Date: 2 November, 2020
by Shwas Bajaj, UILS, Panjab University
Under Art. 38 of the Constitution of India, the State has a duty to ensure social welfare of the people. However, in the absence of general healthcare facilities, the aspired social welfare cannot be accomplished.
According to Art. 47 of the Constitution, it is necessary for the state to make improvements and developments in general healthcare facilities and improve the levels of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health.
However, the Supreme Court has considered the right to health under Article 21.
RIGHT TO HEALTH UNDER ARTICLE 21
Article 21 of the Constitution of India guarantees the right to life and personal liberty. The right to life does not merely mean the continuance of a person’s animal existence, but the right to live a life of dignity. The Supreme Court of India, in a number of judgments, has ruled that the right to health is included under the ambit of Article 21.
In the case of Vincent Panikurlangara vs. Union of India & Ors (1987 AIR (SC) 990), it was ruled by the SC held that “in a welfare State, it is the obligation of the State to ensure the creation and maintaining of conditions congenial to good health”.
It was in the case of Consumer Education and Research Centre vs. Union of India (AIR 1995 SC 922.) that the SC for the first time expressly said that “the right to health is an integral facet of a meaningful right to life”.
The SC in Occupational Health and Safety Association v. Union of India (AIR 2014 SC 1469) gave directions to the Government and other authorities for focusing and giving priority to the health of its citizens, which not only makes one’s life meaningful, improves efficiency, but in turn gives optimum output.
FACETS OF RIGHT TO HEALTH
Not Merely Absence of Sickness: The Supreme Court in CESC Ltd. vs. Subash Chandra Bose (AIR 1992 SC 573.) made the observation that the right to health not merely means the absence of any sickness. Medical care and health facilities not only protect against sickness but also ensure stable manpower for economic development. Facilities of health and medical care generate devotion and dedication to give the workers’ best, physically as well as mentally, in productivity.
Shortage of Resources NO Excuse: It has been held in the case of Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity & Ors vs State of West Bengal & Ano (AIR 1996 SC 2426.), that the State cannot contend the shortage of resources as the State is under obligation under Article 21 to ensure that medical facilities are adequate and available to provide treatment.
No Smoking: In Murli Deora vs Union of India and Ors (2001, 8 SCC 765.), the Supreme Court put a ban on smoking in public places as it violated the right to health of the citizens
Organ Donation: A person is free to donate the organs of his body to save the life of another as held in the case of Smt. S. Mallena v. Secretary, M. & H. Secretariat (AIR 2008 (NOC) 374 (AP).)
Reimbursement of Medical Expenses: The right to reimbursement of medical expenses incurred by the employees and pensioners, on medical treatment taken abroad and in hospitals other than the hospitals of the Government, has been upheld in State of Punjab v. Ram Labhaya Bagga (AIR 1998 SC 1703), to be forming a part of right to health.
With the whole world suffering from the effects and consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the right to health has become the most important aspect of right to life under Article 21.
Narender Kumar, Constitution of India
V. N. Shukla, Constitution of India