New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the central government to persuade the states to halt the holding of sterilisation camps with well-equipped primary health care centres taking over the role.
The court also asked the central government to take a decision by December 31, whether it would like to frame a National Health Policy or not.
"The Union of India should make efforts to ensure that sterilisation camps are discontinued as early as possible but in any case within the time frame (of three years) already fixed," said a bench of Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit in their judgment.
Calling for a decision on the National Health Policy, the court said: "We have already expressed our sadness at the fact that the National Health Policy has not yet been finalised despite the passage of more than one and a half years."
Besides calling for a halt to the sterilisation camps, the court said that there should not be any targets for the implementation of the sterilisation programme.
"Although the Union of India has stated that no targets have been fixed for the implementation of the sterilization program, it appears that there is an informal system of fixing targets," said Justice Lokur speaking for the bench.
"We leave it to the good sense of the each state government and union territory to ensure that such targets are not fixed so that health workers and others do not compel persons to undergo what would amount to a forced or non-consensual sterilisation merely to achieve the target."
Pointing to the policy imperative of increasing the proportion of male sterilisation from existing five per cent to 30%, the court said: "Coercive methods are not justified and are not even effective in meeting the goals of population control. Improved access, education and empowerment should be the aim.
"The right to health is an integral part of the right to life does not need any repetition."
Referring to 363 deaths that have taken place due to sterilisation procedures during 2010-2013, the court said that discontinuation of sterilisation camps would "necessitate simultaneous strengthening of the Primary Health Care centres across the country both in terms of infrastructure and otherwise so that health care is made available to all persons".
Stressing that the significance of well-equipped PHCs across the country "certainly cannot be over-emphasised", the court said: "We direct the Union of India to pay attention to this as well, since it is absolutely important that all citizens of our country have access to primary health care."
Referring to the submission of the central government in the course of the hearing that as a matter of public health issue, sterilisation programme was the responsibility of the states, the court said that it could not pass the buck of its failure of giving national campaign for population control and family planning the importance it deserved.
"It is rather unfortunate that the Union of India is now treating the sterilisation program as a public health issue and making it the concern of the state government. This is simply not permissible and appears to be a case of passing the buck," the court said.
"This game of passing the parcel and treating a national program as a public health issue has to stop and somebody must take ownership of the Population Control and Family Planning programme."
The verdict came on a PIL by a health rights activist Devika Biswas who had sought the court's intervention following spate of botched-up sterilisation camps that were conducted across the states - from Bihar to Chhattisgarh - resulting in loss of precious human lives.