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Times of India
17 December 2008
By Swati Deshpande
Mumbai, India

HC hears case of USG machines seized from Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital
A super–Specialty charitable hospital in Pune, run by the Lata Mangeshkar Medical Foundation, recently moved the Bombay high court against the “Draconian” seizure of its eight sonography machines by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC). The civic body seized the 650–bed hospital’s ultrasound equipment this August on the pretext that they could be misused to carry out banned sex determination tests, thereby abetting female foeticide.

When the matter came up for its first proper hearing in the HC on Tuesday, R A Dada, counsel for the hospital, expressed shock and indignation at the PMC’s “Arbitrary and unreasonable action, without any evidence”, while the PMC counsel R G Ketkar tried to justify the seizure as being in the “Public interest”. At one point, Justice Bilal Nazki, who, along with Justice J H Bhatia, was hearing the matter remarked, “If we had such machines 100 years earlier, we would perhaps not have had Lata Mangeshkar.”

Trouble began for the hospital when a civic advisory committee set up to implement the Preconception and Pre–natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act found that eight out of 600 forms had not been filled completely by pregnant women undergoing a sonography. The result was drastic and swift. The deputy medical officer of the PMC locked up all the ultrasound machines in a room. Four months later, Dada said the appellate authority has yet to give the hospital a hearing for the unconstitutional action.

In an equally serious tone, Justice Nazki said the machines are important for diagnostic purposes for “All types of ailments” and the PMC “Has to strike a balance” to ensure that “Other patients shouldn’t suffer”. The judge added, “Patients don’t know that the machines are not there. That is our worry. Other patients should not suffer.”

The public trust founded by the famous Mangeshkar family in 1989 runs the Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital which has 70 ICU beds and also caters to the lower income group. “There is nothing to show that banned sex determination tests were carried out in the hospital. The prolonged seizure, without even a proper panchanama, is nothing but a punishment in advance,” said Dada. “The hospital was doing nothing wrong, nor does it want to. Patients have to be sent outside for a sonography. The machines can’t be kept locked up and unused like this.”

The hospital said that in each of the eight cases where the form was ‘Incomplete’, the women were in an advanced state of pregnancy and even if the sex of the foetus was determined, abortion was out of question under the law. Moreover, each woman had submitted a letter testifying that the sonography was performed only “For foetal growth and well–being, and not for sex determination or abortion”. In some cases, the tests were carried out barely two days before delivery. The hospital also said it was being discriminated against. Kelkar insisted that the machines could be misused and said it was “Physically impossible” to keep tabs on all clinics where sex determination tests are probably carried out. Justice Nazki then remarked, “When we have lost our moral fibre… if a mother is prepared to kill a baby in her womb, no law has the power to stop her.”

The court will continue with the matter on Wednesday.

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