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PIL in Supreme Court laments discrimination against Leprosy patients

Murali Krishnan

The Supreme Court today issued notice to the Central Government in a public interest litigation filed by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, raising the issue of discrimination meted out to leprosy patients.

Senior Advocate Raju Ramachandran, appearing for Vidhi, submitted that at least one hundred and nineteen statutes (both Central and State) discriminate against leprosy patients and that the same violate of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.

The petition drafted by advocates Yashaswini Mittal, Dhvani Mehta and Pallavi Mohan and filed through advocate Rashmi Nandakumar states,

“This writ petition is being filed in the public interest to highlight the gross violation of the fundamental rights of persons affected by leprosy under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India by the continued existence of archaic, discriminatory provisions under 119 Central and State laws.”

It is the petitioner’s contention that these laws unfairly discriminate against persons affected by leprosy by denying them equal treatment under personal laws, in matters of employment and appointment or election to public office, as well as access to and free movement in public places.

“This unequal treatment irrationally treats persons affected by leprosy as a separate class on the basis of a medically inaccurate and outdated conception of the infectious nature of the disease and without taking into account the effectiveness of the prevailing standard treatment for the disease.”

The petitioner has contended that the very existence of such provisions in the statute books violates the right to a life with dignity of persons affected by leprosy, which is an integral facet of Article 21. It has further been submitted that leprosy is rendered non-infectious due to latest medical advancements though the provisions which stigmatize persons affected by leprosy continue in the statute book.

“As such, the impugned provisions stigmatize and isolate persons affected by leprosy, even though with the latest medical advancements, leprosy is rendered non-infectious after the very first dose of Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT), the World Health Organisation-recommended treatment regime for leprosy.”

It is also the petitioner’s argument that the classification in the provisions is not founded in any intelligible differentia and bears no rational nexus to the objects sought to be achieved by the impugned provisions, thereby violating the right to equality before the law under Article 14 of the Constitution of India. Some of the impugned provisions additionally violate the right to move freely throughout the territory of India and the right to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business guaranteed under Article 19(1)(d) and Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India respectively.

The petition, therefore, prays that all one hundred and nineteen laws be struck down as unconstitutional.

The Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud noted in its order,

“The seminal issue, which has been highlighted in the petition is, there is no justification for treatment of leprosy patient as a person to be kept away from the mainstream of the society.”

The Bench then proceeded to issue notice to the Central government.

Read the petition:

Leprosy-PIL-Vidhi.pdf
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