Report could have profound impact on status of people affected by leprosy.
In a major breakthrough for Indians affected by leprosy, a Parliamentary committee issued a report in October giving its wholesale backing to a petition calling for the integration and empowerment of people affected by leprosy.
The report of the Rajya Sabha (Upper House) Committee of Petitions comes on the heels of a controversial Supreme Court decision in September upholding a 1950 Orissa state law ruling that a leprosy patient cannot contest a civic election or hold municipal office.
The petition was submitted to Parliament through Vice President of India Shri. Hamid Ansari and signed by Mr. Ram Naik, former Union Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Dr. P.K. Gopal, president of IDEA India and the National Forum, and four others.
It drew attention to the social stigma that continues to surround leprosy and the difficulties affected persons face as a result, despite the "spectacular success" medical science has had in combating the disease. It also highlighted discriminatory provisions in a total of 16 Acts, including the Hindu Marriage Act.
After hearing the petition in June, the 10-person committee undertook to visit Hyderabad, Tirupathi, Nellore, Chengalpattu, Chennai and Mumbai to see for itself self-settled leprosy colonies, rehabilitation homes, and leprosy hospitals, interacting with residents, NGOs, representatives of state governments and ministries on issues raised in the petition.
Based on its findings, the committee compiled a report containing the following observations and recommendations:
1. It called for a new survey of people affected by leprosy in India in order to help in planning and strengthening services to them and formulating any policy for their rehabilitation;
2. It recognized the need for a well-defined national policy, and stated that the government should involve people affected by leprosy in formulating it;
3. It hoped that the relevant ministries and state governments would urgently consider amendments to anachronistic and discriminatory provisions in Acts that "have hampered the empowerment of this marginalized section of society;"
4. It strongly recommended that the criteria for issuing a disability certificate for the purpose of getting a government job be wavered in the case of people affected by leprosy, and that they should be issued with a disability certificate irrespective of the degree of disability;
5. It noted that public misconceptions about the disease have resulted in people affected by leprosy being discriminated against, segregated and isolated from the community, and recommended that the health and information ministries and state governments launch a nationwide campaign to address this;
6. It strongly recommended that in all states people affected by leprosy who are unable to earn their livelihood be given a monthly allowance of 2,000 rupees;
7. It desired that the government consider enhancing the budget for special footwear;
8. It recommended that products made by people affected by leprosy be exempted from VAT;
9. It recommended that medical officers from the nearest primary health center or doctors from the nearest government hospital visit colonies at least once a week to attend to their needs;
10. It requested that the central government advise state governments to provide civic amenities in all self-settled colonies free of charge;
11. It recommended that the government ensure education up to higher secondary level, free of charge, for dependent children of people affected by leprosy;
12. It recommended that people affected by leprosy who are eligible for a driving license be provided with loans at affordable interest rates for the purchase of auto rickshaws;
13. It requested the finance ministry to advise banks to grant loans under affordable rates of interest to people affected by leprosy engaged in employment-generation programs;
14. It strongly endorsed the use of positive terminology for people affected by leprosy; and
15. It urged that the government take up its recommendations "in a time-bound manner," that all sections of society play their part in facilitating social integration, and that the media highlight issues of people affected by leprosy and give due coverage to advocacy programs.
Dr. P.K. Gopal
"It was a great achievement that the Parliamentary committee of the Upper House accepted our petition. It has created an awareness of the problems and needs of people affected by leprosy. I am sure this will help to mitigate the sufferings of the people to some extent, and also help to remove the stigma and discrimination."