‘Why does government want to throw leprosy patients back on the streets?’

Archbishop of Bangalore Bernard Moras has objected to the recent Cabinet decision to take back most of the land that was given to the Sumanahalli Society, a leprosy care centre where nearly 365 people reside.

Addressing presspersons here on Monday, he said the Cabinet had recently decided to take back 45 acres that is with the society, leaving only five acres for the society’s use. “This decision has hurt us deeply. The archdiocese has been utilising the land to take care of leprosy patients and other destitute people in the city for the past 36 years,” he said.

Terming the decision as an “infringement of the rights of the Christian minority community,” Archbishop Moras said the archdiocese had put in a lot of effort to treat leprosy patients with compassion and dignity, besides rehabilitating them. The archdiocese spends around Rs. 4 crore a year on maintaining the society and creating new facilities.

He said in 1977, the then Chief Minister Devaraj Urs had invited the archbishop of Bangalore to take care of leprosy patients and offered 63 acres of land on a 30-year lease for their treatment and rehabilitation. “The lease period ended in 2007. However, since 2001, we were in touch with every Chief Minister, Chief Secretary and other government officials, requesting them to extend the lease. Though all had assured us of looking into the matter, the recent Cabinet decision has come out of the blue. Why does the government want to throw 100 leprosy patients back on the streets?” he said.

Facilities on land

Father George Kannanthanam, director of Sumanahalli Society, said that 14 acres and 19 guntas of land were given away when the government wanted to develop the Ring Road. “We have used the remaining land to create facilities at a cost of over Rs. 25 crore. There are more than 50 buildings on the campus which are used for various activities, including medical care, institutional care, education, vocational training, job placement, among others.” He said the society has retained focus on leprosy and has developed several programmes to provide residential care and rehabilitation programmes for other destitute groups in society as provided in the lease agreement. While there are 120 leprosy patients, there are 35 HIV, 20 disabled, 40 street children under the care of BOSCO and 40 juvenile delinquents under the ECHO programme at the society.

‘Five acres too little’

“There is no way our activities can be restricted to five acres of land. The government must reconsider its decision and extend the lease to the society,” he said.

Archbishop Moras said that the archdiocese would submit a memorandum to Governor H.R. Bhardwaj urging him to direct the government and Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar to reconsider its decision. “We are also exploring other legal options. We are not fighting for ourselves. We are fighting for the patients for whom Sumanahalli is a home,” he added.

“It is unfortunate that the Cabinet has taken such a decision even when the society enjoys the support of the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission, Karnataka Commission for Persons with Disabilities, and the Governor,” he said.

Suresh Kumar, president of the Karnataka Leprosy Affected People’s Welfare Association, spoke.