Nagpur high court orders state to take immediate action to improve public health facilities for pregnant women


Dinanath  Waghmare  vs.  The District Collector, Nagpur District and others. The High Court at Nagpur ordered the State to immediately establish a committee including the Chief Secretary of Maharashtra, The Principal Secretary of the Finance Department, the Secretary of Medical Education and Research, and the Secretary of the Public Works Department to locate gaps in the public health system and to take steps to “ensure the right to health in its true perspective.” (para 9) In February 2012 health activists documented deplorable conditions in public health facilities throughout Nagpur, Chandrapur, and Gardhchiroli districts of Maharashtra. The fact-finding highlights major fundamental rights violations and obstacles to quality care including poor hygiene, inadequate access to health facilities, insufficient staff, and widespread malnutrition. A follow up team of health activists visited the districts in June 2013 and noted continued failures to ensure basic services, entitlements, and dignified health care including: Administrative barriers preventing women from accessing entitlements Lack of essential free medicines Inaccessible health care for rural and urban poor due to poor road conditions and long distances between health facilities Extreme lack of hygiene in all facilities Staff shortages Poorly-functioning or non-existent blood storage units Based on these reports, social Dinanth Waghmare filed a Public Interest Litigation in the High Court in 2013 (PIL 121/2013) broadly praying for implementation of schemes, immediate improvements in hygiene, and adequate staff. The High Court issued notices in January 2014. The Respondents filed their reply months later in April 2014. After considering the pleadings in December 2014, the Court concludes, “the State cannot run away from its obligation to provide medical facilities to the citizens,” (para 8) the High Court outlined the conditions in government hospitals in its December 2014 order noting, “The garbage and biomedical waste is dumped in an open area, around the walk-ways and wards. The toilets are totally unhygienic. There is no proper facility for supply of potable drinking water. In some of the wards, two or more women share one bed. In a neonatal ward, 2-3 newborn babies are squeezed in one incubator.” (para 3) Citing inadequate staffing and poor maintenance by the Public Works Department as major obstacles to adequate care, the High Court gave the Committee 12 weeks (i.e., until March 2015) to submit a report detailing major gaps in public health care and proposed solutions. The Committee has a very broad mandate to ensure that “the right to health, which now has been recognized by the Apex Court to be a fundamental right, cannot be an empty right.” (para 5)