THE EVOLUTION OF RIGHT TO HEALTH UNDER INDIAN CONSTITUTIONAL SCHEME[*]

 

The Constitution of India, inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, provides different Articles which focus on the fundamental human rights of the Citizens of the country.

Article 21[i] provides Right to life as one of the basic human right and not even the state has the authority to violate that right.[ii] The article ensures that Right to Livelihood and a good health is an integral facet of the right to life.[iii] The word ‘life’ in the Article refers to a life with dignity and human rights, and not just an animal life.[iv] The human rights jurisprudence in India got an impetus only after the Supreme Court employed a wider interpretation of right to life as under Article 21 in Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[v] where the Apex Court referred to the U. S. Supreme Court judgment in the case of Munn v. Illinois[vi]. Here, it was held that right to life doesn’t refer to mere animal existence but means a life with dignity and all basic human needs. The Supreme Court of India held that the Right to life included the right to lead a healthy life so as to enjoy all faculties of the human body in their prime conditions.[vii]

As understood under Article 21, the women’s right to make reproductive choices is also one of the facet of personal liberty. It is important to recognise women’s right to either procreate or abstain from procreating. The main objective is to respect women’s right to privacy, dignity and bodily integrity, and health.

In the case of West Bengal Farm Labourer’s Association v. The Government of West Bengal[viii], the Supreme Court has upheld a patient’s right to emergency Medicare as a right falling within the scope of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court further said that financial stringency of the State Exchequer is not a valid plea when the question is one of giving medical aid to preserve a human life.[ix]In Chameli Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh[x], the Court uplifting the importance of Health as an important facet of human right, held that Right to live guaranteed in any civilised society implies the right to food, water, decent environment, good health, medical care and shelter.

Under Article 22 of the Indian Constitution, the arrestee should be subjected to medical examination by a trained doctor every 48 hours during his detention in custody by a doctor on the panel of approved doctors appointed by Director, Health Services of the concerned State or Union Territory, Director, Health Services should prepare such a panel for all Tehsils and Districts as well.[xi] Both the European and Inter-American Courts have stated that there is an obligation to protect the physical and mental well being of detainees, including the provision of medical assistance.[xii] All the treaty bodies have held that not providing adequate medical care for detainees suffering from either physical[xiii] or mental[xiv] illness amounts to inhuman and/or degrading treatment because such lack of care does not respect the dignity inherent in human being.

 

[*]Harsh Vardhan Tiwari, 3rd Year Student, Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab.

 

[i]  The Constitution of India, 1950, Article 21. No Person shall be denied of his right to life and personal liberty except in accordance to the procedure established by law.

[ii] SiddharamSatlingappaMhetre v. State of Maharashtra, J.T. 2010 (13) S.C. 247 (India).

[iii] Narendra Kumar v. State of Haryana, J.T. (1994) 2 S.C. 94 (India).

[iv] BudhadevKarmaskar v. state of West Bengal, A.I.R. 2011 S.C. 2636 (India).

[v] Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, 1978 A.I.R. 597 (India).

[vi] Munn v. Illinois, 24 L. Ed. 77; 1876 U.S. LEXIS 1842; 4 Otto 113 (United States).

[vii] Sunil Batra v. Delhi Administration, A.I.R. 1978 S.C. 1675 (India).

[viii] PashchimBangaKhetMazdoorSamiti v. State of West Bengal,(1996) 4 S.C.C. 37 (India).

[ix]  The Supreme Court said: “Not only are the government hospital, but the medical officers employed therein also liable to a charge of violating fundamental right, if they deny such admission.

[x] Chameli Singh v. State of U. P. (1996) 2 S.C.C. 549 (India).

[xi] D.K. Basu v. State of West Bengal, A.I.R. 1997 S.C. 610 (India).

[xii] A & others v. United Kingdom Judgement (Grand Chamber), 19 February 2009, pg. 128; IACtHR,Tibi v. Equador, 7 September 2004, Pg. 153-157.

[xiii] Huri-Laws  v. Nigeria Com, Eg A ComHPR, 225/98, 6 November 2000, Pg. 41; Istratii and others v. Moldova, ECtHR, 27 March 2007, Pg. 46-58; Montero-Aranguran et al v. Venezuela, IACtHR, 5 July 2006, Pg. 101-103.

[xiv] Williams v. Jamaica Com, EgHRCte, 609/1995, Views, 4 November 1997, pg 6.5; Keenan v. United Kingdom, ECtHR,3 April 2001, pg. 114-116.

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