By – Dhruv Dhingra (NLU ODISHA)
Right to health is a fundamental right enshrined under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The right was recognized by the Supreme Court in ‘Parmanand Katara vs Union Of India & Ors’ which held the state accountable for maintaining life irrespective of who the individual is and hence we can say these rights extend to prisoners. Further the Maneka Gandhi ruling expanded the scope of Article 21 to include right to live with human dignity and the SC In the Francis Coralie Mullin Case further observed that “The right to live includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, viz., the bare necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter over the head and facilities for reading writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and mingling with fellow human beings and must include the right to basic necessities the basic necessities of life and also the right to carry on functions and activities as constitute the bare minimum expression of human self.” Thus laying down the foundation of right to health being a fundamental right.
This research paper aspires to explore breach of any constitutional duties by the state with regards to the death of Father Stan Swamy.
Stan Swamy was a tribal rights activist with a three decades experience, based out of Jharkhand. He was arrested in the Elgaar Parishad case. The case was taken over by the NIA which alleged that all the accused involved in the case had links with the banned organization CPI (maoist). The NIA also claimed that he was a convenor of Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee (PPSC), which it claimed was a frontal organisation of CPI (Maoists). Swamy was a patient of Parkinson’s disease and was 83 when arrested.
He was arrested on 8th oct 2020 and post that the issue of his critical health, age and ailments was raised before the courts multiple times. On the day he was first produced before the court his hands shook and was not even able to sign the Vakalatnama. His health bail plea was rejected by the court which was appalling and was further aggravated by NIA statement that he tried to take advantage of pandemic. He had to make several appeals to the prison authorities, courts and later the human rights commissions to get basic things like sippers and straws. Here the important aspect to observe is how the process of law is being used to defeat the purpose of law. He even appealed to the court about the poor medical facilities and overcrowded cells during a global pandemic but no avail and above all he was being prescribed allopathic medicines by the only doctor at the Taloja jail who was an ayurvedic doctor. This kind of treatment of any prisoner is totally unprofessional, insincere, inhumane and harmful to his health and thus a violation of the constitutional duty and all this is untenable even from the point of view of the basic natural justice principles.
REALITY OF RIGHT TO HEALTH
When it comes to right to health people in prison suffer a ‘double handicap’ they don’t enjoy equal access to the medical expertise like other citizens, and are also highly exposed to health hazards due to prison environment. Good health is a basic human right essential under article 21. The right to health of a prisoner according to the model prison manual includes access to medical care, clean water, nutritional diet and well-ventilated accommodation. But unfortunately the reality differs starkly. As has been discussed above the inhumane application of the letter of the law made the prison authorities insensitive to the need of a basic sipper by a 83 year old undertrial. “Fr Swamy kept requesting for being tested for Covid but the jail authorities did not heed him,” said Father Frazer Mascarenhes, Swamy’s close associate. At a time when the govt was compulsorily testing vulnerable people for covid , neglecting the plea of a totally vulnerable person is a proof that state miserably failed its constitutional duty of protecting fundamental rights.
The sad reality is that state wasn’t held accountable adequately, which is scaringly akin to the situation during the colonial era. Prisons are meant to reform proved uncivil elements of our society and not a place to torture. We are not living in the British era where the prisoners were just mere subjects for them to be punished severely. Many of our freedom fighters were victims of the ill treatment of inmates in jails and still even today our system is not really sensitive to prisoner needs and demands a 83 year old person to give multiple applications to various authorities for securing a basic necessity like a sipper. Being insensitive to the health needs of a 83 year old person is direct blow to the constitutional provisions under article 21.
The real application of article 21 would be for the state to ensure that no one looses on his health owing to his stay in the prison. It should provide sufficient amenities as a standard for the proper psychological and physical wellbeing of a person not only on paper but in reality. Further the paper recommends that the health of people in prisons be monitored regularly. The idea of prison needs to be changed to a reformation center meant for criminals to outgrow of their uncivil tendencies and not a place to punish ruthlessly so that the staff also acknowledges criminals as humans first who deserve basic humanity and decency. Committee reports on prison reforms should be applied sincerely and not just remain mere words. Ultimately the state should be questioned under article 21 for all the procedural delays caused intentionally or unintentially which contributed to the declining health of Father Stan Swamy and were a substantial contributor to his death.
 Parmanand Katara vs Union Of India & Ors, 1989 AIR 2039.
 Francis Coralie Mullin vs The Administrator Union Territory of Delhi and ors, 1981 AIR 746.
 Explained desk, “Explained: Who was Stan Swamy, arrested in the Elgar Parishad case, who died on July 5?” the Indian express (Mumbai, july13,2021).
 Sadaf Modak, Omkar Gokhale “Stan Swamy’s health, age in court — time and again”<https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/stan-swamys-health-age-in-court-time-and-again-7390819/> accessed on 1st march.
 Model prison manual,2016 , mha.gov < https://www.mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/PrisonManual2016.pdf > accessed on 1st march ,2022.
 Dhamini Ratnam and ors “The life and death of Father Stan Swamy”< https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/the-life-and-death-of-father-stan-swamy-101626061660105.html> accessed on 1st march 2022.