Is the right to health a fundamental right? Is such a right integral part of Right to Life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution? If so, whether yoga as part of the right to health should be made compulsory in all the institutions and be made a part of the curriculum in educational institutions? To settle these issues, the Supreme Court of India is set to hear a petition on Monday (Nov. 7, 2016) seeking to make the yoga compulsory.
A bench of chief justice of India (CJI) Tirath Singh Thakur would hear the petition by lawyer and Delhi BJP spokesman Ashwini Kumar seeking a direction to the Union Ministry of Human Resources Development (HRD), NCERT, NCTE and the CBSE to supply “standard textbooks on ‘Yoga and Health Education’ for students of class 1-8”. It said that this is keeping in mind the other fundamental rights like the right to life, education, equality etc.
The petition said the right to life under Article 21 in its sweep and ambit also includes “protection, prevention and cure of health” and is a “”minimum requirement” to enable a person to live with human dignity.
As such, Article 21 guaranteeing the right to life has been expanded to such an extent by various decisions of the Apex Court to include the right to life with dignity. Starting from classic cases like A.K. Gopalan (right to life), Maneka Gandhi (passport case), Bandhua Mukti Morcha (child labor case of Swami Agnivesh), the Apex Court kept expanding the scope, sweep, and ambit of Article 21. Even a dead body has dignity and hence even the dead body of a murderer awarded the Capital Punishment after execution should be given the final rights with respect and due dignity in accordance with his or her religious faith and beliefs.
However, the curious issue in the present petition is whether only by making yoga compulsory in educational institutions the right to health as a fundamental right would be established. A gym owner may say make a gym in every educational institution compulsory. As such physical education training (PET) is a compulsory subject up to class XII. Although the yoga is universally recognized as a wonderful set of exercise to improve mind and body, the question is whether it alone ensures good health? But the petition said the State has an obligation to ensure good health facilities to all citizens and added it cannot be secured without giving ‘yoga and health education’ to all children to begin with or framing a “National Yoga Policy”.
There are about 20 crore children, according to the petition, which is almost one-sixth of the population of India, studying in primary and junior levels and yoga should be taught to them as a compulsory subject as per the National Curriculum Framework 2005 notified under section 7(6) of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009.
Now with this petition, this law may also come under serious debate as India’s Top Court has taken cognizance of the matter. The petition also seeks to declare first Sunday of every month as “Health Day” like the “Polio Day” and cites a decision of a California court that “Yoga is Secular”.
With so many twists in the relevant laws and politics involved, it would be interesting to hear SC’s verdict on the petition.