The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the centre to take a call on framing a National Health Policy by 31 December.
“In case the Union of India thinks it worthwhile to have a National Health Policy, it should take steps to announce it at the earliest and keep issues of gender equity in mind,” a bench comprising justices Madan B. Lokur and U.U. Lalit said.
Apart from this, the apex court gave at least 14 other directives to the centre in a case regarding the issue of conducting ethical sterilization of men and women in camps or accredited centres.
The ruling came on a public interest litigation filed by medical health activist Devika Biswas, drawing the court’s attention to a doctor in 2012 performing at least 53 sterilization procedures in 12 hours in the unsanitary premises of a school in Bihar’s Araria district. The court noted that people are usually not given any pre-procedure counselling and have no idea about the potential risks of undergoing sterilization.
During the course of arguments, the centre insisted that since health is a state issue, there can be little intervention from the Union government in the issue. The court has dismissed this submission.
The court said that the programme is virtually a relentless campaign for female sterilization. Out of 154,347 sterilizations in 2014 only 5,085 are male sterilizations, according to figures available on the website of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
“The sterilization programme is not only a public health issue but a national campaign for population control and family planning. The Centre has an overarching responsibility for the success of the campaign and it cannot shift the burden of implementation entirely on the state governments on the ground that it is only a public health issue,” the court said.
The Sarkaria Commission set up in 1983 on Centre-state relations had also stated that population control and family planning is a matter of national importance and a common concern of the Union and the states.
The court also noted the extremely casual manner in which some of the states responded to the case. “The response of the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Kerala against allegations of mismanagement in at least one sterilization camp stands out. None of these states has given any acceptable response to the allegations,” the court said.
The court also directed the central and state governments to implement the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Guidelines on Standards of Female Sterilization, enacted in October 1999.
The apex court in 2003 had laid down guidelines for compensation for victims of medical negligence in sterilization procedures, as well as accountability for violations of the guidelines.
Pursuant to the court orders the government published a Quality Assurance Manual for Sterilization Services (in 2006); Standards for Female and Male Sterilization (in 2006); and Standard Operating Procedures for Sterilization Services in Camps (in 2008).