By Elton Gomes
The Supreme Court on Friday issued several directions in a significant step to eliminate discrimination against leprosy and to rehabilitate those suffering from it. The apex court issued orders such as providing leprosy patients reservation under the disability quota and with Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards to help them secure their right to food.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said that publicity drives should be undertaken so that citizens are aware that leprosy is a curable disease. “Medical staff in private and government hospitals should be sensitised to ensure that leprosy patients do not face discrimination,” the apex court said, Hindustan Times reported. The SC said so while disposing of a public interest litigation (PIL) case filed by advocate Pankaj Sinha, who claimed that sufficient measures were not being taken to eradicate leprosy.
What has the Supreme Court suggested?
The Supreme Court has suggested that specific rules should be framed to ensure that public and private schools do not discriminate against children suffering from the disease. The court said that children should not be turned away, and attempts should be made to provide them with free education.
“Due attention must be paid to ensure that the persons affected with leprosy are issued BPL cards so that they can avail the benefits under AAY (Antyodaya Anna Yojana) scheme and other similar schemes which would enable them to secure their right to food,” the court said, according to Hindustan Times.
Supreme Court calls to end discrimination against leprosy patients
Under the 2016 Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, the Supreme Court has asked the Centre to consider framing separate rules to monitor disability for persons affected by leprosy.
On July 5, the apex court had ordered the Centre to file a comprehensive action plan to ensure the eradication of leprosy from the country, stating that the disease should not hinder people’s lives.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court urged the Centre and the states to ensure that drugs for management of leprosy and its complications are available free of charge and that does not go out of stock at all Primary Health Centres (PHCs). The SC further said that the Centre and the states should make efforts to provide MCR footwear free of cost to all persons affected by leprosy.
Currently, the majority of the people affected by leprosy tend to live in a marginalized section in Indian society and are deprived of even basic human rights. Although leprosy has been designated as a curable disease, persons affected by the disease are subject to stigma in India.
Leprosy and its stigma in India
To ensure proper rehabilitation of persons affected by leprosy, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has suggested that the Ministry for Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities revisit the guidelines issued on the subject of Disability Certificate in 2001. The NHRC has proposed this step to give special consideration to the category of persons cured by leprosy, though they do not fulfil the minimum disability of 40%.
Excluding Chhattisgarh and Odisha, up to 33 States and Union Territories have almost attained the elimination level of less than one leprosy case per 10,000 people. However, many people continue to be affected by leprosy despite various preventive measures, and this is a huge cause of concern for the government. During the year 2013-14, the Hindu reported that a total of 1.27 lakh new cases were detected.
It can be said that the Indian government has not taken any pro-active steps to modify or repeal leprosy laws or to eradicate discrimination against persons affected by leprosy. The SC’s latest directives should jolt the government into action, as it looks to implement key recommendations of the Law Commission on rights and special privileges.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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