Year: 2010 (Date of Decision: 6 April, 2010)
Forum, Country: High Court; India
Standards, Rights: Right to life; Right to health; Right to adequate food; Women; Children
Summary Background: This case addressed separate petitions dealing with the violation of the constitutional and reproductive rights of two women below the poverty line who were denied access to adequate maternal care, both during and immediately after their pregnancies. Lack of access to health services resulted in the death of one of the women.
Holding: The Court ruled that there had been a complete and systemic failure on the part of the Government to effectively implement the pre- and post-natal services available under State-sponsored schemes to reduce maternal and infant mortality. This severely affected not just the two women on whose behalf the petitions were brought, but also a large number of women and children placed in similar positions across the country [paras. 1, 2 and 40].
The Court underscored how the petition focused on two inalienable survival rights that form part of the right to life: the right to health (which would include the right to access and receive a minimum standard of treatment and care in public health facilities) and in particular the reproductive rights of the mother. The other right, calling for immediate protection and enforcement in the context of the poor, was the right to food [paras. 2 and 19]. Drawing on international human rights law and national jurisprudence, the Court illustrated how all these rights are interrelated and indivisible. The legal basis on which the Court determined this case and found violations of core constitutional rights was essentially the need to preserve, protect and enforce the different facets of the human right to life protected under article 21 of the Constitution [paras. 19-27].
The judgement considered that the onerous burden on the poor to prove their eligibility for health services, exemplified by the requirement to show a valid ration card to access services, constituted a major barrier for them to access services; and emphasized that the Government had an obligation to create easier access to these essential services and ensure coverage of as much of the target population as possible [para. 48].
The Court declared that: “when it comes to the question of public health, no woman, more so a pregnant woman should be denied the treatment at any stage irrespective of her social and economic background. This is where the inalienable right to health which is so inherent to the right to life gets enforced” [para. 48].
Additional to compensation for the claimants [paras. 55 and 56-61], the Court determined that maternal health schemes themselves needed reform; that access to health services should be available across the State; that clarification be made regarding overlapping provisions and gaps in the various schemes; and that the administration of these schemes be overhauled [para. 62 (i), (ii), (iii), (iv)].
Additional Comments: This case is particularly interesting in relation to the remedies and orders decided by the Court.
Link to Full Case: http://www.escr-net.org/sites/default/files/Mandal_Court_Decision.pdf