SC Directs Centre to Formulate a Public Health Plan Focusing on Marginalised Sections

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On September 31st, the Supreme Court directed the Centre to convene a meeting comprising States and UTs to address commercialisation of health care in the wake of COVID19. The advice given to the Centre was to come up with a legislative and executive master plan focusing on marginalised sections of society. The Centre is to come up with the said plan within two weeks of the meeting. 

Background

The Petitioner, Sachin Jain, is an advocate practising in the SC. He Petitioned for directing the Union of India to: 

a) Regulate the cost of treatment of patients infected with COVID­19 at Private/Corporate hospitals. 

b) Bear the cost of treatment of COVID­19 patients at private hospitals, for the poor and vulnerable and who have neither the means nor the insurance cover. 

c) Combat the commercialisation of health care by the private health sector as the Government has given them unfettered powers to charge without a cap.

Court’s Observation

SC emphasised that public health is a State matter. It pointed out that only a few states have taken the initiative to pass legislation on the model prepared by the Government of India under the caption “Model Public Health Act”. 

Moreover, the high ideals and several sections of the National Health Bill, 2009 were specifically pointed out that recognise (i) the right to health, and (ii) the right to access, use and enjoy all facilities necessary for ensuring the right to health (iii) emergency treatment and care, irrespective of the inability to pay the requisite fee or charges. 

The States despite having the legislative competence, have failed to act on the said Model Act and Health Bill. The Centre is unable to act, for want of competence. But the Central Government has the power under Section 62 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, to issue certain directions. 

Court’s Decision

A bench comprising Chief Justice SA Bobde, Justices AS Bopanna & V. Ramasubramanian directed the Centre to: 

(i) Convene a meeting of the Health Ministers/Secretaries of all States and Union Territories within one week from the order;

(ii) Devise a legislative and executive master plan in the said meeting, based on the existing Public Health Acts of various States and the National Health Bill, 2009, which focuses on the marginalized sections of society within 2 weeks of the first meeting. 

(iii) Convene a second meeting of the Health Ministers/Secretaries of all States and UTs to collate the information received regarding the steps taken by them. 

(iv) File a comprehensive report with a compilation of the information received.

(v) The States with existing Public Health Acts were thereby further advised to fine tune their existing enactments on the National Health Bill, 2009. 

All the State Governments and Union Territories were suo moto impleaded as parties to the Writ Petition. Further, the Court issued a notice to them. The matter is further listed for hearing after four weeks.


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