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Taking serious note of the fact that reproductive rights of women were still not guaranteed in spite of various schemes being in place, the Delhi High Court has awarded compensation to two women who gave birth on the streets because of the government’s negligence.

Justice S. Muralidhar Friday awarded compensation of Rs.240,000 to the family of Shanti Devi, who died while giving birth on a street and Rs.50,000 to Fatima for negligence on the government’s part by compelling her to give birth under a tree in Delhi.

Stressing the need of reproductive rights, the court said: ‘These cases demonstrated a complete failure of the public health system and a failure in implementation of government schemes, including the National Maternity Benefit scheme (NMBS), Integrated Child Development scheme (ICDS) and Janani Soraksha Yojana (JSY) – a scheme designed to reduce maternal and neo-natal mortality by encouraging institutional delivery for poor pregnant women.’

It also directed the government to aid Fatima’s daughter Alisha’s education till the time she completed high school.

‘Both the cases point to the complete failure of the implementation of the schemes. With the women not receiving attention and care in the critical weeks preceding the expected dates of delivery, they were deprived of accessing minimum health care at either homes or at the public health institutions,’ the court said while disposing of the petitions and asking the government to file a compliance report within eight weeks.

Stating the government’s apathy towards the poor, the court said: ‘Women carry the burden of poverty in that they have to prove their BPL (below poverty line) status when trying to access health facilities. There is no assurance of ‘portability’ of the schemes across the states.’

Shanti Devi travelled from Bihar to Haryana and then to Delhi. In Haryana, she was clearly unable to access the public health services. At Delhi, she had to once again show that she had a BPL card, and on being unable to do so, she was denied access to medical facilities.

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