In 2015, Vidhi assisted the Law Commission of India with its Report No 256 on Eliminating Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy. The Report recommended some affirmative action measures to be taken against persons affected by leprosy, as well as the repeal of some laws that discriminated against such persons. However, no legislative action was taken on the basis of this report except for the repeal of the Lepers’ Act, 1898.
Vidhi worked with the Leprosy Mission Trust of India to uncover laws apart from those mentioned in the Law Commission Report that discriminated against persons affected by leprosy. We searched Manupatra and SCC Online for the words ‘leper’ or ‘leprosy’ to arrive at 119 Central and State statutes and rules that contained such discrimination. We excluded provisions from public health laws that applied to persons with infectious diseases generally without specifically mentioning leprosy. The laws that we included are only those that directly discriminate against persons affected by leprosy by explicitly mentioning them. We excluded laws that might discriminate against such persons indirectly since this would have required more evidence than the news reports and anecdotes we came across, and would also have been more appropriately challenged by persons directly affected.
The petition challenges the 119 laws on the grounds that they violate the right to equality and dignity under Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution, as well as the fundamental freedoms to move throughout the territory of India and practise any occupation, guaranteed under Article 19. These laws disqualify persons affected by leprosy from public office, allow their segregation by public authorities and prevent them from accessing public transport. In December, 2017, the Supreme Court admitted Vidhi’s petition and has ordered notice to be issued to the Central and State Governments.