Centre under pressure to dilute law against pre-natal sex test, say activists

IMA has demanded certain amendments in the PCPNDT Act

According to Niti Aayog's Health Index, sex ratio at birth is falling | Reuters According to Niti Aayog's Health Index, sex ratio at birth is falling | Reuters

Despite recent data on falling sex ratio at birth, the Centre is under pressure from doctors' bodies to "dilute" the law against pre-natal sex determination, activists say.

Last week, when the Indian Medical Association met J.P. Nadda, the Union minister for health and family welfare, to express members' opposition to the National Medical Commission Bill, 2017, the IMA also demanded certain amendments in the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994. 

Doctors are agitating against them being criminally prosecuted for "clerical errors" and “administrative lapses”, which activists say will dilute the law. "They have been assured by the health ministry that the law will be diluted. Strong deterrent sections will be amended by bringing in graded punishments. Also, the plan is to make family members liable for filling the form F [detailed forms for maintenance] rather than the doctor. Right now, if there's a case against the doctor, the burden of proof is on them to prove their innocence. The doctors want that the blame should be shifted to the family," said Dr Sabu M. George, a prominent activist and member of the National Inspection and Monitoring Committee under the PC&PNDT Act. "States such as Maharashtra, Haryana and Rajasthan that have implemented the Act properly have seen a high number of convictions under the Act and have experienced improvements in sex ratios," he said. 

Citing latest data on sex ratio at birth, George said that according to Niti Aayog's Health Index, sex ratio at birth (SRB) is falling. “The SRB is substantially lower in almost all larger states—17 out of 21 States have SRB of less than 950 females per 1000 males. SRB has declined between the base year (2012-14) and reference year (2013-15) in most states except for Bihar, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh where improvements in SRB were noted. In Jammu & Kashmir the ratio has stagnated. Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Haryana recorded substantial drops (10 or more points) in this indicator,” he said, quoting the report. 

According to the report, the maximum drop in the sex ratio at birth—from 907 girls per 1,000 boys in 2012-14 to 854 girls per 1,000 boys in 2013-15—was found to be in Gujarat, THE WEEK had reported in February.

Dr Neelam Singh, member of the Central Supervisory Board under the Act, said that last month, the Supreme Court had rejected the IMA's demand that MBBS qualification is adequate for doctors to conduct ultrasounds. "The SC upheld the Centre's rules on the requirement for a formal six-month training to conduct ultrasound. In many places, AYUSH doctors are conducting sonography, and unethical practices are going on," said Singh.  The IMA's demands to forego the training would have lead to a mushrooming of ultrasound centres, leading to a rise in sex selective procedures, she said.