Supreme Court today directed the Centre to do away with sterilisation camps within three years and strengthen the primary healthcare centre system, saying “it is time that women and men are treated with respect and dignity and not as mere statistics in the sterilisation programme”.
The verdict was delivered when the court was dealing with a PIL which had brought to light the mismanagement of sterilisation camps which had led to the death of several persons in recent years in many states.
“The Union of India is directed to persuade the State Governments to halt the system of holding sterilisation camps as has been done by at least four States across the country.
“In any event, the Union of India should adhere to its view that sterilisation camps will be stopped within a period of three years,” a bench of Justices M B Lokur and U U Lalit said.
The apex court said that sterilisation surgeries, despite not being complicated, have caused several deaths across the country.
“Sterilisation surgery does not appear to be complicated and yet several deaths have taken place across the country over the years. Undoubtedly, this needs looking into by the Government of India and the State Governments and remedial and corrective steps need to be taken.
“Persons who are negligent in the performance of their duties must be held accountable and the victims and their families provided for. It is time that women and men are treated with respect and dignity and not as mere statistics in the sterilisation program,” the 51-page verdict, written by Justice Lokur, said.
The apex court also directed the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to conduct an audit to ensure that funds given by the Centre have been utilised for the purpose for which they were given for the period from 2013-14 onwards.
The court expressed unhappiness at the fact that the National Health Policy has not yet been finalised despite the passage of more than one and a half years.
“We direct the Union of India to take a decision on or before December 31, 2016 on whether it would like to frame a National Health Policy or not. In case the Union of India thinks it worthwhile to have a National Health Policy, it should take steps to announce it at the earliest and keep issues of gender equity in mind as well,” it said.
The bench, while passing a slew of directions for active consideration on sterilisation issues, said it was “pained to see the casual approach” of some states like Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Kerala with regard to the allegations of mismanagement of sterilisation camps.
It directed the apex court registry to send the copy of judgement to the High Courts of the four states for being placed before the Chief Justices and said that they should initiate suo motu public interest petition to consider the allegations in respect of the sterilisation camps held there.
It also directed for the copy of verdict to be placed before Chief Justice of Patna High Court to ensure speedy completion of investigations and proceedings relating to the mishap on January 7, 2012 in such a camp in Kaparfora Government Middle School, Kursakanta, Araria district and the one in Chhapra in Bihar.
The apex court directed the Centre to ensure strict adherence to the guidelines and standard operating procedures in the various manuals issued by it.
“The sterilisation program is not only a Public Health issue but a national campaign for Population Control and Family Planning.
“The Union of India has overarching responsibility for the success of the campaign and it cannot shift the burden of implementation entirely on the State Governments and Union Territories on the ground that it is only a public health issue,” the court said.
The apex court said although the Centre has not set any target for implementation of the sterilisation programme, it appeared that there was “an informal system of fixing targets”.
“We leave it to the good sense of each State Government and Union Territory to ensure that such targets are not fixed so that health workers and others do not compel persons to undergo what would amount to a forced or non-consensual sterilisation, merely to achieve the target,” it said.
On different incentives given for male and female sterilisation, the bench said the policies of the Government “must not mirror the systemic discrimination prevalent in society but must be aimed at remedying this discrimination and ensuring substantive equality.”
“In this regard, it is necessary that the policies and incentive schemes are made gender neutral and the unnecessary focus on female sterilisation is discontinued,” it said.
The bench noted that as many as 363 deaths have taken place due to sterilisation procedures during 2010-2013 and said this was a high figure.
“There is a need for transparency coupled with accountability and the death of a patient should not be treated as a one-off aberration. Therefore, it is directed that the Annual Report prepared by the Quality Assurance Committees (QAC) must indicate the details of all inquiries held and remedial steps taken,” it said.
The bench’s verdict came on a PIL filed by Devika Biswas alleging mismanagement at sterilisation camps in Bihar’s Araria district where 53 women were operated within about two hours in January 2012 and a camp held in November 2014 in Bilaspur district of Madhya Pradesh.