07 June 2010
By Abhinav Garg
New Delhi, India
In a sweeping intervention in the field of reproductive rights of a mother and the right to life, justice S Muralidhar in a verdict passed on Friday also directed the government to plug the loopholes in its much touted welfare schemes that caused the tragedy. Both women were victims of insensitivity of the authorities who insisted they first furnish a"below poverty line" cards or cough up huge sums of money for availing child delivery care.
"When it comes to public health, no woman more so a pregnant woman should be denied the facility of treatment at any stage irrespective of her social and economic background....there can’t be a situation where a pregnant woman in need of care and assistance is turned away from a government health facility only on the ground that she hasn’t been able to demonstrate her BPL status or her ‘eligibility’,‘‘ noted justice Muralidhar quashing those provisions of the welfare schemes (Janani Suraksha Yojana, Integrated Child Development Scheme, National Maternity Benefit Scheme, Antyoday Anna Yojana and National Family benefit Scheme) that created bureaucratic hassles or confusion.
While the family of dead woman Shanti Devi was awarded compensation of Rs 2,40,000, Fatima was given Rs 50,000 for being at the receiving end of government’s apathy. She was forced to give birth under a tree. Stressing the need for reproductive rights of women, the court bla–med the overlapping provisions in government schemes and their half hearted implementation for the cases at hand. The HC said:"These cases demonstrate a complete failure of the public health system and a failure in implementation of government schemes, including the National Maternity Benefit scheme (NMBS), Integrated Child Development scheme (ICDS) and Janani Soraksha Yojana (JSY) – a scheme designed to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality by encouraging institutional delivery for poor pregnant women.’’
"Both the cases point to the complete failure of the implementation of the schemes. With the women not receiving attention and care in the critical weeks preceding the expected dates of delivery, they were deprived of accessing minimum health care at either homes or at the public health institutions,’’ the court said while disposing of the petitions and asking the government to file a compliance report within eight weeks on fine–tuning of the schemes.
Stunned by the governmental apathy towards the poor, justice Muralidhar further added,"Women carry the burden of poverty in that they have to prove their BPL (below poverty line) status when trying to access health facilities,’’ pointing out how the schemes suffered from various defects like inability of a woman to get relief if she travels outside her state. For instance, Shanti Devi travelled from Bihar to Haryana and then to Delhi for treatment. In Haryana, she was unable to access the public health services.
At Delhi, she had to once again show that she had a below povert line (BPL) card, and on being unable to do so, she was denied access to medical facilities. Devi died in her sixth pregnancy after being turned away from medical care by three hospitals. Fatema’s story is no less disturbing. A poor, homeless uneducated woman she was abandoned by her husband after she became pregnant. She was unceremoniously sent away from a maternity home run by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi when she approached it for cash benefits under the welfare schemes, forcing her to give birth to a baby in a street in full public view without any access to skilled health care of medical guidance. Even after giving birth both the child and mother remained deprived of any medical care.
While Fatema moved the high court seeking compensation and calling for better implementation of the grandiose schemes floated by the government, Devi’s family filed a writ asking for compensation. The high court also directed the government to aid Fatima’s daughter Alisha’s education till the time she completed high school.
- HC slams government for poor implementation of welfare schemes for poor pregnant women while hearing case of two women. One died other forced to give birth under a tree in open.
- Awards compensation to the victims families.
- Directs major modifications in welfare schemes so that there is seamless availability of medical care to poor women from any part of the country.
- Medical officers ordered to maintain charts/registers to ensure cash assistance to needy poor women