Mere involvement in litigation against each other would not change the status of their relationship.
The Constitution of India establishes a welfare state whose duties include the providing of medical care for its citizens. This right is firmly protected within the right to live with dignity under Article 21. Additionally, as an employer, the government must ensure (as Section 603 of the Railway Servants Manual clearly notes) the health of its employees
The Delhi High Court recently rapped the railway authorities for denying medical benefits to a mother-daughter duo, and held that making entitlement of such benefits dependent on declaration from the husband/ father would be unconstitutional.
"The reason that the drafters of the Constitution included Article 15 and 16 was because women (inter alia) have been subjected to historic discrimination that makes a classification which disproportionately affects them as a class constitutionally untenable. The Northern Railways‟ decision to not grant the Appellants medical cards clearly has such a disproportionate effect. By leaving an essential benefit such as medical services subject to a declaration by the railway officer/servant, the dependents are subject to the whims and fancies of such employee. The large majority of dependents are likely to be women and children, and by insisting that the railway officer/servant makes a declaration, the Railway authorities place these women and children at risk of being denied medical services," the Bench comprising Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva observed.
The Court was hearing Appeals filed by the wife and daughter of a former employee of the Northern Railways, challenging an order passed by a Single Judge whereby the two had been denied a medical card. This was due to the fact that the employee, Mr. Om Prakash Gorawara was entangled in a series of litigations against his wife and had, thus, removed their names from his medical card before he retired, disentitling them to free medical services that are otherwise available to the dependents of railway employees. The Single Judge had upheld the denial, holding that the issue involved was a personal dispute and that in the absence of nomination from Mr. Gorawara, the Appellants cannot claim medical benefits.
The mother-daughter duo had now contended that the impugned order was arbitrary, discriminatory and hence, unconstitutional. They had pointed out that the husband and wife had not severed marital ties yet, even though they were being paid maintenance by Mr. Gorawara.
Mr. Gorawara had challenged the Petition contending that he was living separately and did not have any semblance of a family life with them. He, therefore, did not wish for them to secure free medical services based on his medical card.
The Court, at the outset, relied on para 603 of the Railway Servants' Manual, to observe that it includes within the definition of "family" spouses and unmarried daughters. It then opined that the understanding of the Railways that it was the employee's declaration that would entitle the dependents to medical benefits was "utterly flawed".
It observed, "No one can argue - and mercifully the Railways is not arguing- that the status of the family members depends on the declaration. To accept that submission would be startling, because it would empower a spouse or father, upon caprice, with the blink of an eyelid, without any rhyme or reason, to decide to deprive what his family members would otherwise be entitled to.
By way of illustration, if a dependent, unmarried daughter suffering from a chronic ailment such as tuberculosis or acute diabetes, for some reason has a difference of opinion with her father, or a young college going dependent son similarly has differences with his father, but needs urgent surgery and in both cases, are estranged from their father, the father in either case (if he is capricious) can cut off medical aid. Plainly, the interpretation given by the railways, empowering the railway servant to ignore existing status of his family members through unilateral exclusionary declaration, is untenable."
In the same vein, the Court observed that mere involvement in litigation against each other would not change the status of their relationship and opined that the Railways had, in fact, violated Article 21 of the Constitution of India by their actions.
The Court explained, "Madhu is suffering from various chronic ailments that have rendered her unemployable. Her daughter has chosen not to secure employment in order to care for her ailing mother. The Constitution of India establishes a welfare state whose duties include the providing of medical care for its citizens. This right is firmly protected within the right to live with dignity under Article 21. Additionally, as an employer, the government must ensure (as Section 603 of the Railway Servants Manual clearly notes) the health of its employees...
... Thus, by denying the medical facilities to Madhu, Northern Railways is in effect, violating the mandate enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution."
The Court further noted that the Railway's actions, which might have been taken on a seemingly innocent ground, have discriminatory effects "due to the structural inequalities that exist between classes".
It explained, "It is irrelevant that the Railways did not deny them the medical card because the Appellants were women, or that it is potentially possible that a male dependent may also be denied benefits under decision made by the Railways. The ultimate effect of its decision has a disparate impact on women by perpetuating the historic denial of agency that women have faced in India, and deny them benefits as dependents."
The Court, therefore, set aside the impugned order and directed the authorities to issue separate medical card and privilege pass to the Appellants.