The Delhi High Court Thursday declined to entertain a PIL seeking extension of the consultation process on Health Data Management Policy, saying if such procedural aspects are made complicated the government may not come out with policies.
"Don't make the procedural aspects so cumbersome or complicated that the government is incentivised against coming out with policies," the high court said.
A bench of Chief Justice D N Patel and Justice Prateek Jalan, however, directed the Centre to decide the representation moved by the petitioner, a doctor, highlighting alleged inadequacies in the consultation process of the policy of the National Digital Health Mission (NDHM).
The court said the representation moved by the doctor on August 29 be decided in accordance with law, rules, regulations and government policy applicable to the facts of the case.
With the direction, the court disposed of the petition by Dr Satendra Singh who had contended that notice for consultation issued on August 26 was "unconstitutional, undemocratic, discriminatory, and inaccessible" as it does not ensure effective or meaningful public participation.
While disposing of the petition, the bench observed that the issue of inadequacies in the consultative process was being kept open to be raised later after the policy is finalised and anyone wishes to challenge the same.
Singh, represented by advocate Rajshekhar Rao, has contended that the time period for the consultation is only 15 days, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore renders the process a mere procedural formality.
Central government standing counsel Manish Mohan appeared for the ministries of Health and Social Justice.
Rao, during the hearing via video conference, told the bench that the entire process is via an online form available on the NDHM official website and there is no option to send views via email and the document is only in English.
He said this method of consultation excludes people with disabilities, especially those with visual impairments, those not having access to the internet, like people in the hinterland and those who are not fluent in English.
According to the petition, the NDHM, announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his Independence Day speech on August 15, seeks to digitise the entire healthcare ecosystem of India.
NDHM also envisages the creation of a National Digital Health Ecosystem which is expected to have six key features- HealthID, DigiDoctor, Health Facility Registry, Personal Health Records, Telemedicine, and e-Pharmacy, and aims to support universal health coverage, the petition said.
It also said that the draft policy aims at providing a unique health ID to all citizens and health practitioners; and governs the collection and storage of sensitive personal data such as medical records and history, physical, psychological and mental health data, genetic and biometric data, sex life, sexual orientation, and financial information.
It had alleged that despite the "woefully inadequate measures of public consultation" the government proceeded with rolling out the NDHM scheme from August 15 itself as according to news reports it has already issued 55,700 health IDs in less than two weeks.
Singh wanted a declaration from the court that the consultation process was illegal and improper.
He had also sought extension of time for the consultation and directions to the government to widely publicise the draft policy by translating it in the 22 official languages recognised in the Eight Schedule of the Constitution and to make it accessible for people with visual impairments.
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