in various personal laws. It also recommends including persons affected by Leprosy among the list of persons eligible for legal aid under the Legal Services Act, 1987.
- Measures against discrimination: The Law Commission recommends that persons affected by leprosy and their family members must not be discriminated against in any institution. It also guarantees to such persons the right to access healthcare, adequate housing, education, employment and other such basic amenities.
- Land Rights: Persons affected by leprosy are usually made to relocate to “Leprosy Colonies” in India, but they do not have land rights, and are constantly under fear of eviction. The Law Commission recommends that title and ownership of property in Leprosy Colonies should be legalised, and if land rights cannot be given, alternative settlement options must be explored.
- Right to Employment: Many employers misuse existing employment laws to terminate services of persons who are diagnosed with Leprosy. The draft law prohibits the termination of employment of such persons solely due to their association with Leprosy.
- Educational and training opportunities: The Law Commission recommends that the draft law should ensure the admission of Persons affected by Leprosy and their family members in schools, colleges and other institutes, as educational qualifications are necessary to allow them access to employment opportunities.
- Appropriate use of Language: The use of the term ‘leper’ and similar terms carries negative connotation, hampers efforts for the inclusion of Persons affected by Leprosy into society, and affects their sense of dignity as human beings. The Law Commission recommends that the term ‘leper’ and other such terms in all government and private documents should be replaced with ‘persons affected by Leprosy’ or a similar term.
- Right to Freedom of Movement: The draft law ensures that persons affected by Leprosy are guaranteed the right of travel in public transport and the right to obtain a driving license.
- Concessions during treatment: The draft law seeks to provide relevant concessions and monetary benefits to persons affected by Leprosy who are undergoing treatment, for their travel, lodging during treatment and medicines.
- Social Awareness: Creating awareness regarding the cure and transmission of Leprosy is the best way to address the discrimination and stigma against persons affected by Leprosy and their family. The Law Commission recommends that awareness about the disease, its treatment and curability should be conducted through campaigns and programmes in schools, hospitals, government institutions and private establishments.
- Welfare Measures: The draft law imposes specific duties upon establishments to execute certain welfare measures to foster an environment for financial and social growth of persons affected by Leprosy and their families. It also creates Central and State Commissions to strictly enforce such measures, and provides for accountability measures in case of non-enforcement.
Read the report here.