"No Discrimination Of Leprosy Patients In Treatment, Education Etc.", SC Issues Slew Of Directions To End Stigma Of Leprosy [Read Judgment]

"No Discrimination Of Leprosy Patients In Treatment, Education Etc.", SC Issues Slew Of Directions To End Stigma Of Leprosy [Read Judgment]

Today, the Supreme Court issued a slew of directions to end the stigma and discrimination of leprosy patients. The bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra has directed the States and Union Territories to undertake massive awareness programs on the curability of leprosy.

The Court has also directed the governments to create awareness regarding free of cost treatment of leprosy. It was held that there should not be any discrimination or isolation of leprosy patients in treatment and education. They should be granted BPL cards to avail ration under the Antyodaya Annayojana Scheme. The  medical staff in private and govt hospitals are to be sensitised to ensure leprosy patients do not face discrimination

The governments have to undertake measures for rehabilitation of leprosy patients. SC also asked the Centre to consider framing separate rules for granting disability certificate to leprosy patients for availing reservation benefits.

The judgment was rendered on a PIL filed by visually-challenged lawyer Pankaj Sinha, argued by noted social activist and Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves, alleging that leprosy, which annually affects over 1.25 lakh people in the country, is still considered a social stigma due to the government’s apathy.

It is averred in the petition that those afflicted with the disease are not allowed to have education, sanitary benefits, community-based rehabilitation as a result of which they are driven to streets and eventually turn to begging or compelled to live in so-called leprosy homes where they are treated as unpersons or aliens.

A number of prayers have been made which pertain to issuance of directions for availability of the drugs at primary health centres and proper administration of the same for treatment of the pregnant women suffering from leprosy in an apposite manner with dignity, and making provision in educational institutions whether government or private, so that discrimination against the children of the leprosy-affected families due to some kind of inhibition which has no constitutional sanction, is stopped and for providing banking facilities and establishment of such colonies where they can live for temporary period till they are cured and come to the society, etc.

In context of the prayer for the appointment of dedicated and full time District Leprosy Officers and Full Time and Dedicated Staff in the Leprosy departments in the districts all across the country, The court had earlier inquired whether the Central Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has any team which is exclusively meant to look after the leprosy homes or leprosy colonies and eventually the patients suffering from leprosy; what kind of treatment is administered when the initial symptoms get manifested and whether there is any machinery to that effect.

The apex court had recorded that there is no dispute that leprosy is totally curable in the 21st century and that the Union of India and all the State Governments have a duty to see that this stigmatic disease is eradicated.

The court had required Centre to formulate a policy to eradicate leprosy, specifying how the drugs will be made available, filling of vacancies of the officials required to implement the programme.

On July 5, Hearing a connected PIL by the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, praying for statutes which attach a stigma with leprosy, ultimately resulting in a disability, to be declared as being violative of Articles 14, 19(1)(b) and 21, the bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A. M. Khanwilkar and Justice D. Y. Chandrachud had issued a slew of directions-

That the Union of India in the Department of Health and other concerned departments carry out awareness campaigns so as to sensitize the public about its curability and non-contagiousness;

That a separate wing be created to expand the sphere of awareness and concerned authorities may be nominated for the said duties;

That specific programmes be aired on the All India Radio and Doordarshan at the Central and state level and the regional channels so as to educate the public that leprosy is non-communicable;

That the programme be displayed at an appropriate time so that majority of people may watch;

That hospitals shall not refuse treatment and to administer the first injection under the Multi-Drug Therapy, “It has to be remembered that a person has a right to health and to obtain treatment at government hospitals”;

That there must be a holistic approach to awareness and the campaigns shall extend from the urban areas to the Panchayat level;

That the state government shall take steps for the rehabilitation of persons who are suffering or have suffered from leprosy, it shall be the primary duty of the state to see that these people do not suffer from any kind of stigma.

On August 20, the bench had sought to know from Attorney General K. K. Venugopal the feasibility of advancing a suggestion to the Legislature to pass an affirmative law conferring rights and benefits on persons suffering from leprosy and deeming as repealed all statutes, rules or regulations running counter to it which attach a social stigma to the disease.

Read the Judgment Here