Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity & Ors v State of West Bengal & Anor. Cited as: (1996) AIR SC 2426/ (1996) 4 SCC 37
Constitutional duty of government-owned hospitals to provide timely emergency treatment to someone seriously ill; obligation imposed by right to life (Article 21); availability of financial resources; state responsibility to provide emergency health services.
The petitioner sustained serious injuries after falling off a train. He was refused treatment at six successive State hospitals because the hospitals either had inadequate medical facilities or did not have a vacant bed.
The Court declared that the right to life enshrined in the Indian Constitution (Article 21) imposes an obligation on the State to safeguard the right to life of every person and that preservation of human life is of paramount importance. This obligation on the State stands irrespective of constraints in financial resources. The Court stated that denial of timely medical treatment necessary to preserve human life in government-owned hospitals is a violation of this right. The Court asked the Government of West Bengal to pay the petitioner compensation for the loss suffered. It also directed the Government to formulate a blue print for primary health care with particular reference to treatment of patients during an emergency.
Keywords: Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity & Ors v State of West Bengal & Anor. Cited as: (1996) AIR SC 2426/ (1996) 4 SCC 37, Health, Rights
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Petitioners are members of an organization of agricultural labourers. Lawyers - For the Petitioner: Shri Muralidhar, Advocate; For the Intervenor: Rajeev Dhavan, Senior Advocate (with P H Parekh, Shefali S Fazl, and Anne Mathew, Advocates) For the State: S Hegde SeniorAdvocate (with Dilip Sinha, Dayan Krishnan and J R Das, Advocates for Sinha and Das); For the Union of India: A N Jayaram, Additional Solicitor General (with S N Sikka, Raj Singh Rana, D.S. Mara, V.K. Verma, Advocates)
The case was the first in which the Supreme Court held that the right to life included an obligation to provide timely medical treatment necessary to preserve human life. Muralidhir (see below) has observed that the decision in Paschim Banga delineates the right to emergency medical care for accident victims as forming a core minimum of the right to health. Paschim Banga was subsequently discussed and distinguished by the Constitutional Court in the South African case of Soobramoney v. Minister of Health. In the later case of Consumer Education and Research Centre v. Union of India (1995 3 SCC 42) the Supreme Court recognised that state resources are not unlimited and that no breach of the Constitution was incurred by reducing some employees' entitlements to medical benefits (1997 (12) BCLR 1696 (CC))