Health as a fundamental Right

Current Scenario:

Amidst the pandemic, the frantic cries for oxygen, hospital beds, medicine and even a place to cremate their own, laid bare our failure to extend dignity in both life and death. This was compounded with the loss of income, debt, food insecurity, and illiteracy. That is the situation of lakhs of families in India today. The most profound loss is of people’s faith in the ability of the country’s healthcare system to protect them. It is the primary responsibility of government to reinstate this faith.

Need for making healthcare a fundamental right

  • The right to equality guaranteed under Article 15 upholds non-discrimination on the basis religion, race, caste, gender, place of birth, etc.
  • However, the dismal investment in public health for decades has made healthcare a privilege available to a few.
  • The constitutional right to health is critical to breaking discriminatory structures that will otherwise continue to perpetuate inequality in all spheres of life, including education, opportunity, wealth, and social mobility.
  • The judicial interpretation of the right to life and liberty under Article 21 in several judgments as inclusive of health was crucial, but has its limitations.
  • The universal access to healthcare is now as achievable as it is indispensable. The rights of people are not stagnant, and must evolve as the country evolves.
  • Ayushman Bharat is an ambitious scheme with great potential, but there is a difference between a rights and a service-delivery model of development.
  • India has never spent more than 2% of its GDP on healthcare. And healthcare facilities across the country straddle different levels of efficiency and sufficiency.
  • The impact of COVID-19 has shaken even States like Kerala and Tamil Nadu that traditionally did well in the area of healthcare.
  • There are other dimensions to making health a fundamental right. For example, Delhi is the world’s most polluted city. In winter especially, you can barely venture out in the morning smog without catching an infection.

Implications of making Health as fundamental right:

  • If health is a fundamental right, it will give a spine to the entire health ecosystem, empower doctors and healthcare workers, and ensure transparency, inclusivity, and accountability.
  • Moreover, it will pave the way for special legislation, capable institutions, increased budgets, medical training and research, wellness and prevention, and outreach of services.
  • It instils immense confidence and positivity amongst the citizens.
  • In a country where 63 million people slip back into poverty due to catastrophic healthcare costs, it is hard not to see the logic of legally mandating health as a right, and thereby empowering the citizen to hold the state accountable for it.
  • By declaring health as a fundamental right, the government would be compelled to think seriously about the pollution aspect or the environmental impact when, say, granting permissions for new industries or framing development policies.

As the legal guardian responsible for the safety and security of all its citizens, it is the state’s duty to protect its citizens from mortality and morbidity caused by disease and illness as well. Making health a fundamental right would thus give citizens the power to hold the state accountable for fulfilling its responsibility toward them.