11 January 2013, NEW DELHI
In a contempt hearing initiated by the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), the Delhi High Court gave the Union of India and the NCT of Delhi “a final opportunity” to fully implement the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) and National Maternity Benefit Scheme (NMBS) within six weeks. If the NCT Delhi fails to fulfill its obligations by 7 March 2013, the Respondents will have to answer to the Court. The contempt petition emerges fromthe Delhi High Court’s judgment in Laxmi Mandal vs. Deen Dayal Harinagar Hospital & Ors. (W.P. (C) 8852/2008). In its landmark decision, the Delhi High Court became the first national level court to hold that maternal mortality is a violation of a woman’s fundamental right to life. The petition outlines the circumstances leading to the preventable maternal death of Shanti Devi and the degrading conditions under which Fatema delivered her daughter, Alisha. The High Court passed extensive orders to award compensation to the families and to ensure meaningful implementation of government schemes for Below Poverty Line women. To date, the Respondents have not complied with these orders.
Broadly, JSY establishes cash incentives for delivery care and NMBS provides Rs. 500 to all pregnant women 8-12 weeks prior to delivery. Because the Government of Delhi has failed to implement these schemes, homeless pregnant and lactating women like Fatema and Priya Kale, have been unable to access the government entitlements that provide them with the minimum nutritional and financial support they need to survive.
The original Writ Petition,Laxmi Mandal vs. Deen Dayal Harinagar Hospital & Ors. (W.P. (C) 8852/2008), details grave violations of Shanti Devi and Fatema’s fundamental rights. Shanti Devi had no choice but to carry a dead fetus in her womb for 5 days, as multiple facilities refused to treat her. She only received medical care after the Delhi High Court intervened. While the High Court considered the petition, Shanti Devi became pregnant again, and died after giving birth to a pre-mature baby. The baby, Archana, survived and currently lives with a neighboring family. Fatema delivered her daughter, Alisha, in full public view under a tree in Jangpura, New Delhi. In both cases, the government failed to provide the women with their financial or nutritional entitlements under myriad Union of India sponsored schemes. The Court ultimately found that the Respondents violated both Shanti Devi and Fatema’s fundamental rights to life and health under the Constitution. In addition to providing compensation to both Shanti Devi’s family and to Fatema, the Court ordered the Respondents to comply with a 2007 Supreme Court order directing all state governments and Union Territories to implement both the NMBS and JSY schemes.
HRLN will continue to pursue this matter until the most marginalized women in Delhi can fully realize their right to healthy and dignified, pregnancy, delivery, and post-partum period.
For more information, please contact:
Kerry McBroom, Director, Reproductive Rights Unit, HRLN (+91 9650316596)
Advocate Jayshree Satpute (+91 9871155098)