People with leprosy can be cured, thanks to medical advances, but continue to suffer because of social stigma associated with it and discriminatory laws, the law commission said on Tuesday while recommending amendments to certain acts dealing with the disease.
In a report submitted to the Law Minister DV Sadananda Gowda, the commission said that by 2014, 58% of global leprosy cases had occured in India making it home to the largest number of people suffering the disease.
The commission, in its 256th report, noted that apart from social stigma, “another problem is that of Indian laws, which continue to directly and indirectly discriminate against persons affected by leprosy.”
Recommending amendments to Personal Laws, the commission said under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939, the amended Indian Divorce Act, 1869, Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, leprosy affecting either spouse constitutes a ground for divorce, annulment of marriage or separation without forfeiture of maintenance.
“One of the main objectives behind the inclusion of these provisions under the relevant legislations has been to restrain the spread of the infection of leprosy (given that it is a communicable disease) to the unaffected spouse,” it said.
It pointed out that leprosy is no longer an incurable disease and can be treated by MDT, which in its first dose itself kills 99.9% of the leprosy bacillus and renders the infection noncontagious and non-virulent.
“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,” the panel, headed by justice (Retd) AP Shah, noted.
The Law Commission recommended that to tackle the issue of land rights, the proposed legislation — the draft Eliminating Discrimination Against Persons Affected by Leprosy Bill, 2015 — should take measures to legalise title and ownership of property in the 850 leprosy colonies in the country.
In case land rights cannot be given, alternative settlement options should be explored with the consent of the persons affected by leprosy and their family members.
It also said Lepers Act, 1898 should be repealed as it enforces compulsory segregation of leprosy patients.