A court on Friday asked the Centre and the Haryana government to respond within a month to a petition alleging the state's health policy and programmes discriminate against women by limiting information and access to modern contraceptives.
A division bench of the Punjab and Haryana high court comprising Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Arun Palli delivered the order on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by non-governmental organisation (NGO) Himmat Mahila Samooh, which works for women's empowerment.
The petitioner has alleged the Haryana government had failed to provide women with proper access to reproductive health care facilities as well as adequate and correct information about contraceptives in violation of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) guidelines.
"Denying women access to a full range of modern contraceptives is just another example of how the Haryana government systematically discriminates against and disempowers women in the state," said Payal Shah, senior legal advisor at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which helped the NGO file the petition.
The petitioner has submitted that inadequacy of such facilities leads to mental and physical anguish with unwanted pregnancy and increases the need for unsafe abortion. Veena Kumari, the petitioner's advocate, has argued that according to a law school survey launched in 2013 in Haryana, nearly 86 % of unmarried women said they did not know about modern contraceptive options.
The court observed "the petitioner has sought to raise an important issue of adequate healthcare facilities for family control". It directed the Centre and the Haryana government to "take a considered decision."
"Inadequate access to modern contraceptives... is a human rights violation, and part of the continuum of indignities women in Haryana experience from birth," said Colin Gonsalves, founder of the Human Rights Law Network, another body that helped the NGO in the legal proceedings.
The petition comes against the backdrop of Khap panchayat diktats and honour killings bringing women's rights violation issues to the centre stage in Haryana over the past few years.
"Women worldwide have a fundamental right to decide if and when to have children, and access to the information and means to do so," added Gonsalves, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court.
The petition has also sought that public health facilities be equipped with adequate stock of contraception, and counselling sessions be carried out at anganwadi centres, primary health centres and community health centres.
It has also stressed the need for opening adolescent-friendly clinics, commencing community outreach programmes and forming a committee of civil society members to monitor and submit quarterly status report on such policies.