The Universal Right to Health in India

July 29, 2011

By Binayak Sen

(translated by Priyanka Srivastava from SEHAT AUR SAMAJ, Volume 1, June-August, 2011)


In India, the debate over right to health has reached a sensitive and complicated juncture. The provisioning of health care in the country displays acute disparities. Although the rich have recourse to a flourishing international medical tourism and sophisticated bio-medical technologies, the poor cannot even avail basic health-care facilities. Besides showing the lack of adequate facilities, the health condition of common people is reflective of the dismal state of the broader markers of public health. For instance, adequate food, clean drinking water, and sanitation are still not available to the numerous impoverished inhabitants of the country. Ever since economic reforms took off in the early 1990s, the per capita annual food consumption has gone down drastically. The findings of the recent National Family Health Survey (2005-2006) show that the decrease in child mortality rates has slow down enormously. The Survey provides equally shocking evidence of malnutrition among children. It amply proves that a market-oriented economy leads to deprivation and therefore, creates public health problems.

The concerns for common people’s health conditions and health-care rights are not new. In 1946, the Health Survey and Development Committee advocated a health-care system based on equality, accessibility, and universality. However, the realization of these goals has been painfully slow. The current and future budgetary plans of Indian government would only widen the existing disparities of our health-care system. In comparison to the earlier 0.9%, the government plans to allocate 3.0% of the GDP to the growth of the health sector. However, it is doubtful that our weakened and shaky public health system can take advantage of such plans. The state governments have been unable to deploy the approved public health resources simply because they lack the means and vision to use them.

Any meaningful universal health services plan must be based on an equitable distribution of resources. In this context, the National Health Act of 2009 (NHA 2009) holds a special relevance. Jan Swasthaya Abhiyan, the Indian chapter of Jan Swasthaya Andolan has played a crucial role in generating public opinion for the NHA 2009. This Act is the first attempt to address some core issues such as the access of the marginalized population to basic health amenities. It also guarantees the right of the common people to adequate food, clean drinking water, and sanitary housing. However, the Act hardly charts out the means and ways to achieve these goals. Similarly, it remains vague about the financial resources needed for implementing such fundamental changes. Therefore, we suspect that this Act might become just another addition to our country’s impressive, albeit unfulfilled, goals of social justice. The achievements of such high goals require the commitment of the state to the welfare of its masses, a situation totally missing in contemporary India. Blinded by the superficial markers of economic growth, the state in India is increasingly becoming loyal to international capital and its Indian affiliates. The growing corporatization of natural resources is leading to large scale displacement of the people. The ongoing displacement of people not only snatches away means of livelihood but also renders the execution of any public health program impossible.

However, this grim scenario must not diminish our hopes. The anti-people policies of the state and corporate houses face tough popular resistance. The strong peoples’ movements in India has forced the state to introduce pro-people measures such as a Public Distribution Scheme, the Right to Information Act, the Right to Employment, and Forest Rights. Currently, various groups and individuals have been pressing for a universal right to health in India. Such assertions derive strength from the directive principles of India’s constitution that encourages the attainment of social justice and equality. The solution to the current crises in India lies in following these principles.


2 Responses to “The Universal Right to Health in India”

  1. Ravi Paloor Says:
    August 13th, 2011 at 07:53

    Yes. We should have a health policy. Such policy should notto favour the TRANSNATIONAL MEDICARE SYSTEM. That should be on the basis of developing indegenous system of health awareness. Not SUPER SPECIALITY HOSPITALS.

  2. apeksha choudhary Says:
    September 20th, 2012 at 04:57

    Seriously we have so many laws on the health care , but there is no proper implementattion of the laws .So this is the time to take a effective steps for heath protection

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