By Adv. R. S. Agrawal :
The right to life includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, namely, the bare necessaries of life. It was held that every act which offends against or impairs human dignity would constitute deprivation pro tanto of this right to live and it would have to be in accordance with reasonable, fair and just procedure established by law which stands the test of other fundamental rights.
THROUGH a Public Interest Litigation instituted by two doctors- Dr Sadanand Burma and his another co-professional 14 years ago regarding deaths of large number of children due to rampant malnutrition in Melghat area of Vidarbha, was highlighted and much to regret of all concerned, ground realities indicate that even today tragedy is continuing more or less on the same scale and that has necessitated an order passed by the Bombay High Court division bench consisting of the Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G.S. Kulkarni on August 23, 2021. The HC has noted the alleged pathetic conditions in which the tribal population is made to survive without the requisite medical and healthcare facilities and without proper nutrition and expressed wish to monitor the situation placed the Principal Secretary, Department of Health and Family Welfare on guard that recurrence of child death due to malnutrition in the near future would not be lightly dealt with.
It is therefore, desirable that all possible steps are taken to ensure that no death of any tribal child, in the area in question, due to malnutrition, occurs prior to next date of hearing. The HC has warned that should any such incident is reported, the Principal Secretary could be held personally responsible. It would also be advisable if the Health Department Makes an immediate plan of deputing specialist doctors to the tribal areas in question so that the tribal population is not deprived of the basic medical and healthcare facilities. Also, qualified dieticians may be deputed for recommending appropriate diet for such tribal children, who are suffering from malnutrition. All other departments of the Government shall co-ordinate with each other to give effect to this order by providing food/meals as per the diet recommended by the dieticians.
The HC has asked the State to file affidavit on the next date (two weeks from the date of this order) and indicate the measures that have been taken in compliance with this order as well as deal with the contents of the affidavit to be filed by the respondent -7 (B.S. Sane in person). Such affidavit should also indicate the status of the core committee and the functions undertaken by it since the time, it was constituted by the order of July 9, 2013. The HC has also stated that the Central Government if so advised, may file an affidavit, giving details of funds released to the State for tribal development and the extent of its utilisation. The petitioner-doctors have through this PIL invited the Court’s attention to the death of children in the age group of 0 to 6 years in the tribal dominated areas of Chikhaldara, Dharni taluka of Amravati District owing to malnutrition and prayed for ameliorative steps to be taken to prevent such unfortunate death decades after the nation attained independence. Senior Advocate, J.T. Gilda, who is placing before the HC the facts of this continuing tragedy, since 1993-long period of 28 years, intimated to the Court that despite lapse of 14 years since the institution of this PIL, there has not been much headway in securing the physical and mental growth of tribal children of the aforesaid area.
Between April and July, 2021, more than 70 children in the age group of 0 to 6 years have passed away either due to malnutrition and/or lack of medical facilities. The Court has been also informed that in the absence of requisite medical and health care facilities, together with appropriate medical personnel, there is an imminent need of posting of gynecologists, pediatricians and other specialist doctors for preserving and protecting the younger generation of the tribal population It was further contended that since the tribal villages are at a faraway distance from the nearest district hospitals, there is an imperative need to set up hospitals/health centers with appropriate facilities. It was brought to the notice of the Court that death of tribal children due to malnutrition is not now confined to the aforesaid area but in other tribal dominated areas in Maharashtra too there have been similar deaths. A core committee which was set up by an order of July 9, 2013 to monitor and oversee to see that such unfortunate incidents do not recur, is largely non-functional and ineffective. Finally, the Court was also informed that there ought to be appropriate audit of the Central funds that were released from time to time for the benefit of the tribal population. The HC has reminded of the Supreme Court’s observations made more than 40 years back in the judgment of the case – Francis Coralie Mullin v.
The Administrator, Union Territory of Delhi & Others-Air 1981 SC 746, that the right to life enshrined in Article 21 cannot be restricted to mere animal existence. It means something more than just physical survival. The inhibition against its deprivation extends to all those limbs and faculties by which life is enjoyed. That it is every kind of deprivation that is hit by Article 21, whether such deprivation be permanent or temporary and, furthermore, deprivation is not an act which is complete once and for all, and it is a continuing act and so long as it lasts, it must be in accordance with procedure established by law. The right to life includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, namely, the bare necessaries of life (as against criminal existence) such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter over the head and facilities for reading, writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and commingling with fellow human beings.
It was held that every act which offends against or impairs human dignity would constitute deprivation pro tanto of this right to live and it would have to be in accordance with reasonable, fair and just procedure established by law which stands the test of other fundamental rights. Protection of the health and strength of workers, men and women, and of the tender age children against abuse, opportunities and facilities for children to develop in a healthy manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity, educational facilities, just and humane conditions of work and maternity relief are the minimum requirements which must exist in order to enable a person to live with human dignity and neither the Central Government nor any State Government has the right to take any action which will deprive a person of the enjoyment of these basic essentials. These principles have been reiterated by the Supreme Court in its several judgements.