News & Events

Interview Feature | Dr. Dhvani Mehta, Co-Founder and Lead, Health and Medical Law, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy

November 21, 2023

As part of the Public Health and Indian Constitution (PHIC) Project, NLSIU was delighted to host subject-matter experts from policy organisations, think-tanks and academia for a workshop on campus last week. We had a chat with Dr. Dhvani Mehta, Co-Founder and Lead, Health and Medical Law at at Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, who attended the workshop to share her expert views on the project.

Dhvani has worked on research projects on environmental clearances, the National Green Tribunal, organ transplant laws, end of life care, and pharmaceutical and medical device regulation. She has appeared in the Supreme Court of India in petitions filed by Vidhi on advance medical directives and discrimination against persons affected by leprosy. She has authored chapters on the implementation of environmental judgments and healthcare corruption in India. She earned her doctoral degree at the University of Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, where she was Chairperson of Oxford Pro Bono Publico and an editor of the Oxford Human Rights Hub blog. Her doctoral thesis explores the idea of an environmental rule of law in India and was cited by the Supreme Court of India.

In this interview, she shares more about her work and some of her experiences along the way.

On her beginnings at Vidhi:

I knew Arghya Sengupta (the founder of Vidhi) at Oxford.  When he had this idea of founding Vidhi and asked me if I was interested to come on board, it it sounded like an interesting thing to pursue right after my doctorate. This was a great opportunity for me to come back to India, do some of the research that I already knew I liked doing, and perhaps see some of it translate into change on the ground.

On her interest and work in Environmental law & Health law:

As a law student, I had an interest in Environmental Law, so even when I went to do my Masters and Doctoral degrees at Oxford, this was the area I continued to focus on, and which also continued with my work at Vidhi.

My association with Health and Medical Law and Ethics came about organically through projects that came our way at Vidhi or through connections I had made earlier. I was a member of a research ethics committee at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai for research studies and clinical trials. That was where I had my initial exposure to issues at the intersection of health, law and policy and ethics. As it happened, When Vidhi first started, we were asked to help out with some work that the Dr. Ranjit Roy Chaudhury Committee was carrying out. This committee was set up to reform the legal framework on clinical trials in India after a public interest litigation had been filed on the ways in which clinical trials were conducted in India. We assisted the committee, and through that association, other projects on intersection of health regulation and ethics came our way. This is how I continued to build upon this area of interest.

I then ended up doing work on a wide range of areas – pharmaceutical regulation, medical professional regulation, organ transplantation, etc. The turning point was when we filed an intervention application in a case that was pending in the Supreme Court – the original petition was filed by Common Cause, a registered society, and it was asking for the legalisation of Advanced Medical Directives (Common Cause v Union of India). We thought that we could contribute our research to what the Court was considering. This is the area on which I’ve spent a lot of time – almost 10 years now – that has really led to a consolidation of my interest in this field.

Moments of satisfaction/ highlights:

Primarily, doing the work on End-of-Life Care has been very satisfying for me. It is representative of what one can expect if you are doing law, legal policy or strategic  litigation work in India, and it is a mix bag of results. It takes a lot of time to achieve the change you’re seeking. We had a couple of great victories along the way – Vidhi cant take all the credit of course; the original case was filed by Common Cause which led to the legalisation, and we were happy to contribute our arguments to that case in some way. But since then, we’ve had the opportunity to work with doctors, hospitals, patient rights groups, palliative care organisations, individual patients, as well as relatives of patients who all find this issue very integral to their lives and at some point, have faced problems because of what the law states about this issue. So, working with them to translate the judgment to the actual practice on the ground has been really satisfying.

On her interactions with NLS:

My first association with NLS was when I took up the online course ‘PG Diploma course in Environmental Law’ offered by the University. This visit however was my first association with NLS in terms of a professional capacity.

I got to know about Public Health and Indian Constitution (PHIC) Project in detail when I was invited to be part of this workshop on campus. Knowing what the research team was setting out to do was an interesting idea – in terms of the compendium on public health and right to health issues, and to contextualise them with materials from other sources. The idea that there could be a handbook like this which lawyers, public health practitioners, or anyone who has an interest in the field of health could refer to, is a great idea. So, I’m really happy that this initiative was undertaken.

The whole idea of the workshop was to think through the structure of the compendium and whether its categories and thematic elements made sense. What I was able to contribute to was to provide my inputs on whether the compendium included key cases or not, whether there was anything missing that needed to be included, whether the style of it is appropriate to the purpose of the project, whether material had been presented in a way that is engaging and accessible, and to suggest sources for other material that could form part of the notes on some of these cases.

A workshop such as this prior to peer review makes a lot of sense – it is a chance to get substantive inputs and feedback to help shape it in a responsible way that suits the purpose for which it was intended. Different people and different perspectives on the table is always helpful for such material.

Words of advice to students interested in this domain:

Personally, I wish I had been able to work more with organisations which work on environmental and health issues rather than just legal organisations. I wish I was able to do more internships with say, public health organisation of India and think beyond environmental law and health law. This I believe provides greater understanding of the issues on the ground. Now of course, law students are interning with a whole host of non-legal organisations already. But even to those who want to stay in the filed of law, I would only say that  it is important to get your basics right – constitutional law, administrative law, torts,  are all very fundamental to both these areas. I wish I had a more solid grounding in these academic areas instead of immediately thinking of pursuing only environmental or health law. They develop on the foundation of these other domains as well.

On the scope of work at the intersection of environmental law and public health:

Absolutely, there is a lot  of scope both academically, as well as in the field of policy and advocacy for these two areas to talk more to each other. It is becoming recognised more and more that these are two disciplines that intersect very integrally with each other so there is a lot of potential for graduates to explore in the future.

To reach out to Dhvani Mehta, you can write to