South Asia’s judicial systems offer an unprecedented opportunity to ensure that the fundamental rights of the poor and marginalized are protected. Created in India in the 1970s as a judicial response to government disregard for human rights, Public Interest Litigation (PIL) empowers any member of the public (for e.g. NGOs, persons, institutions) to file a legal petition when the fundamental rights of an individual or group of persons has been violated. What followed was a watershed moment in the history of human rights jurisprudence, with the judiciary issuing landmark decisions on economic, social, political and civil rights impacting the lives of millions. Recognizing the importance of this innovative branch of judicial governing, appellate courts in Nepal and Bangladesh adopted similar procedural and substantive standards.
Highlights of Successful Cases (Human Rights Law Network as Legal Counsel)
In Laxmi Mandal v. Deen Dayal Harinagar Hospital & ORS, W.P.(C) 8853/2008, the Delhi High Court issued the first decision in the world to recognize maternal mortality as a human rights violation and core component of the constitutional right to life. The court awarded compensation, recognized the systemic failures in providing health services to poor women, children, and economic migrants, ordered more transparent and effective guidelines to be instituted by the various agencies, and amended a national scheme to recognize women as primary breadwinners. The Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) served as legal counsel for the petitioner.
Premlata & Ors. v. Govt. of NCT Delhi, W.P. (C) 7687/2010, highlights the inextricable link between nutrition and safe motherhood, and seeks increased accountability in the delivery of services. The case was brought by HRLN on behalf of six poor pregnant or lactating women who lived in a slum of Delhi. The women were denied food rations and prenatal and children’s benefits which they were entitled to under several national health benefit programs because the Delhi government was not making ration cards available. Earlier proceedings showed that 55% of the poor in Delhi were “un-carded.” The Delhi High Court issued an interim order requiring the government to set up “camps” where people could organize ration cards, as well as a grievance hotline and payments of damages to the individual plaintiffs.
In Sandesh Bansal v. Union of India (PIL) W.P. 9061/2008, with HRLN serving as legal counsel, the High Court of Madya Pradesh reaffirmed that the right to survive pregnancy and childbirth is a fundamental right protected under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Rejecting the government’s claim that financial constraints served as a barrier to full implementation of public health schemes, the Court ordered a timebound plan for “strict and timely” enforcement of government schemes providing access to timely maternal health services, skilled personnel, effective referral and grievance redressal mechanisms.
In HAQ v. Delhi Development Authority W.P. (C) 2033/2011, filed by HRLN, the Delhi High Court halted a large-scale demolition of a slum in West Delhi that left over 700 families homeless. Over 15,000 people were also under threat of demolition. The Court further ordered interim reliefs such as food, water, temporary shelter and medical assistance.
Housing is a core component of the right to an adequate standard of living. Read More.
It is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Right to Life, observes Supreme Court of India. Read More.
State has to guarantee that the right to health is available, accessible and of high quality. Read More.