Court on Its Own Motion v. Union of India [ W.P. 5913/2010 ]

Country India
Category Right to Food, Right to Health
Date of Judgment _
Link / Attachment
  • Description

    Following a newspaper report regarding a destitute woman who died on a busy street four days after giving birth to a baby girl, the Court brought this public interest litigation (PIL) on its own motion. The Court also asked the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), to file an amicus brief on the status of maternal health for destitute pregnant and lactating women in Delhi, and to suggest appropriate remedies. HRLN’s amicus outlined myriad state failures to implement government schemes providing for food and health services to women and marginalized groups. Moreover, the amicus included several examples of government hospitals refusing to admit homeless women in labor.


  • Judgment

    The Court implicitly held that the Constitution guaranteed the right to maternal health.  During the pendency of the case, two shelter homes were created and made operational. Upon final disposition of the case, the Court ordered that a third shelter be established in an area where large populations of homeless persons reside and stated that if the “occasion would arise for establishment of further two homes, liberty is granted to the counsel assisting us to move an appropriate writ petition.” 

    In 2014, conditions at the shelters drew the attention of the Court when HRLN filed a case on behalf of a women who lost her two-month-old daughter in an overnight shelter for families (Priya Kale vs NCT of Delhi WP (C)641/2013). A fact-finding mission revealed that women in the shelter do not have access to antenatal care and routinely deliver on the shelter’s balcony, being exposed to harsh weather conditions. The order resulting from this case required the Motia Khan shelter to dedicate sufficient space for antenatal checkups, to ensure access to supplemental nutrition for pregnant and lactating women, and to guarantee adequate hot water and heaters in winter. The state government has steadfastly fought against providing food to the shelter residents. In the hearing held in the Summer of 2014, the Court clarified that shelters only had to provide food for pregnant and lactating women and their families.

    (Excerpt from the Judgement)

    On 20th October, 2010, after hearing Mr. Colin Gonsalves, learned Amicus Curiae along with Ms. Jayshree Satpute, Advocate, this Court had issued the following directions: -

    (1) Government of NCT of Delhi to demarcate five secured shelter homes exclusively meant for destitute women, pregnant and lactating women so that apposite care can be taken and no destitute women would be compelled to give birth on the footpath.

    (2) The availability of the facilities in such shelter homes shall be monitored by the helplines handled by professionally trained people.

    (3) In the aforesaid shelter homes, food and medical facility shall be available for 24 hours as such facilities are imperative for the cases of the present nature.

    (4) Despite various schemes being framed by the State Government, as the people are not aware of the same, especially due to illiteracy, there would be dissemination of information by radio as well as television in Hindi.

    (5) There should be awareness camps in the areas or cluster of areas by professionally trained people every fortnight.

    (6) The State Government shall provide a mobile medical unit so that the people, especially who are living in slum areas can be taken to the shelter homes or to the hospital as the case may be.

    (7) The State Government shall make endeavour to involve the genuine NGOs so that they can also work for getting the scheme fortified as such an activity has to flow from the top to the ground reality level.