Changes proposed by Law Ministry are against PLHA

28th November 2008, New Delhi: A coalition of activists and organizations working on HIV has denounced the Law Ministry for its insensitive handling of the HIV/AIDS Bill. Changes proposed by the Law Ministry are seen to undermine rights of people living with HIV and go against the grain of the National AIDS Control Programme.

The HIV/AIDS bill was drafted in 2004 after wide ranging consultations with HIV positive people, vulnerable communities, women and childrens’ groups, health care providers, employers and trade Unions, lawyers, civil society organizations, State AIDS Control societies and other concerned departments.

Backed by extensive research, it is one of the first bills in the history of independent India to be prepared with the participation of affected individuals and communities. The National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) endorsed it after receiving feedback from State Governments and other Ministries.

The Health Minister, Anbumani Ramadoss, has long supported the need for such a law. In September 2007, the Ministry of Health sent the HIV/AIDS Bill to the Ministry of Law and Justice for vetting. A year later, the Bill has been returned with substantive changes, which, the coalition claims "*detracts from the aims and objectives of the original proposal*". " *By deleting large parts of the original draft, the law ministry shows lack of respect for people’s voices and views*" said Anjali Gopalan, who has been working on HIV for over two decades.

Raman Chawla, for Lawyers Collective

Criticising the Law Ministry’s modifications, Anand Grover, Advocate and Director of the Lawyers Collective HIV/AIDS Unit said – "*chapters on prevention and treatment that form the core of the National AIDS programme have been removed*". Bobby Jayanta, board member of the Chennai based Indian Network of People Living with HIV (INP+) said – "*HIV positive people have been battling discrimination for over a decade. The Bill was a ray of hope for us and our families, who too experience rejection. By weakening the anti-discrimination remedies, the Law Ministry is trumping our right to live with dignity and respect*."

The revised bill pays scant attention to creating an enabling environment for sex workers, injecting drug users and men having sex who are at high risk of HIV. *"The needle exchange that I run to prevent injecting drug users from sharing syringes and contracting HIV is under constant threat from the Police, who interdict clients receiving clean needles.

The original Bill sought to protect my intervention but that clause has been thrown out now*" – lamented Eldred Tellis of Sankalp Rehabilitation Trust, Mumbai.

*"Revisions by the Law Ministry reflect their ignorance of HIV and related legal issues*" said Ashok Row Kavi, who handles the prevention portfolio for UNAIDS. It also smacks of prejudice, which is evidenced in their attempt to introduce mandatory testing, identification and tracing of HIV positive persons. According to Bobby, "a*ll of these contravene national and international ethical standards and best practices* on HIV." The coalition demanded an outright rejection of the changes and called for the tabling of the original, Health Ministry Bill in Parliament.

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