Pt. Parmanand Katara v Union of India
DATE OF ORDER:
28 August 1989
Hon’ble Justice Ranganath Misra
Petitioner (s): Pandit Parmanand Katara
Respondent (s): The Indian Medical Association, the Medical Council of India, and the Secretary of the Union of India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare
Pt. Parmanand Katara v. Union of India is a case that deals with the constitutional rights to life and personal liberty as well as public interest litigation (PIL). It covers the crucial subject of providing immediate medical help to victims of traffic accidents, underlining the responsibility of the State and society to protect this fundamental right.
The Constitution of India, 1950
- Article 32: Remedies for enforcement of rights conferred by this Part
(1) The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed.
(2) The Supreme Court shall have power to issue directions or orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, whichever may be appropriate, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by this Part.
- Article 21: Protection of life and Personal liberty- No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.
Medical Ethics Code, 1970
- Clause 10: Obligation to the sick- A physician must constantly be ready to answer to cries from the sick and injured, but he must also be conscious of the importance of his mission and the obligation he bears in carrying out his ministerial responsibilities. He must always remember that the wellbeing and lives of individuals under his care are on the line. Humanity and the illustrious traditions of the profession are served by this.
- Clause 13: the patient must not be neglected- A physician is free to decide who he will treat. However, he must provide aid when it is needed urgently or when a reasonable majority of the public expects it. Once a case has been taken on, the doctor must not abandon the patient and must not leave the case without providing the patient, his family, or his responsible friends enough warning so that they may find another medical professional to take over.
Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973
- Section 161: Examination of the Witness by Police- (1) Any police officer conducting an investigation in accordance with this Chapter, or any police officer not below the rank that the State Government may, by general or special order, prescribe in this regard, acting on the officer's request, may question orally any person ostensibly familiar with the facts and circumstances of the case.
- Supreme Court advocate and human rights defender Pandit Parmanand Katara filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) under Article 32 of the Constitution asking the UOI for guidance on the concerning issue of governmental and legal formalities that obstruct the medical treatment of injured victims.
- In a piece headed "Law helps the injured to die," which was printed in the Hindustan Times, the petitioner attached the writ petition. According to the article, a scooterist was struck and killed by a fast automobile.
- After spotting the scooterist who was heavily bleeding, a passing motorist scooped him up and drove him to the hospital. The physicians instructed the man to transport the injured person to a separate hospital 20 kilometres away that was allowed to handle medicolegal matters after they refused to treat the injured person.
- The good Samaritan carried the wounded and wasted no time in making his way to the other hospital, but the victim passed away from his injuries before he got there. Due to this incidence, Pt. Parmanand Katara (the petitioner) felt obligated to act against the hospital's and physicians' irresponsible attitude.
- The petitioner has asked the Supreme Court to order the Union of India to immediately attend to every injured person who has been taken to a hospital and needs emergency care and to provide that person with the medical care necessary to preserve his or her life. To prevent any irresponsible deaths, the criminal law process might be finished along with other legal requirements. Nevertheless, proper compensation should be acceptable in the event of any such negligence.
- Does the right to timely medical attention—guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution—include the right to life and the right to personal liberty, particularly in the event of a car accident?
- Can public interest litigation (PIL) be used to address the social problem of providing accident victims with prompt medical attention?
ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE APPELLANT
- According to the petitioner's counsel, the Code of Medical Ethics’ 1970 clauses 10 and 13 express the obligation placed on medical professionals to provide the best care possible to individuals who have been hurt while abdicating their responsibility to practice medicine.
- The counsel stressed that the medical council itself expects the doctors to carry out their obligations intentionally and without carelessness, with the goal of keeping the accident victim alive as a top priority. Additionally, the Medical Ethics Code of 1970 and other laws like the Criminal Procedure Code of 1973 did not prohibit medical authorities and practitioners from providing medical assistance prior to the completion of all legal requirements.
- The counsel argued that a PIL was a suitable method of bringing this matter before the judiciary because it related to the general welfare and interest of the people.
- Lastly, the counsel argued that the Union of India must issue directives requiring that every injured person brought to a hospital for emergency care be attended immediately, receive medical assistance to preserve their life, and have all legal formalities and criminal law procedures dealt with later in order to prevent the patient's negligent death. Furthermore, the victim or his family should get the proper compensation in the event of any negligence on the part of the medical authorities.
ARGUMENT ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENT
- Although the respondents agreed with the viewpoint of the petitioner in this case, they still placed a few of their contentions forth.
- The respondent's counsel said that the Medical Ethics Code of 1970's Clause 13 specifies that medical professionals have the right to select the patients they wish to treat, except for situations where preserving the wounded person's life becomes urgently necessary. It was determined that medical professionals have no authority to refuse to treat patients in such dire circumstances.
- Although a doctor is not required to treat every patient who is ill, the learned counsel for the respondent cited clause 10 of the Medical Ethics Code, 1970, which states that in an emergency, such as a car accident, a practitioner becomes obligated to provide the necessary medical aid.
- The care of the injured will not be impacted by the arrival of police officers or other legal processes. The hospital or medical institution (both private and public) must manage the medico-legal proceedings regardless of where the accident occurred. Because the cases are medico-legal in nature, the government may not refuse anybody medical care.
- The Director-General of Health Services made the following decisions in this regard: "If the injured person's case falls under the category of medico-legal, it is crucial for the medical officer on duty to report to the constable on duty the details of the injured person, such as his name, location and time of incident, and so on." These choices were not opposed by the Indian government.
- The respondent argued that because this case included policy issues and was not subject to judicial review, PIL could not be used in this situation.
- The bench's learned judge emphasized the issue's enormous relevance as it related to public health. In such situations, a PIL serves as a powerful weapon to advance the public good and safeguard basic rights. The court also stated that in such cases, citizens may approach the judiciary to seek relief, and that PIL was a suitable tool to address societal structural problems.
- According to Article 21 of our Constitution, the State has a responsibility to protect each citizen's life and guarantee their fundamental right to health. The protection of human life is without a doubt of the highest importance. A lost life cannot be brought back to life since man cannot bring back the dead.
- In such cases, it was important to maintain the integrity of the evidence, hence the establishment of medical formalities. The public was reluctant to help people who had been injured because they were afraid of being asked to testify as witnesses or appear in court, the court said.
- There are no legal restrictions when a medical expert is called upon or requested to go to an injured person who needs emergency medical treatment. Every doctor, whether in a government hospital or otherwise, has a professional duty to give adequate skills to safeguard life.
- There were no barriers put in place by the legal system that barred a practitioner from offering therapy, the Hon'ble Apex Court was informed. He also said that any worries about this needed to be addressed to everyone and that it was the duty of both the public and the police to save lives. The learned justices decided that practitioners should only be transported to police stations when absolutely required to allay their ingrained anxiety of being ordered to appear in court.
- Additionally, it was highlighted that when summoning practitioners for cross-examination or to present evidence, courts ought to move cases through promptly to respect their witnesses' time.
Guidelines for PILs: In its ruling, the Supreme Court established crucial standards for PILs in India that have subsequently evolved into guiding principles for cases of a similar nature.
- The courts may consider public interest litigation (PIL) when it relates to the infringement of basic rights or to issues of great public interest.
- Any individual or group may approach the courts on behalf of the general welfare to pursue justice for others and deal with societal structural problems.
- Even if the petitioner has no personal stake in the issue, PIL can be utilised to right a wrong done to a certain group of individuals or society at large.
- When a PIL is used to defend the public interest, the court has the authority to disregard the petitioner's locus standi requirement.The courts have the authority to reject such petitions, and PIL should not be exploited as a vehicle for spiteful or pointless litigation.
The key decision in Pt. Parmanand Katara v. UOI made the life preservation of victims of traffic accidents a top priority and marked a significant step towards development of PIL in India. This decision emphasized the value of human life and indicated that the burdensome legal requirements might be postponed until later while the wounded person would receive medical help first and foremost. It should be highlighted that any completed legal paperwork following a traffic collision must be preserved as evidence since it will be crucial if there is a real criminal prosecution.
The courts should try their best to avoid calling medical professionals as witnesses unless the evidence is pertinent; but, if they are called, every attempt should be made to not squander their important time. These observations were made consequently to protect healthcare workers from harassment. This landmark judgement posed benefits to the public at large and all of this was made possible through the help of PIL. The advantage of PIL in situations requiring medical aid for victims of traffic accidents is that it guarantees urgent medical aid is supplied immediately by accelerating the legal procedure, thereby saving lives in emergency situations. In addition to offering a foundation for future PIL petitions, the court's rules urged individuals to take an active role in advancing social justice and welfare.