2 years in jail, ₹1 lakh fine for discriminating against people with HIV/AIDS
In India, 0.26% of the people between the ages of 15 and 49 years are living with HIV, according to a report by National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO).
A central act that prohibits discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS, and punishes the propagation of hatred or physical violence against them with up to two years in prison and ₹1 lakh fine, came into force on Monday.
This is the first time in India that people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA) have got a specific law tailored to protect them.
“In exercise of the powers conferred by sub-section (3) of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Prevention and Control), Act 2017, the Central Government hereby appoints the 10th day of September, 2018 as the date in which the provision of the said act shall come into force,” read a notification in the Gazette of India.
Experts said a crucial aspect of the act is that it brings private institutions like health care facilities, educational institutions, and workplaces under its ambit.
“Even a private firm discriminating against a person living with HIV/AIDS can be taken to court,” said Raman Chawla, an independent expert on HIV/ AIDS legislation who worked with the Lawyers Collective team that helped draft the act.
“Till now, all anti-discrimination cases were based on Article 14 of the Constitution (equality before the law) and could be against the public sector organisations only,” he said.
The act also makes a provision for a fine of ₹1 lakh for disclosing the HIV status of a person -- if done in the absence of any court order.
“This act puts on paper the guidelines for consent and confidentiality. Till now, people had to depend on various judgement that may be reversed or changed,” said Chawla.
In India, 0.26% of the people between the ages of 15 and 49 years are living with HIV, according to a report by National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO). With 2.1 million patients, India currently has the world’s third-largest HIV-positive population. But prejudice against HIV-positive people is not uncommon, and many such cases of alleged discrimination have reached the courts.
“The act guarantees several rights for the people living with HIV/AIDS, like the right to property, the right to employment, and the right to hold public offices. In cases of contravention, the act makes provisions for addressing the problems. Overall, the act will smoothen the entire process,” said Sanjeeva Kumar, the director general of NACO, the Union health ministry arm that works to control the spread of the disease and treat the existing PLHA.
“Apart from that the act also ensures free treatment and counselling for all PLHA, which is already happening through NACO,” he added.
The act puts the onus of implementing the act, controlling the spread of the disease, treating PLHA, and creating wellness schemes, on the states along with the Centre.
“There might be a surge in the number of court cases registered initially, but in the long run, measures under the act like appointing an ombudsman and a nodal officer at workplace will reduce the number of long protracted court battles,” said Praveen Kumar, additional programme director of Delhi State AIDS Control Society.
“Delhi has currently prepared draft rules but it will take another six months or so for the state to appoint an ombudsman and completely implement the act,” said Kumar.