13 July 2011
By Malathy Iyer
Various civic corporations are drafting new rules, officials are busy raiding ultrasound and abortion clinics, and doctors are protesting against stringent laws. The administration’s objective, no doubt, is to help the girl child survive, but some activists claim that chaos reigns in the garb of stringent implementation of the Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act or PCPNDT Act.
If in Mumbai and Thane, sting operations have exposed doctors for revealing an unborn child’s sex and planning sex-selective abortion, in other cities, civic bodies have gone into overdrive.
The Nagpur Municipal Corporation, for instance, has made it mandatory for radiologists and gynaecologists to post details of their work online daily. Gynaecologists in Nagpur also have to seek the corporation’s permission before every medical termination of pregnancy.
In Latur, radiologists have announced that they will not consult at standalone clinics and will only be available at hospitals. Civil surgeon Dr B Kore has written to state health officials seeking direction on whether gynaecologists can conduct ultrasound scans in these standalone clinics.
"The online entry for doctors is a welcome development," said a state health ministry official. "But we are still checking whether Nagpur’s decision on abortion is in sync with the central Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act."
BMC ups heat on ‘stung’ doctor
The BMC is busy sorting out the paperwork arising out of the sting operation that showed gynaecologist Dr Ivan Rocha revealing the gender of an unborn child at J P Hospital in Saki Naka.
Its health officials were on Tuesday in the process of seizing two more ultrasound machines in L ward (Kurla) clinics where Rocha consulted. The BMC’s PNDT cell in-charge Dr Asha Advani told TOI that the corporation would need 2-3 days to complete the paperwork and move the court. Chaos will give way to results, says state
Mumbai: The unprecedented drama over sex determination tests and selective abortion began in the second week of June, when the Maharashtra government asked local bodies to survey all ultrasound machines in the state to ensure that doctors operating them follow the PCPNDT Act. The Act, which was amended in 2003, came into existence in 1994 to prevent sex-determination and sex-selected abortions that were skewing the child sex ratio.
State health officials are convinced that the present chaos will soon pass. "Our year-long programme, ‘Save the Girl Child’, will certainly yield results," said the officials.
The state also plans to hold a consultation with NGOs on its suggestions to tweak the MTP Act. While the state believes reducing the minimum timeframe for abortion from the present 12 weeks to 10 weeks will go a long way in curbing sex-selected abortions, activists are not convinced.
Said Padma Deosthali, coordinator, Centre for Enquiry into Health & Allied Themes: "The steps taken by some local bodies contravene the country’s abortion law. This will reduce access to safe abortion. Abortion has been legal for more than three decades in India and yet unsafe abortion is one of the leading causes of maternal mortality. This is because services are not within the reach of those in need."
Deosthali added that the existing gender inequality, an unregulated private health sector and the practice of dowry are factors that perpetuate the practice of sex selection. "Countering these is important to reduce the preference for sons. The state must regulate the private health sector to make it accountable for its standards of services. Medical associations must promote medical ethics and take stringent actions against erring doctors."
Meanwhile, the advocate who was instrumental in organizing the stings, Varsha Deshpande, said that civic officials have turned the action of seizing or sealing ultrasound machines "into a money-making proposition".
She alleged that each doctor was asked to pay Rs 15,000 to release his or her machine. "The Union government on May 31 amended the PCPNDT Act’s 11(2) provisions to state that no longer can doctors pay three times the fine and take away their sealed machines. Only a magistrate has the right to do so," said Deshpande.
Deshpande also said that about 1,000 ultrasonography machines had been seized in the state. "If the state is really serious about the current drive, it should ensure that each sealing operation becomes a case in the court. There are no minor or major offences in the PCPNDT Act. Every rule that is broken attracts three years’ rigorous imprisonment. The state should get cracking now."