On February 6, judges declared that the state of Madhya Pradesh had violated a woman’s “fundamental right to live” when the government failed to
provide proper prenatal care and maternal health services in an appropriate and timely manner.
The public interest case,
Sandesh Bansal v. Union of India
sought to hold the state of Madhya Pradesh accountable for the unacceptable conditions in its health facilities, which contribute to the state’s high
maternal mortality ratio. Filed in 2008 by Human Rights Law Network on behalf of Sandesh Bansal, a health activist based in the state, this case
focused on the Bhind district, where there is an acute shortage of trained healthcare providers, services, and equipment for pregnant women seeking
care. One facility had women sharing beds, while another was sending women in need of blood transfusions to a health center at least two hours away.
Basic infrastructure and sanitation were absent in many instances. The Center supported the petition with a memorandum highlighting violations of the
right to survive pregnancy and childbirth under international law.
In the final decision, the judges declared “a shortage not only of the infrastructure but of the manpower” which has led to the “inability of a woman
to survive pregnancy and childbirth [which] violates her fundamental right to live as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.” The
decision noted the importance of women being able to access timely maternal health services and the direct relationship between delayed antenatal care
and maternal mortality. It ordered the state of Madhya Pradesh to implement existing national policies meant to protect maternal health and
specifically do the following:
Improve conditions in health facilities by guaranteeing that 24-hour delivery and other maternal health services be available and provided by
Make basic infrastructure improvements, such as fully functioning electricity and water systems.
Ensure that an emergency vehicle be available 24 hours a day for all 227 community health centers in the district.
Provide for the vaccination of pregnant women and their newborns, and establish a monitoring system to track patient records.
We hope that this recent victory enables the practical realization of the standard of health and dignity for pregnant women in India that is enshrined
in national and international law.