Devika Biswas versus Union of India and Ors, Writ Petition (C) No. 95 of 2012, The Supreme Court of India
In a horrific incident in Kaparfora middle school, Araia district, Bihar, where 53 women were sterilized in unsanitary conditions, in complete violation of the guidelines on “Standard Operating Procedures for Sterilization Services in Camps” laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court and Government of India. Devika Biswas, a social activist, filed this writ petition in the Court and the Hon’ble Supreme Court passed a much awaited landmark judgment with the dawn of September 14, 2016. The judgment concluded a five year long fight against the mass sterilization drives where women between the ages of 15 and 49 have been sterilized. The judgment noted that evidence of poor quality of care during sterilization camps leading to deaths in several cases has been reported from other states including Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra during the course of hearing. The civil society organisations have welcomed the judgment as it calls for strengthening of health system, to improve the quality of care of the Family Planning programme and accountability of government. The Hon’ble Supreme Court recognized deaths, failures, complications and coercion as a result of female sterilization have implications for women’s Rights to life. Important points of the judgment: 1. The judgment directs the government to phase out camp approach in next three years and instead strengthen health facilities for better services. 2. Coercive methods are not justified and are not even effective in meeting the goals of population control. Improved access, education and empowerment should be the aim. 3. The court pointed out that Government of the Union of India must take ownership of the family planning programme which is matter of ‘Concurrent list’ of the constitution. The responsibility of success and failure of the family planning must rest squarely on the shoulders of UOI and it cannot ‘pass the buck to the state government. 4. The judgment confirms the allegations that the over-whelming number of sterilization procedures is targeted towards women and there is virtually no attention paid to male sterilization. 5. Contents of the checklist should be explained to the proposed patient in a language that he or she understands and the proposed patient should also be explained the impact and consequences of the sterilization procedure to avoid ‘incentivised consent’. 6. State Government and Union Territory to ensure that targets are not fixed for health workers which amount to a forced or non-consensual sterilization. 7. Quality Assurance Committees at the State and District Level should publish details of committee members on the website of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as well as the corresponding Ministry or Department of each State Government and each Union Territory, six monthly report containing of the number of persons sterilized as well as the number of deaths or complications arising out of the sterilization procedure, non-statistical information in the form of a report card indicating the meetings held, decisions taken, work done and the achievements of the year etc. 8. Regular audits to be conducted of failures and deaths and Annual Reports of the Quality Assurance Committees must include details of such audits held and remedial steps taken. The first Annual Reports should be published before March 31, 2017. 9. The quantum of compensation fixed under the Family Planning Indemnity Scheme (FPIS) deserves to be increased substantially and the burden thereof must be equally shared by the Government of India and the State Government. The Supreme Court has directed Union of India to finalize the National Health Policy on or before 31st December, 2016 keeping issues of gender equity in mind.