On September 10, 2020, today, it is two years since the HIV & AIDS (Prevention and Control) Act 2017 came into force. However, going by the response given by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) to an RTI application filed by the author regarding the implementation of the Act, it would seem there has been little progress.
The Act is designed to control the spread of HIV/AIDS in India as well as mitigate discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS. Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad introduced the corresponding Bill in 2014 and it was passed by the both houses of parliament in 2017, and received the president’s assent a week later the same year.
Section 12 of the Act provides for the notification of a ‘Model HIV and AIDS Policy’ for establishments by the Centre. This policy is supposed to cover aspects pertaining to safe working environment, informed consent for tests, treatment and research and grievance redressal mechanisms at the relevant establishments mentioned in the rules. However, NACO stated in its reply to the RTI application that the policy is in the drafting stage.
Section 23 of the Act provides for appointment of an ombudsman who responsible for dealing with complaints by any person regarding violations of the Act’s provisions. Section 28 mandates the ombudsman to report to the state government with the following details every six months:
1. The number and nature of complaints received
2. Action taken
3. Orders passed in relation to such complaints
Section 28 also asks for a copy of the report to be forwarded to the Centre.
In response to the request to share such reports received by the Centre, NACO said state governments are in the process of appointing or designating their ombudsmen. Since NACO didn’t share a single report, two possibilities arise. One: state governments have not framed the rules yet to implement the Act (as the rules are supposed to specify the terms and conditions for appointing the ombudsman, the manner of dealing with complaints and other relevant details). It must be noted that NACO didn’t share information on state governments which have notified rules for implementation. The other possibility is that states have framed the rules but none has appointed an ombudsman in the recent past (since reports are to be forwarded to the Centre every six months).
Section 30 of the Act provides for the specification of guidelines to provide HIV-related information, education and communication before marriage and to ensure their wide dissemination. NACO stated that the notification of these guidelines is currently underway.
Section 15 provides for the Centre and state governments to facilitate better access to welfare schemes to persons infected/affected by HIV/AIDS and to frame schemes to address the needs of protected persons. In its reply, NACO said it had signed MoUs with 18 government ministries and/or departments to better leverage social protection schemes. Details of the MoUs are available here.
However, the website clarifies that of the 18 MoUs, 14 were signed in between 2013 and 2015, two in 2017 and two more in 2019. Therefore, the majority of MoUs were signed much before the Act came into force. Consolidated information regarding the activities undertaken in association with the respective ministries and/or departments are not available on the website.
NACO also said it had issued directives to all state AIDS Control Societies to work with line departments and facilitate the provisioning of social protection schemes for HIV-infected and -affected populations. Details of these schemes for persons living with HIV in all states is available here. While it is good that these details are available for all states in one place, simply framing the schemes does not suffice. The goal is to facilitate better access to these schemes, as envisaged in the Act. An assessment in this regard by the Centre and state governments will be very helpful.
Given the status of implementation, there is a strong need for the Government of India to notify the relevant policies and guidelines, and for state governments to draft rules for implementation as soon as possible. Doing so will ensure the country protects the rights of persons living with HIV, as well as healthcare providers and other persons involved in managing HIV/AIDS and patients’ welfare.
Tharun Bathini is a public policy graduate from TISS. His interest lies in the areas of HIV/AIDS, disability and social security. He tweets at @tharun241.