Laxmi Mandal v. Deen Dayal Harinagar Hospital (2011)

Two cases were filed in the Delhi High Court concerning the right to maternal health for poor, urban women, focusing specifically on the government’s failure to ensure that pregnant women are able to access essential services and entitlements guaranteed under various government benefit schemes.

One case sought accountability for the maternal death of Shanti Devi, a migrant woman belonging to a scheduled caste. The other case sought accountability for the denial of health services experienced by Fatema, a young, urban, poor woman suffering from epilepsy and severe anemia who was forced to deliver a child in public under a tree and without any medical assistance.

Despite qualifying for benefits under various government schemes, such as the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY), the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), the National Maternity Benefit Scheme (NMBS), the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) and the National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS), Shanti Devi and Fatema were repeatedly denied the medical care, rations, and financial support they were entitled to, resulting in humiliation, suffering, and—for Shanti Devi—death.

The petitions highlighted the deficiencies in the implementation of a cluster of schemes, funded by the Government of India, which were meant to reduce infant and maternal mortality. The issues common to both petitions concerned the systemic failure resulting in denial of benefits to two women below the poverty line (BPL) during their pregnancy and immediately thereafter.

Laxmi Mandal is the first decision in India to recognize maternal mortality as a human rights violation and to order compensation and other relief for such violations. The decision clearly articulates the right to maternal health as an unequivocal, legally enforceable right, and it establishes that women who are deprived of this right must be provided with compensation.