Paschim Banga khet Mazdoor Samity versus State of West Bengal 1996 SOL Case No. 169 (Supreme Court of India)

Constitution of the Republic of India - Article 21 - Right to life - Patient denied emergency medical treatment - hospitals without facilities and or space to accommodate patient - whether right to life violated - State bound to preserve human life - seriously injured patients cannot be denied admission on ground of non-availability of beds - state under duty to improve its facilities in light of growing needs - State bound irrespective of financial constraints.

Paschim Banga khet Mazdoor Samity versus State of West Bengal 1996 SOL Case No. 169 (Supreme Court of India)

Constitution of the Republic of India - Article 21 - Right to life - Patient denied emergency medical treatment - hospitals without facilities and or space to accommodate patient - whether right to life violated - State bound to preserve human life - seriously injured patients cannot be denied admission on ground of non-availability of beds - state under duty to improve its facilities in light of growing needs - State bound irrespective of financial constraints

Facts

The case concerns the question whether denial of emergency medical aid to a patient at a government hospital amounts to violation of that person's constitutional right to life. It also gives an insight as to how far the court can go in giving directions that have budgetary implications on the state.

In the case a persons fell off a train and suffered serious head injuries and brain haemorrhage. He was taken to a Primary Health Centre but since the centre did not have the necessary facilities he only got first aid and was referred to government hospitals that were well equipped. At the first hospital even after examination had revealed that the patient needed emergency medical treatment, admission was denied on the ground that there were no available beds. He was then taken to several other hospitals but could not get admission either because of lack of beds or facilities to handle his case. He ended in a private hospital where he was treated at his cost.

In his petition he claimed that by being denied emergency medical treatment, his right to life was violated. He claimed damages for this purpose.

The Decision

It was held by S.C. Agrawal, J. that:

  1. The India Constitution envisages the establishment of a welfare state in which the primary responsibility of the state is to secure the welfare of the people. That the government discharges this obligation by running hospitals and health centres which provide medical care to persons seeking to avail those facilities. The Constitution imposes an obligation on the state to safeguard the right to life of every person and preservation of life is of paramount importance. The government hospitals and the medical officers in them are duty bound in this respect. Failure on their part amounts to violation of the individual right to life. That the obligation on the state stands irrespective of constraints in financial resources. The state, it was said, should have a time bound plan for providing these services.
  2. The Court approved of the recommendations that were made by a Committee that had been appointed to inquire into this incident. Directions were given which required the Government to do a number of things to ensure that facilities existed for emergency medical treatment; keeping of proper records of all patients, increasing the number of beds, setting up a central bureau to ensure proper co-ordinated treatment by all hospital among others. Reference was made to the position in the United States of America where by virtue of the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act 1986 all private hospitals that receive medical care benefits and maintain emergency rooms are required to perform two tasks even when a patient is indigent. First the hospital must perform medical screening examination of all prospective patients and second, if the hospital determines that the patient suffers from an emergency condition, to stabilise that condition and cannot transfer or discharge such patient unless this is appropriate.
  3. The Petitioner was awarded Rs 25.000/
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