In March 2018, iProbono lawyers Rajshekhar Rao and Gauri Puri obtained crucial relief in a case that highlights the plight of prenatal and antenatal health care schemes accessible to women in India.
According to a UNICEF Report, with an estimated 117,000 deaths in 2005, India accounted for a fifth of the total maternal deaths globally. Progress on reducing the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) has been slow. The issue was prioritized under the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to ensure health and well-being of women and children. To address this issue and improve maternal health, the UN set a goal of reducing the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030. In India, however, a maternal death happens every five minutes.
The Laxmi Mandal Case
In 2008, Shanti Devi was forced to carry a dead foetus in her womb for five days after being denied medical treatment at several hospitals because her husband was unable to show the relevant documents to avail medical services. Two years later, she died following a premature labour when she was again unable to access adequate maternal healthcare, despite being qualified for healthcare services under existing state-sponsored schemes. Following her death, Shanti’s family petitioned the Delhi High Court. This led to the landmark judgment in Laxmi Mandal vs. Deen Dayal Upadhyay Hospital & Ors where the High Court ordered compensation for the petitioners on the grounds that women’s reproductive rights, recognised as a constitutional right to life, had been violated. The judgment affirmed that it was the State’s responsibility to ensure that “poor persons” are able to access the benefits they are entitled to instead of putting the burden on those entitled to the benefits to demonstrate their eligibility.
Though the judgment in the Laxmi Mandal case was robust and progressive, pregnant women are still being denied access to government schemes. In 2016, five pregnant and lactating women residing in Bhim Nagar slums of Nangloi were denied essential maternal health and nutrition benefits under the Indira Gandhi Matritya Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY) Scheme despite suffering complication during and after pregnancy. All the petitioners were between 25 and 30 years old with a monthly income of less than Rs. 8000. They filed complaints and made representations in order to secure their due benefits. Despite this, they could avail the benefits they were entitled to receive.
iProbono’s lawyers and Nazdeek represented the women and filed a contempt petition under the Laxmi Mandal case. One of the petitioners had approached the High Court previously but she joined this petition again since had not received her entitlement for second IGMSY installment.
Despite various schemes and court decisions granting pregnant and lactating women financial and nutritional assistance, women continue to be denied these benefits. Over time, these schemes become defunct owing to non-implementation and immense delays in disbursement of funds. It is a denial of a woman’s right to life if every woman is forced to seek redress from a Court to obtain their entitlements.
The petitioners drew special attention to willful disobedience and gross violation of the directions issued by the Court in previous judgments like the Laxmi Mandal case. After a court battle of almost two years, the five petitioners finally received their allotted benefits under the IGMSY scheme amounting to Rs. 6,000. We hope our efforts impact the lives of other women across the country and essential maternity benefit are paid out in full and in a timely manner.
 By 2030, reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births
 (W.P. (C) 8853 of 2008) in the Delhi High Court
 All of the petitioners filed complaints with the Public Grievance Mechanism System without getting a response
 Petitioner 5, Anita, was part of the Pooja & Ors. Case