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SC Raps States for Outsourcing Sterilisation Camps to NGOs

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court today took strong exception to the outsourcing of sterilisation camps by state governments to NGOs, as questions were raised over the family planning targets set by the Centre which have to be fulfilled by the states.

The matter being heard by the apex court related to such a camp in Bihar‘s Araria district where 53 women were operated within about two hours in January 2012.

A bench headed by Justice M B Lokur also asked Chhattisgarh government to file an affidavit specifying details as to how much compensation was paid to the victims of such a camp held in November 2014 in Bilaspur district in which over dozen women had lost their lives.

“It is a question of human life. We can’t live with problems throughout our lives. It needs to be cured, solutions need to be found. This compensation thing is bringing all the problems. For this compensation, there is race against time and a number of operations are being conducted,” it said.

The bench, also comprising Justice U U Lalit, asked Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand to specify the Centre’s stand on discontinuing granting of compensation to the patients and sought suggestions from it to check outsourcing of such camps and imposition of guidelines.

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioner, said the target for sterilisation set by the Centre was the “trigger point” and states have to fulfil them.

States in order to meet these targets outsource the camps to NGOs, he said, adding that ASHA workers who are given targets bring women to such camps.

To this, the court said “sometimes the women are not even aware what they are subjected to. They (NGOs) are not doing any philanthropic work.”

“All possible loopholes need to be plugged. You can’t flock people like herds (to these camps). Compensation needs to be dissuaded,” the bench observed.

When counsel for Chhattisgarh government said action has been taken against the doctors who had conducted the operations, the bench retorted: “Forget about the prosecution and say what are the steps taken to prevent such incidents”.

It sought details of the steps taken by the state.

The bench also threatened to impose Rs five lakh as compensation per victim on an NGO, Jai Ambe Welfare Society which had organised the camp in Bihar in which 53 women were operated in around two hours in January 2012.

“How are these NGOs selected for conducting such camps? Is there any background check? Who are the doctors who conduct such camps? Who gives permission for holding camps,” the bench asked ASG.

The Additional Solicitor General told the bench that the Centre has framed certain guidelines for conducting sterilisation camps and it was the state which has to decide on who will conduct these camps.

The court was hearing a plea filed by Devika Biswas, who has sought an independent probe by a body like National Alliance for Maternal Health and Human Rights into such incidents.

Biswas, who hails from Araria district and claims to be an eye-witness, has also sought a thorough probe into the January 7, 2012 sterilisation camp held in her district.

The bench asked the NGO to file its audited accounts, permission for holding such camps, details of members on its board and whether it had any medical professional or not.

Counsel appearing for the NGO argued that it has been blacklisted by Bihar government since the incident and the only allegations against it was that they had supplied expired date medicines to persons who had undergone the surgery.

During the hearing, Gonsalves said the fact-finding team had found that all these camps were being held in unhygenic conditions and lacked proper infrastructure.

“These camps are held in various states. First it was Bihar, then Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. Everywhere the situation is same. The operations are even held in schools under torch light,” he said supporting the guidelines framed by Centre and terming them as “excellent”.

To this, the bench said it presumed that the guidelines were good but the point was their implementation and the Centre should coordinate with states in this regard.

“What we want is that a mechanism needs to be developed in which Centre or the concerned authority should send people to supervise such camps,” the bench said.

ASG said the Centre does not have any shortage of people and the direction can be complied with.

The bench, posted the matter for further hearing on May 3 and asked the petitioner, Centre, Chhattisgarh government and the NGO to file their details, suggestions in affidavit by April 28.

“Reports and fact-findings from Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh demonstrate that standards of hygiene, consent and care are routinely ignored in sterilisation camps. In all cases, poor, tribal and rural women are the victims of these unsafe and illegal practices,” Biswas had alleged in her plea.

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