Surjit Singh v. State of Punjab and others

1996 AIR 1388; 1996 SCC (2) 336; JT 1996 (2) 28; 1996 SCALE (1)648
Download Judgment: English
Country: India
Region: Asia
Year: 1996
Court: Supreme Court
Health Topics: Health care and health services, Health systems and financing, Hospitals
Human Rights: Right to life
Tags: Public hospitals, Tertiary care

Surjit Singh, the Appellant, developed a heart condition when he was the Deputy Superintendent Police. While on leave to visit his son in England, the Appellant had to be admitted into a hospital for by-pass surgery. On returning to India, he submitted his medical bills for reimbursement. The State of Punjab, the Respondent, had agreed to reimburse his bills to the extent of the amount that would have been spent if he had undergone surgery at the government hospital, All India Institute for Medical Sciences (AIIMS). The same was ordered by the Punjab and Haryana High Court to be paid within six weeks of the judgment.

The Appellant filed an appeal in the Supreme Court requesting the Court to direct the Respondent to reimburse his bills to the extent of the amount that would have been spent if he had undergone surgery at the Escorts Heart Institute and Research Center (Escorts), a private hospital. The Appellant argued that Escorts was approved by the government for open heart surgery, therefore, he could claim reimbursement for the amount that he would have spent if he were admitted in Escorts.

As to whether the Appellant would have gone to Escorts, if he were in India, the Court held that the fact that Appellant agreed to incur “considerable expenses” in being admitted in a hospital in England proves that he needed immediate attention. It, therefore, held that it could be inferred that if he would have been in India he would have gone to Escorts.

On the obligation of the state to reimburse, the Court held that the right to life was enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution. The State had an obligation to protect that right. This, according to the Court, entailed reimbursement of expenses incurred for “self preservation.” The Court, thus, directed the Respondent to reimburse the Appellant’s medical bills based on expenses that he would have incurred had he been admitted in Escorts.

“It is otherwise important to bear in mind that self preservation of one’s life is the necessary concomitant of the right to life enshrined in Article 21 of the constitution of India, fundamental in nature, sacred, precious and inviolable.” Page 8.