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Statement on SC verdict for closure of sterilization camps in India

Sep 17, 2016

This judgement has the potential to shape India’s family planning program into a programme of national significance, writes Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, The Population Foundation of India.

Poonam Muttreja

New Delhi: PFI welcomes the Supreme Court judgement which we consider a landmark one.

Providing quality services to and upholding the dignity of women will now be placed strongly on the national agenda. The Government at the centre – I refer to the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare has been conscious of the need to put greater emphasis on quality.

However, at the state and district levels, the quality consciousness and assurance has not been part of the health system in general. This judgement from the Supreme Court will help in ensuring that at the state and district levels as well, the judgement is taken seriously.

We believe, that this will also help to strengthen the implementation and monitoring of the family planning programme.

It is encouraging to see that a comprehensive management approach is being deployed to manage the crucial task of providing family planning services to both women and men in India.

The trauma and experience of going through sterilisation camps for women is a sad and a very tangible testament to the neglect as well as the poor quality that characterise the family planning services. Tragic as the Bilaspur sterilisation camp was in the year 2014 where 16 women lost their lives, PFI’s report titled ‘Robbed of Choice and Dignity - Indian Women Dead After Mass Sterilisation’ clearly demonstrated evidence on why the camps’ approach should be ended and instead fixed date services instituted as the norm for sterilisation services.

We are pleased to note that all the recommendations that PFI had made in the Bilaspur report and the advocacy efforts undertaken towards expanding choice, increasing budgets and placing family planning as a sexual and reproductive health and right have been re-emphasized in the judgement which is reflected in the commitments made by the centre and state Governments.

Since Bilaspur, we have seen a very collaborative and supportive Government at the centre. In fact, in December 2014, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued a directive to all Principal Secretaries for Health at the state level to adhere to the guidelines and protocols to deliver quality family planning services in a spirit of voluntarism and within a rights and accountability framework.

In our view, there are several positives that have accrued as a result of this judgement. It has encouraged the Ministry to promote gender equity in the family planning programmes. It has made clear that family planning is not just about women but also about men and the need for their increased involvement in family planning; that the sterilisation programme cannot be primarily targeted towards women but must also actively include men as well.

Looking at the bigger picture, the judgement makes a strong case for the Union of India to address itself to gender equity, directing it to ensure strict adherence to the guidelines and standard operating procedures that it has issued in various manuals. It underlines that the sterilization programme is not only a public health issue but a national campaign for Population Control and Family Planning and that theUnion of India has the overarching responsibility for its success.

It further predicates that the Union cannot shift the burden of implementation entirely on the State Governments and Union Territories on the ground that it is only a public health issue.

The best part of the judgement is that it fosters collaboration between the Centre and the states to find remedies to problems and improve the wellbeing of its people.

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