In Parmanand Katara v. Union of India
, the Honourable Supreme Court of
India (hereinafter, the Apex Court
) considered a serious problem existing at
present i.e. In a medico-legal case, such as an accident, doctors usually refuse
to give immediate medical aid to victim till all legal formalities are
completed. At times, the injured dies for want of medical aid pending the
completion of legal formalities. The Apex court, however, has now very
specifically clarified that preservation of life is most important.
Once a person loses his or her life, status quo ante cannot be restored. It is a
duty of any doctor to preserve life, irrespective of any criminal background of
the patient. The Court observed:
A doctor at the Government hospital positioned to meet this State obligation
is, therefore, duty bound to extend medical assistance for preserving life.
Every doctor whether at a Government hospital or otherwise has the professional
obligation to extend his services with due expertise for protecting life.
or State action can intervene to avoid/delay the discharge of the paramount
obligation cast upon members of the medical profession. The obligation being
total, absolute and paramount, laws of procedure whether in statutes or
otherwise which would interfere with the discharge of this obligation cannot be
sustained and must, therefore give way....
The apex court has also observed that Article 21 of the Constitution of India
casts an obligation on the State to preserve the life of a person. The patient,
whether an innocent or a criminal liable to punishment under the laws of the
society, it is the responsibility of those who are in-charge of the health of
the community to preserve life so that the innocent may be protected and the
guilty may be punished.
Social laws do not contemplate death by negligence to be
tantamount to be legal punishment. Every doctor whether at a government hospital
or otherwise has the professional obligation to extend his services with due
expertise for protecting life.
The Court has held that Constitution envisages establishment of a welfare state,
and in a welfare state, the primary duty of the government is to provide
adequate medical facilities for the people. The government discharged this
obligation by running hospitals and health centres to provide medical care to
those who need them. Article 21 of the Constitution imposes an obligation on the
State to safeguard the right to life of every individual. Preservation of human
life is of paramount importance.
The Court has insisted that government hospitals and the medical officers
employed therein are duty bound to extend medical assistance for preserving
human life. A government hospital’s failure to provide medical treatment to a
needy person on time violates his right to life guaranteed by Article 21. In
the instant case the right of the petitioner under Article 21 was violated when
he was denied treatment while being in a critical state and needed immediate
Since his right under Article 21 was denied by government
servants, the State is liable to pay him compensation for breach of the same.
The Court awarded him twenty-five thousand rupees as compensation. Moreover, the
Court issued several directions for avoidance of any such incident in future and
to ensure immediate medical attention and treatment to persons in real need.
Court laid stress on a very important and crucial point, viz., the State cannot
plead lack of financial resources to carry out any of these directions meant to
provide adequate medical services to people. The State cannot avoid its
constitutional obligation to provide adequate and sufficient medical aid to the
people on account of financial constraints.
The Court also said that other States, though not parties to the instant case,
should also take necessary steps to implement the directions given herein. The
Court also expected that the government would render necessary assistance in the
improvement of medical services in India.
However, in State of Punjab v. Ram Lubhaya Bagga
, the Honourable Supreme
Court has recognised that provisions of health facilities cannot be unlimited.
It has to be to the extent that finances of the country permit as no country has
unlimited resources to spend on any of its projects. Moreover the right to
get free as well as full medical aid or any facilities has been held to be not a
fundamental right of an ex-serviceman. The policy decision in formulating
contributory scheme for ex-servicemen and asking them to pay ‘one-time
contribution’, does not violate the provisions under Article 21 nor is it
inconsistent with Part IV of the Indian Constitution.
In Common Cause v. Union of India
, the Honourable Supreme Court highlighted
the serious deficiencies and shortcomings in the matter of collection, storage
and supply of blood through the various blood centres operating in the country,
specially in the context of incidence of HIV infected cases. The Court directed
the government to establish a National Council of Blood Transfusion as a
registered society. The Court also directed the States to establish similar
bodies. The Court suggested that the blood banks ought to be licensed under the
Drugs Control Act.
Government is duty bound to provide medical assistance to those in need. Doctors
and medical practitioners, not only those working under the government but even
those who have private practice, are under a duty to provide timely medical
assistance to patients as and when required, denial of which amounts to
violation of their fundamental right under Article 21.
- AIR 1989 SC 2039 (India).
- Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity v. State of West Bengal, AIR 1996 SC
- M. P. JAIN, INDIAN CONSTITUTIONAL LAW 1232 (6th ed. 2010).
- Khatri v. State of Bihar, (II), AIR 1981 SC 928 (India).
- AIR 1998 SC 1703 (India).
- Confederation of Ex-servicemen Association v. Union of India, AIR 2006
SC 2945 (India).
- AIR 1996 SC 929 (India).