The Hindu – Reality different in ‘leprosy-free’ India, says Supreme Court

‘Cases underestimated, patients deprived of basic amenities’

Krishnadas Rajagopal

New Delhi – India, 15 September 14. India “underestimated” leprosy and diverted funds meant to eliminate the curable disease for 18 long years, the Supreme Court said on Friday.

In its 22-page judgment, a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra pointed out that though the country was declared leprosy-free on December 31, 2005, the reality is “entirely different”.

The Supreme Court referred to progress reports of the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) to show that only 543 districts of the total 642 districts in the country had achieved the World Health Organisation-required prevalence rate of less than one case of leprosy for 10,000 persons.

Suffering continues

“The underestimation of cases of leprosy and the declaration of elimination of leprosy has resulted in the integration of leprosy in general health services thereby leading to diversion of funds which would have otherwise been dedicated to eliminating leprosy,” Chief Justice Misra, who authored the verdict, wrote.

Meanwhile, patients and their families continue to suffer from leprosy and its stigma. They are even denied their fundamental right to food. They are not issued BPL (Below Poverty Line) cards to claim the benefit of various welfare schemes such as the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY).

They are deprived of housing, basic civic amenities, adequate sanitary facilities and rehabilitation programmes.

“At present, majority of the populace afflicted with leprosy live as a marginalised section in society, deprived of even basic human rights. This manifestly results in violation of the fundamental right to equality and right to live with dignity,” Chief Justice Misra observed for the Bench also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud.

Calls for transparency

Issuing a slew of guidelines, the court directed the government to be transparent about leprosy and conduct periodic national surveys to gauge its detection rate. It should publish reports of the National Sample Survey on Leprosy conducted in 2010-2011.

Both the Centre and States should embark on “regular and sustainable massive awareness campaigns” to educate the public about the Multi Drug Therapy (MDT) freely available at health centres to completely cure leprosy and dispel fear associated with the disease.

The activities of the National Leprosy Eradication Programme (NLEP) must be given wide publicity.

The court banned the use of “frightening” images of leprosy patients, instead it called for the use of “positive” photographs of those cured of leprosy in the campaigns.

“Awareness campaigns should inform that a person affected with leprosy can lead a normal married life, can have children, can take part in social events and go to work or school as normal. Acceptability of leprosy patients in society would go a long way in reducing the stigma attached to the disease,” Chief Justice Misra observed.

Free education

The Centre and States should ensure that leprosy patients, especially women, do not face any discrimination or isolation at both government and private hospitals. The government should also ensure that private and public schools do not discriminate against children hailing from leprosy-affected families. They should be given free education.

Leprosy-affected persons should be given BPL cards. which would enable them to secure their right to food and be brought under the aegis of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016, the Supreme Court ordered.


The Hindu – What does a new Supreme Court-mandated team mean for the 1984 riots probe?

K Venkataramanan

New Delhi-India, 20 January 2018. More than 33 years after the anti-Sikh riots rocked Delhi and several other places in the country, the Supreme Court has ordered the formation of another team to investigate 186 cases arising out of the pogrom that took place in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination on October 31, 1984.

As many as 3,325 people of the Sikh community, including 2,733 in Delhi alone, were killed in the riots. The new Special Investigation Team (SIT) will comprise Shiv Narayan Dhingra, a retired judge of the Delhi High Court, Rajdeep Singh, a retired police officer, and Abhishek Dular, a serving police officer.

The SIT has been asked to file a status report in two months.

A government-appointed Special Investigation Team has been functioning since February 2015. It was constituted on the recommendation of a committee headed by Justice G P Mathur. It was headed by Pramod Asthana, an IPS officer, and included Rakesh Kapoor, a retired district and sessions judge, and Kumar Gyanesh of the Delhi police.

How did it come about?

A Supreme Court Bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, has been hearing a writ petition filed by Sardar Gurlad Singh Kahlon since 2016. The petitioner, a member of the Delhi Gurdwara Management Committee, wanted the SIT’s investigation monitored by the court to ensure justice to the victims.

On March 24, 2017, the court was informed that the SIT had scrutinised 293 cases and closed 199 of them. Of the remaining, 59 cases were taken up for further investigation after a preliminary inquiry. Forty-two of these were closed after investigation.

On hearing that 199 cases had been closed after scrutiny, the Bench appointed a Supervisory Committee, comprising two former judges of the Supreme Court J M Panchal and K S P Radhakrishnan, to scrutinise these 199 case files and give their views on whether the closure was justified. The panel was also asked to scrutinise 42 other matters that had been closed.

In December 2017, the supervisory body gave its views on all 241 cases it had examined. On January 10, the Bench noted that the SIT had not done further investigation in 186 cases and decided that a fresh SIT be constituted to pursue the investigation further.

However, the court clarified that naming another SIT did not reflect adversely on the functioning of the earlier team.

Why does it matter?

Despite the passage of time, the ongoing investigation holds out a glimmer of hope for thousands of people affected by the riots, which several inquiries had attributed to the negligence of the police and, in many cases, their connivance.

There have been two major judicial commissions of inquiry, one headed by Justice Ranganath Misra and another by Justice G.T. Nanavati, besides several committees and bodies to deal with different aspects of the inquiry and investigation.

Only a few cases have reached their logical conclusion in criminal courts. Congress leaders Sajjan Kumar and Jagdish Tytler are two politicians whose names are still linked to complaints of suspected involvement in the riots.

Last year, Mr. Kumar, who was acquitted in one riot-related case in 2013 of the charge of instigating a mob, was questioned by the SIT in connection with a complaint.

What next?

The new SIT will have to gather enough evidence to file chargesheets in these cases. It may appear that three decades may be a little too late for pursuing a criminal investigation. However, the organised pogrom that left more than 3,000 people dead is unlikely to be forgotten easily.

The new SIT faces an uphill task as earlier probes had found that many incidents that took place during the riots had been clubbed in complaints and individual First Information Reports were not always available.

In some cases, the survivors and witnesses may not be easy to trace. Collating and scrutinising records that go back to 1984 will be a difficult task too.

The Hindustan Times – Supreme Court says human rights of Rohingya refugees cannot be ignored

The top court set the next date of hearing for November 21, and asked petitioners to approach it in case the government begins any deportation exercise.

New Delhi, 13 October 2017. The Supreme Court on Friday said that problem of Rohingya refugees is of a “great magnitude”. However, there is a need to strike a “right balance” to address concerns of national security that might arise due to their stay, it said.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra was about to issue a directive to the Centre not to deport Rohingya refugees but was stopped by additional solicitor general, Tushar Mehta, who said an order of this kind would embarrass the government on international fora.

The bench fixed November 21 to give a detailed and a holistic hearing on the petitions filed against the government’s decision to deport Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar.

At the request of senior counsel, appearing for representatives from the community, social activists and NGOs, the bench gave them liberty to approach it in case any contingency arose during the intervening period.

“It is a large issue. An issue of great magnitude. Therefore, the state has a big role. The role of the state in such a situation has to be multipronged,” the bench said.

Mehta was told that the government should not be oblivious to the plight of children and women. “They do not know anything. We expect the executive will not be oblivious to their condition. Do not deport them. You take action if something wrong is found,” the bench said.

On behalf of the petitioners, senior advocate Fali S Nariman said that all Rohingyas, be they Muslims or Hindus, are not terrorists as the government has stamped them to be. “It (Centre) cannot pass a blanket order like this,” he submitted.

The bench felt the government’s concern over national security, too, cannot be ignored. “There is no iota of doubt that a humanitarian issue is involved but national interest has to be kept in mind,” said the judges.

They also emphasised that the court will go by the letter of the law and not get swayed by the “emotional arguments” offered by the two sides.

Centre should deal with migration: MHA

The ministry of home affairs (MHA) said the issue of Rohingya migration had to be “dealt with only by the Central government” as it is an executive function of the government.

“The central government is of the opinion that deportation of illegal immigrants has to be dealt with only by the central government because it is essentially an executive function of the government,” said an MHA spokesperson after the hearing.

The spokesperson added that the apex court had not stayed the deportation of Rohingyas.

“No interim order has been granted. The SC has merely recorded the statement of the learned counsel for the petitioner to the effect that in case of any contingency he can move the court for appropriate interim order.”