Dr. K.C. Malhotra v. State of Madhya Pradesh and Ors

AIR 1994 MP 48
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Petitioner, a medical practitioner, filed a petition requesting that the court direct the State of Madhya Pradesh and the Municipal Corporation, Gwalior to clean up the open drains, dirt, and contaminated water and rubbish which the petitioner claimed resulted in the spread of a cholera epidemic. The Municipal Corporation claimed that it performed it obligatory duties in removing rubbish, purifying water, cleaning public lavatories, spraying for inspects, etc., as well as taking all preventative steps against cholera.

A court inspection of the nalla (sewer drain) observed, inter alia, that the nalla was open in parts, that certain drains opened into the nalla, that public excreta was found at various points in the nalla, and that in case of heavy rains, it was likely that filthy water would accumulate and the water of open taps would be mixed up with the drinking water.

The court confirmed that every Indian citizen has the fundamental right to live with human dignity and that the state had an obligation to provide the minimum conditions ensuring such human dignity, including ensuring certain bare necessaries of life. The court further cited  prior decisions in which the court had required the Municipality Corporation to abate health nuisances by taking action on a time-bound basis and in which the court had confirmed that Article 21 of the Indian Constitution ensures not only physical existence of life, but a certain quality of life.

The court issued directions that (a) the open nalla be covered prior to the rainy season and that all steps be taken to ensure that potable water would not contaminated (b) the respondents ensure that the pipeline of drinking water is not contaminated, that additional latrines be constructed and that other cholera-preventative measures be taken.

“7 India is a welfare State governed by a Constitution which holds a place of pride in the hearts of its citizens. It lays a special emphasis on the protection and well-being of the weaker sections of the society and seeks to improve their economic and social status on the basis of Constitutional guarantees spelled out in its provisions. We live in an age which recognizes that every person is entitled to a quality of life consistent with his human personality. The right to live with human dignity is the fundamental right of every Indian citizen. And, so in the discharge of the responsibilities to the people, the State has to provide at least the minimum conditions ensuring human dignity. . . .The right to life enshrined in Article 21, cannot be restricted to mere animal existence.  It means something much more than just physical survival. The right to life includes the right to live with human dignity and all that goes along with it, namely, the bare necessaries of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter over the head and facilities of reading, writing and expressing oneself in diverse forms, freely moving about and mixing and commingling with fellow human beings. . . .”

“11. The defence of illiteracy and not living in healthy conditions of the inhabitants who belong to the weaker sections of society will not come in the way for that and also the State has to take steps to educate them to live in a proper healthy conditions and for that the State and its instrumentalities and the members of the society have to take all steps to ensure that the members of the down-trodden strata are given full education in that behalf.”

“14. In the background of the law laid down by the Supreme Court, looking to the facts which have come in this case, we are of the opinion that inhabitants of the locality may be of backward class or weaker sections of the society or community at large have got a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution entitling them to live as human beings in the area which is in the limits of the Municipal Corporation. There must be a separate sewage line from which the filthy water may flow out. The nalla must be covered and there should be proper lavatories for public conservancy which should be regularly cleaned. Public health and safety cannot suffer on any count and all steps are to be taken as Article 47 makes it a paramount principal of Government that steps are taken ‘for the improvement of public health as among its primary duties’.”