A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been filed in Supreme Court seeking nationalization of the healthcare sector and related services till the COVID-19 pandemic is contained.
Filed by advocate Amit Dwivedi, the petition asserts that the fight against the novel Corona Virus would require a great deal of reliance on healthcare facilities and the public health sector is not sufficiently equipped to handle this requirement alone. Therefore, argues Dwivedi, the private sector must also be roped in and "all health care facilities, all 36 institutes, all companies and all entities related to health care sector" must be nationalized to defeat the pandemic.
To buttress his point, the petitioner highlights the poor state of affairs of India's public health care system, and attributes it primarily to the lack of expenditure on the same.
"In the budget of 2020, India chose to allocate only 1.6% of its total estimated budget expenditure on public health…For years expenditure on public health facilities has been low and as a result of which India's public health infrastructure is substandard and inadequate, more peculiar in the time of pandemics like COVID-19, in comparison to the world and unfortunately we could not see much development in this front."
On the other hand, he states that private healthcare facilities in India are world class which is evidenced through the steady growth of our medical tourism. These facilities have percolated down to small towns and are not only limited to metropolises, he adds. In this light, "it is factually incorrect and misleading that India does not have equipped hospitals and health care related facilities", submits Dwivedi.
However, the concern is that "private facilities remain out of bound for the majority of Indians as the likely cost to be incurred is prohibitive in the nature and acts as a barrier."
The petitioner goes on to iterate that the Central government is responsible for the overall well-being of India and has a duty to protect Indians during this crisis presented by the global outbreak of Corona virus. Along with the Union, States and Union Territories are also responsible for the health of their population and it is the collective obligation of these Governments to mitigate the ill effects of the pandemic.
Thus, invoking Articles 21 and 47 of the Constitution, it is argued that the right to get treatment is part of the Fundamental Right to life and that improvement of public health is amongst the primary duties of the State respectively.
The petitioner also refers to Article 38 of the Constitution, which requires the State to eliminate inequalities related to status, facilities and opportunities. Apropos this, it is emphasized that "nothing would weaken status and dignity of a person more than the inability to get himself/herself and its family tested, if need be, and treated of this deadly disease due to financial constraints and lack of public health care system".
With reference to measures taken by India currently, like the nationwide lockdown and social distancing, Dwivedi claims that we have been learning from the experience of other countries who dealt with an advanced or worst stage of the pandemic. Furthering the same logic, it is submitted that many countries have opted to nationalize their health care system, which has paid dividends. Thus, in the Indian context, it is urged that "once nationalization of the health care facilities and related institutions happen, then the struggle against COVID-19 would become effective.
As an alternative to nationalization of the healthcare sector, the petitioner has prayed for an order directing all the healthcare related entities to conduct tests, all subsequent tests, procedures and treatments in relation to COVID-19 disease free of cost for all citizens of India till the pandemic COVID-19 is contained.
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