Ten members from the Baiga community have filed a PIL in Chhattisgarh High Court, challenging a 38 year-old order restricting permanent family planning among Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs).
Harendra Singh Sijwali, a social worker from Ganiyari and Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (People’s Health Movement) Chhattisgarh are co-petitioners in this PIL.
The order, issued by the Public Health & Family Welfare Department of Madhya Pradesh on 13.12.1979, stated that PVTGs could undergo permanent sterilization only after permission from the block office.
This order was operationalised as a veritable ban on sterilization of PVTGs in Chhattisgarh and those desiring sterilization are forced to travel to Madhya Pradesh or other neighbouring states to get the service. The petitioners, that include eight women and two men from the Baiga community, from Mungeli and Bilaspur districts have been trying to get permission from the government for permanent sterilization, but it was denied.
The 1979 order is being challenged on the grounds that the order is arbitrary and violates the right to life and liberty, which includes the right to health and reproductive rights. It further discriminates against tribal people and hence violates Article 14 of the Constitution of India.
The State of Chhattisgarh through its Chief Secretary, Health Secretaries of Chhattisgarh and Government of India and the Tribal Commissioner of Chhattisgarh have been made respondents in the Writ Petition.
The petition argues that the order has caused tremendous hardship to the tribal people in the state particularly women. In the absence of family planning options tribal couples have been forced to have large families. The High Level Committee on Socio-Economic, Health and Educational Status of Tribal Communities of India constituted by the Government of India noted in its report in 2014 that “such a policy denies members of PVTGs the autonomy to make free and informed reproductive choices, and particularly denies any agency and bodily autonomy to women of these communities, who have to bear the burden of the denial of access to sterilisation facilities. Moreover, it sidesteps the real factors contributing to high mortality rates such as chronic malnutrition, starvation and lack of access to adequate health facilities”.
The PVTG communities in Chhattisgarh are Baiga, Kamar, Birhor, Pahari Korwa and Abujhmaria.
One of the petitioners is presently pregnant with her fifth child, though she had wanted to undergo sterilization after her fourth child, and had asked for permission, but was denied. Another petitioner’s wife had conceived as she had been denied family planning services and subsequently ended her three months pregnancy through self-medication. She is presently facing health complications. A number of media reports and studies have been quoted in the petition that illustrate the hardships being faced by these tribal groups due to denial of family planning services.
Relief requested from the High Court includes directing the respondents to withdraw the government order dated 13.12.1979, provide complete family planning services, including sterilization services, guaranteed under the National Health Mission, to all tribes and in all the areas without any restrictions, as per the guidelines laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Ramakant Rai (1) & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors. (2009) 16 SCC 565 and the Standard Operating Procedures for Sterilization issued by Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, and to ensure that petitioners from the Baiga community are immediately allowed to access sterilization services at a health facility of their choice authorized to conduct sterilization procedures.
The preliminary hearing was held on 21st February at Bilaspur High Court in the Bench of Justice Pritinker Diwaker and Justice Sanjay K. Agrawal. The petitioners were asked to produce documents to show that the order is not in force in Madhya Pradesh, as sterilization services are being provided to PVTGS there.
Notice has not been sent to the respondents as yet and the next hearing has been listed for 3rd March.