The Supreme Court directed the Centre to finalise the National Health Policy by December 31, 2016 and end mass sterilisation camps, saying that poor and tribal men and women cannot be reduced to mere statistics in the country's population control campaigns.
In a 51-page judgment on Wednesday, a Bench led by Justice Madan B. Lokur squarely blamed the Centre for “passing the buck” to the States for the increasing number of sterilisation deaths in mass camps.
It said the Centre has failed in its duty to effectively monitor sterilisation - a programme of national importance. The apex court slammed the Centre's attitude to treat sterilisation as a mere “public health” issue coming under the States' watch.
The court said mass sterilisation camps were perverse products of the Centre's population control campaigns driven by informal targets and incentives. They infringe on the "reproductive freedoms of the most vulnerable groups of society whose economic and social conditions make them easy targets to coercion".
The court said “improved access, education and empowerment” and not coercion should be the guiding factors behind the government's population control campaign.
“Policies of the government must not mirror the systemic discrimination prevalent in society... it is imperative for both the Union and the State Governments to implement schemes announced by the Union in a manner that respects the fundamental rights of the beneficiaries of the scheme,” Justice Lokur wrote in the judgment.
The verdict issued several guidelines for the government, primarily to increase the compensation for sterilisation deaths “substantially” and mandatorily explain to the patient, in his or her local language, the impact and consequences of a sterilisation procedure.
The court condemned how the National Health Policy has continued to remain a draft on the website of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for over the past one and a half years.
The ministry website still shows that the National Health Policy has not been finalised, the judgment observed.
The Centre has not bothered to implement the National Health Policy even though the draft recognised the co-relation between health and development; the “high inequity” in access to health care in the country; and even states that sterilisation related deaths are a direct consequence of poor health care quality and is a preventable tragedy.
The judgment came on a petition filed by activist Devika Biswas who highlighted the horrors of a January 7, 2012 mass sterilisation procedure done on 53 women at a school compound in Araria district of Bihar. There was a single surgeon wearing no gloves, passing from one patient to the next at a camp which did not even have running water.