The Supreme Court on Saturday expressed displeasure over the Gujarat High Court adjourning a rape victim’s plea for a medical termination of her 26-week pregnancy, and said “valuable time” has been lost during the pendency of the matter.
In a special sitting on a Saturday, a bench of Justices B V Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan observed that there should be a sense of urgency in such cases and not a “lackadaisical attitude” of treating the matter as any normal case and just adjourning it.
The apex court was informed by the counsel for the petitioner that the 25-year-old woman had approached the high court on August 7 and the matter was taken up the next day.
He said the high court had on August 8 issued a direction for the constitution of a medical board to ascertain the status of pregnancy as well as the health status of petitioner. The report was submitted on August 10 by the medical college where she was examined.
The top court noted that the report was taken on record by high court on August 11 but “strangely”, the matter was listed 12 days later i.e. on August 23 “losing sight of the fact that every day’s delay was crucial and of great significance having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case”.
The bench also noted that the petitioner’s counsel has brought to its notice that the case status of the matter showed that the petition was rejected on August 17 by the high court but no reasons were dictated in the court and the order is yet to be uploaded on the high court’s website.
“In the circumstance, we direct the secretary general of this court to inquire from the registrar general of the High Court of Gujarat and ascertain as to whether the impugned order has been uploaded or not,” the bench said.
The petitioner has approached the apex court through advocate Vishal Arun Mishra.
The counsel for the petitioner told the bench the woman petitioner was in her 26th week of pregnancy when the medical board was constituted. “On August 11, it was stand over to August 23. For what purpose?,” the bench asked, adding, “By then how many days are lost?”.
The petitioner’s counsel said the matter was listed on August 17 instead of August 23.
Observing that valuable days have been lost in just postponing the case, the bench said when the petitioner had sought for the termination of pregnancy and had approached the high court, she was already 26-week pregnant.
“Therefore, we find that valuable time has been lost between August 11, when the report was placed before the high court, and the order stating that the matter would stand over to August 23,” it said.
“In such cases, there must be, not undue urgency, but at least a sense of urgency in such matters and not a lackadaisical attitude of treating it as any normal case and just adjourning it. We are sorry to say and make this remark,” the bench orally said.
The apex court said it would take up the case as first item on August 21. The bench also sought a response from the state government and agencies concerned on the plea.
The petitioner’s counsel told the bench that as on today, the petitioner is pregnant for 27 weeks and two days and shortly, would be approaching the 28th week of her pregnancy.
He said a fresh report may be sought from the medical board.
“In the circumstances, we direct the petitioner herein to appear before the hospital for being examined once again and the latest status report may be submitted to this court by tomorrow evening at 6 PM,” the bench said.
During the hearing, the bench said it will wait for the high court’s order passed in the matter. “We will wait for the order. How can we consider the correctness of the order in the absence of the order,” it said.
The bench also asked about the report filed by the medical board before the high court.
The petitioner’s counsel said as per the report, the termination of pregnancy can be done.
Under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, the the upper limit for the termination of pregnancy is 24 weeks for married women, special categories including survivors of rape and other vulnerable women such as the differently-abled and minors.