NEW DELHI: Presenting a pitiable picture, a PIL in the Supreme Court said that despite leprosy being completely curable, as many as 119 archaic central and state laws sanctioned isolation of those afflicted with the disease, allowed dissolution of their marriage and barred them from educational institutions.
The petition by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy sought quashing of these 119 laws as unconstitutional and discriminatory. A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud avoided examining the validity of these laws and sought the Centre’s response on why leprosy patients be kept in isolation by confining them to ‘leprosariums’.
A bare reading of provisions under the 119 laws makes it evident that the object of each of these was to prevent transmission of leprosy by segregating persons affected by the disease and restricting their movement in and contact with society, the petitioner said.
The bench said, “The seminal issue that arises for consideration in this petition is that there is no justification to keep a person suffering from leprosy away from the mainstream in the 21st century despite advancement of medical science, which has made the disease completely curable. The petition highlights that since leprosy is completely curable, patients should be integrated into society and not kept confined to leprosarium.”
The petitioner, through senior advocate Raju Ramachandran, said, “Provisions in 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irrationally treats persons affected by leprosy as a separate class on the basis of a medically inaccurate and outdated conception of the infectious nature of the disease and without taking into account the effectiveness of the prevailing standard treatment for the disease.”