Discriminating against people with HIV and AIDS may soon land the offenders in jail for a maximum of two years besides a fine of up to Rs one lakh, with the government today approving amendments to a draft law.
The draft law seeks to protect the interests of AIDS patients and those infected with HIV virus by bringing in legal accountability and establishing a mechanism to probe complaints against those who discriminate against such people.
The Union Cabinet approved amendments to ‘The HIV and AIDS Bill, 2014’ under which those discrimiating against such persons will get a minimum of three months and a maximum of two years imprisonment and have to cough up a fine of up to Rs one lakh.
Union Health Minister J P Nadda said the bill makes it mandatory for state and the central government to provide Antiretroviral therapy (ART) “as far as possible”.
The bill lists various grounds on which discrimination against HIV positive persons and those living with them will be prohibited including denial, termination, discontinuation or unfair treatment with regard to employment, educational establishments, health care services, residing or renting property, amongst others.
Under the proposed bill, organisations with 100 employees must have a complaint officer to look into the grivances of the persons with HIV and AIDs, while every state has been mandated to have an ombudsman who will look into the violations under this Act once it has been passed.
Under the proposed law, even the insurance companies cannot discriminate against an HIV positive person and deny them the facility of an insurance.
“This bill seeks to address the issue of stigmatisation towards AIDS/HIV positive cases and the discrimination meted out to them. The second motive is to give such persons an enabling environment so that just like other citizens they can work and have the right to every facility,” Nadda said.
The requirement for HIV testing as a prerequisite for obtaining employment or accessing health care or education will also be prohibited.
“As far as punitive and preventive measures are concerned, the bill seeks to ensure that no environment of hatred or discrimination is dissiminated in the society.
“We have made it punishable. It will also be mandatory for central and state governments to provide ART treatment to all patients as far as possible,” Nadda said.
The Bill requires that “no person shall be compelled to disclose his HIV status except with his informed consent, and if required by a court order”.
Establishments keeping records of information of HIV positive persons shall adopt data protection measures.
According to the proposal, every HIV infected person below the age of 18 years has the right to reside in a shared household and enjoy the facilities of the household.
Regarding guardianship of minors, the proposed Bill says
that a person between the age of 12 and 18 years who has sufficient maturity in understanding and managing the affairs of his HIV or AIDS affected family shall be competent to act as a guardian of another sibling below 18 years of age.
This provision will be applicable in matters relating to admission to educational establishments, operating bank accounts, managing property, care and treatment.
Nadda said, under the proposed law, blood testing has to be done after obtaining the consent of the person and confidentiality of information will be the patient’s right. “Whoever discloses it it will be liable to punishment,” he said.
Nadda said every organisation which has got 100 people working under it must have a complaint officer who will look into grivances. Health institutions, where there are even 20 people, will also have to keep a complaint officer.
“The punishment under this have been proposed at a minimum of three months to a maximum of up to two years of imprisonment and a fine of upto one lakh fine,” Nadda said.
The Bill has a provision for appointment of an ombudsman by state governments to inquire into complaints related to the violation of the Act and penal actions in case of non-compliance.
“If a person with HIV or AIDS feels that an insurance company has discriminated, he or she can go to the ombudsman. The latter will enquire. Under the proposed law, the Ombudsman has been given the power to immediately impose a fine of Rs 10,000, and if that is not deposited, then there will be an increase of Rs 5,000 every day till it is paid. This (Being HIV positive) cannot become a criteria for denial,” Health secretary C K Mishra said.
Approximately 21 lakh people are estimated to be living with HIV virus in India.
Even though the prevalence of HIV/AIDS has been decreasing over the last decade, the Bill would provide essential support to National AIDS Control Programme (NACO) in arresting new infections and thereby achieving the target of “Ending the epidemic by 2030” according to Sustainable Development Goals.
“Presently, we were addressing the issue of discrimination through executive orders. But after this draft law is passed, persons with HIV and AIDS will get it as their right,” Nadda added.