Legal Chronicle

March 2024

UJA | Right To Health In India Constitutional Perspective

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“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services...”

-Article 25 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights

Health is an essential prerequisite for human beings and plays a vital role in national development. The right to health is an essential right, without which one cannot exercise its basic human rights.

WHO has given a widely acceptable definition of “health” in the preamble of its constitution; according to the World Health Organization[1], “health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease.”

Through this definition, WHO has helped to move health thinking beyond a limited, biomedical, and pathology-based perspective to the more positive domain of “well-being.”. Also, by explicitly including the mental and social dimensions of wellbeing, WHO has fundamentally stretched the scope of health and, by extension, the role and responsibility of health professionals and their relationship to the larger society.

The Constitution of India is the supreme law of India; it aims to secure social, economic, and political justice. The Constitution of India does not categorically provide for the right to health as a fundamental right. The state is required under the Constitution to take action to enhance the quality of healthcare available to the public. The Directive Principles of State Policy are an expansion and elaboration of the preamble. Nonetheless, the state’s fundamental law protects individual liberties and advances the welfare of the country.

It is the duty of the state to provide an effective mechanism for the welfare of the public at large.

In spite of various health schemes and policies, the condition of healthcare is deteriorating beyond our control. The framers of the Indian Constitution have rightly mentioned various provisions regarding the health of the public. Additionally, the Supreme Court of India plays a vital role in safeguarding the general public’s health through a variety of rulings. The current issue shall be managed by the efficient application of laws passed in accordance with constitutional provisions. The fundamental right to health is not officially recognized by the Indian Constitution. However, a fundamental right to life and personal liberty is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. In this article, “life” refers to a humane life, not just a life of survival or animal existence. Its definition is far broader and covers things like the right to a better standard of living, the workplace and leisure areas being hygienic, and more.

The Indian Constitution contains a number of provisions that address public health in general. To safeguard the general public’s health, the Indian Constitution’s founding fathers correctly included the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP).

Everyone has the right to the best possible level of physical and mental health, which includes access to all medical services, hygienic surroundings, enough food, appropriate housing, safe working conditions, and a clean environment. This is known as the human right to health. As a result, access to the provision of healthcare must be guaranteed without prejudice.

“Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health
Conference, New York, 19–22 June 1946; signed on 22 July 1947 by the representatives of 61 States (Official
Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100), and entered into force on 7 April 7, 1948″

Directive Principle of State Policy And Health

Part IV of the Indian Constitution which is DPSP (Directive Principles of State Policy) imposed duty on states. Articles 38 impose liability on state that state secure a social order for the promotion of welfare of the people but without public health we can’t achieve it. Article 39(e) related with workers to protect their health. Article calls the state to make sure that health and strength of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children are not abused. Article 41 imposed duty on state to public assistance basically for those who are of old age, sick & disable. Article 42 it’s a primary responsibility of the state to protect the health of infant & mother by maternity benefit. Article 47 makes the duty of the state to improve public health, securing of justice, human condition of works, extension of sickness, old age, disablement and maternity benefits and also contemplated. Further, State’s duty includes prohibition of consumption of intoxicating drinking and drugs are injurious to health. Article 48A ensures that State shall Endeavour to protect and impose the pollution free environment for good health. Some other provisions relating to health fall in DPSP. 

Right To Health Under Fundamental Rights

Right to Health an integral part of right to life which is fundamental for all human beings under Article 21 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court has given identification to right to Health vide different techniques of interpretation. Right to Health is also one of the rights, which is implied under right to life and personal liberty as guaranteed by the Constitution of India.

Article 21-Protection of Life and Personal Liberty deals with “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”. The right to live means something more, than mere animal existence & includes the right to life consistently with human dignity & decency. In numerous cases the Supreme Court held that right to health & medical care is a fundamental right covered by Article 21 since health is essential for making the life of workmen meaningful & purposeful & compatible with personal dignity.

Supreme Court, in its land mark judgment in Pramand Katara V Union of India & others [1]ruled that every sector whether at a government hospital or otherwise has the professional obligation to extend his services with due expertise for protection life. No law or state action can intervene to avoid or delay the discharge of the paramount obligation cast upon members of the medical profession. The obligation being total, absolute, and paramount, laws or procedure whether in statutes or otherwise which would interfere with the discharge of this obligation cannot be sustained, and must, therefore give way.

In some cases the injured die for want for medical aid pending the completion of legal formalities. The Court stated that preservation of Health is of paramount importance. Once life is lost it cannot be restored. Hence, it is the duty of doctors to preserve life without any kind of discrimination.

Acts Involved:

Constitution of India and Indian Medical Council Act, 1860.

Similarly again the Supreme Court in State of Karnataka V Manjanna deprecated the tendency of doctors to refuse to conduct medical examinations of rape victims in rural government hospitals unless referred by the police. The court observed, ‘ we wish to put on record our disapproval of the refusal of some government doctors, particularly in rural areas, where hospitals are few and far between, to conduct any medical examination of a rape victim unless the case of rape is referred to them by the police’. The court added that such a refusal to conduct the medical examination necessary results in a delay in the ultimate examination of the victim, by which the evidence of rape may have been washed away by the complainant herself or be otherwise lost, The court, therefore, directed that the state must ensure that such a situation does not recur in future.

A three judge bench of the Supreme Court in Consumer Education & Research Centre & Others v. Union of India ruled that the right to health and medical care, to protect health and vigour while in service or post retirement, is a fundamental right of a worker under Article 21, read with Articles 39(e), 41, 43, and 48A. All related articles and fundamental rights are intended to make the life of the worker meaningful and purposeful.

The health of the worker is an integral facet of the right to life. In that case, health insurance while in service or after retirement was held to be a fundamental right, and even private industries are enjoined to provide health insurance to the worker.

Article 23

Is indirectly related to health. Article 23(1) prohibits traffic in human beings. It is well known that traffic in women leads to prostitution, which is turn is to major factor in spread of AIDS. Article 24 is relating to child labour it deal with “no child below the age of 14 years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment. Thus this article directs the relevance to child health. 

In addition to Constitutional remedies sensitizing of the relevant ordering law towards late health for all adds to the content of right to health. Legal prohibition of commercialized transplantation of human organ and effective application of consumer protection Act to deal with deficient medical services has animated right to health.

Article 25 and Article 26:

Freedom to Profess or Practice Religion and Freedom to manage Religious Affairs: Article 25 guarantees to every person and not citizen of India the right to profess and practice religion and Article 26 gives special protection to religious denominations. Both can be enjoyed by any person subject to public order, morality and Health and other provisions of the respective part of the Constitution.

Article 51- A:

Fundamental Duties It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have

compassion for living creatures. It shows that every citizen has a fundamental duty to protect and improve natural environment since it is closely related to public Health.

Article 243-W

The Constitution provides that the legislature of the State may by law, endow the municipalities with such powers and authorities as may be necessary to enable them to function as institutions of local self-government. This power is connected with matters included in the Twelfth Schedule, item 6 i.e. Public Health, sanitation conservancy and solid waste management.
It is the primary duty of the state to provide for secured health to its citizen. No doubt the government is rendering this obligation by opening government hospitals and health centre’s, but to be meaningful they must be within the reach of its people and of sufficient liquid quality.

“Parmanand Katara v. Union of India. 1989 AIR 2039, 1989 SCR (3) 997.”

Right To Health In International Human Rights Law

Formation of Internal Committee :

International human rights law recognizes the right to the best possible level of health as a human right. As a primary tool for safeguarding the right to health, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights affirms that “everyone has the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” Notably, the Covenant pays equal weight to physical and mental health—a topic that has frequently received less attention.

Different approaches are taken to the right to health in later international and regional human rights accords. While some are applicable to all people, others focus on the human rights of certain groups, like women or children.

International human rights treaties recognizing the right to health:

  1. The 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: art. 5 (e) (iv)
  2. The 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: art. 12
  • The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: arts. 11 (1) (f), 12 and 14 (2) (b)
  1. The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child: art. 24
  2. The 1990 International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families: arts. 28, 43 (e) and 45 (c)
  3. The 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: art. 25

A number of regional instruments, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1981), the European Social Charter (1961, revised in 1996), and the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, also recognize the right to health. Health-related rights such as the right to life, the ban on torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and the right to family and private life are covered by the American Convention on Human Rights (1969) and the European Convention for the Promotion of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950).

Lastly, at least 115 constitutions recognize the right to health and/or health care. There are at least six more constitutions that outline obligations regarding health, such as the State’s need to create health services or allot a certain amount of money for them.


The severe weaknesses in India’s healthcare system have been made clear by the pandemic. The lack of legislation that upholds a fundamental right to health is a major contributing factor to India’s poor public health. In order to help India deal with the issues, it is necessary to establish the right to health as a fundamental right and to put it into practice within the parameters of legal mechanisms and the human rights principles of solidarity, proportionality, and transparency. Thus, it is imperative that the values of openness, proportionality, and solidarity be applied in the implementation of the right to health.

It is the need of the hour that the govt. should now focus on amendments to the current legislation and laws of India. The present health care services should be reviewed, and accordingly, new ones should be made with the involvement of the people.

Therefore, the importance of recognizing the right to health cannot be overstated. While it’s not explicitly stated in the Constitution, the World Health Organization considers health a fundamental human right. This implies that every individual, regardless of background, deserves access to the highest attainable standard of health. Despite the Supreme Court of India affirming the right to healthcare through various judgments, the state has not fully acknowledged its significance. The court’s broader interpretation of Article 21 has equated the right to health with the right to life, affirming its status as a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution.

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