India needs a unified public health legislation, writes Bibek Debroy

By Bibek Debroy

Our Constitution was adopted after lengthy debates in the Constituent Assembly. Let me quote from debates on September 2, 1949. H.V. Kamath said: “While commending my amendment seeking to transfer public health, sanitation, hospitals and dispensaries to the Concurrent List, I would like to state that public health has been the Cinderella of portfolios in the cabinet of our country…. We could not do better than make public health a Concurrent subject…. Bearing all these points in mind and viewing this important and vital matter from different points of view, I feel very strongly that public health should not be relegated to the legislative powers only of the states but should be a concurrent subject at least. I am sure my friend Mr Brajeshwar Prasad would try to include it in List I, but I would be happy if this matter were transferred to List III.”

Prasad said: “I feel that public health, sanitation, hospitals and dispensaries should be included in List I.… I fully appreciate the point that by wresting those important powers, provincial autonomy will be modified to a very large extent, but provincial autonomy is not an end in itself.”

This did not happen. Not only did health not move to List I (Union List), it did not move to List III (Concurrent List) either. Entry 6 on State List is “Public health and sanitation; hospitals and dispensaries”.

Read the full article on The Week: