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Supreme Court of India issues notices to the State, Union of India after HRLN files Special Leave Petition (SLP) on Maternal Mortality on Assam’s Tea Estates

Date : 17/09/2012

New Delhi – The Honorable Supreme Court of India has issued notices to the State of Assam and Union of India on the failure of that state to implement the country’s National Rural Health Mission (NRHM). The Special Leave Petition (SLP) to the Supreme Court of India filed by HRLN advocate Jayshree Satpute, comes after the Honorable High Court of Judicature in Guwahati disposed of HRLN’s Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in July 2012. The Honorable High Court of Judicature in Guwahati wrote, “We hope and trust that the concerned authorities will perform their duty sincerely in implementing the scheme which provides for access to basic health services for most disadvantaged sections of society.”

The SLP underscores numerous specific deficiencies in the state’s implementation of the National Rural Health Mission including a general lack of adequate transportation and communication, hygienic and functional health facilities, 24/7 delivery services and facilities, doctors posted at public health facilities, newborn care units, and access to blood banks. Additionally, the SLP illustrates that notwithstanding civil society and legal pressure; the State has defaulted year after year ignoring its responsibility to provide women with equal access to health. In so doing, the Assam government has forsaken the lives of thousands women and children. Assam’s failure to meet the maternal health needs of women on its Tea Estates violates Article 21 (Right to Life) of the Indian Constitution. Furthermore, the SLP enumerates myriad violations of international human rights norms under the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) including the right to health and to maternal health.

After several reports of an unnaturally high incidence of maternal deaths in Assam’s rural districts, the Promotion and Advancement of Justice, Harmony and Rights of Adivasis (PAJHRA) organization, approached HRLN to carry out a fact-finding mission on Assam’s Tea Estates. During its fact-finding, HRLN staff met Yaahub Kandulna who told of losing his wife in March 2010. His wife Shanti Haasa was 8 months pregnant with her sixth child when she went into labor. Whenthe village ASHA was unavailable, Shanti received delivery care from two local Dais. After a cursory examination, Shanti was told that she had a dead fetus in her womb. Yaahub called on a private doctor who gave Shanti an injection to expel the fetus. Hours later, Shanti died from excessive bleeding. Yaahub had no time or means to take Shanti to the nearest hospital 25 km away to seek emergency treatment. The results of that fact-finding and the efforts of both PAJHRA and HRLN researchers and advocates have resulted in HRLN’s present SLP.

As a part of a nation-wide maternal mortality litigation strategy, HRLN will continue to hold the Centre Government and the State of Assam accountable for their violations of women’s right to life, health, and non-discrimination.

The Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) is a collective of lawyers and social activists dedicated to the use of the legal system to advance human rights in India and the sub-continent. Visit hrln.org to learn more.

For additional information on this case, please contact Sarita Barpanda; sarita@hrln.org

Assam-SLP-Order-17092012
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