April 12, 2020

Withdraw Order on Suspension of PcPNDT Rules: AIDWA

THE All India Democratic Women’s Association, in a statement issued on April 7, has strongly opposed the unjustified move of the Department of Health and Family Welfare suspending rules 8,9 (8) and Rule 18A under the PcPNDT Act, ostensibly due to the coronavirus pandemic. This suspension goes against the main purpose of the Act to stop sex selection by means of certain basic and vital compliances that genetic labs and clinics etc have to follow in keeping records and submitting these for scrutiny to the appropriate authority and for re-registration. AIDWA states that this retrograde step goes against the principles and law of delegated legislation which only allows the centre to modify rules and then place it before parliament for scrutiny.

Rule 8 deals with the application for re-registration of a genetic lab and clinic including an ultra sound lab by the AA (appropriate authority). The AA after enquiry and examining whether the clinic etc has been complying with the PcPNDT Act and rules, can renew the registration for five years. The suspension of this rule throughout the country would mean that clinics and genetic labs can carry on functioning without any scrutiny.

Rule 9(8) states that each genetic or ultra sound clinic or imaging centre etc shall send a complete report of all pre-conception and pregnancy-related procedures conducted by them to the AA every month. It is not understandable why this rule has been suspended and why the clinics etc should not send a complete record of pregnancy-related procedures, if any, carried out by them. This is the only scrutiny that these labs are subjected to, to assess their adherence to the basic rules and to ensure that sex selection is not being carried out by them. The PcPNDT Act mandates the keeping of such a register. If it was felt that the labs/clinics would not be able to send their reports in time, it should have been made clear to the genetic labs etc that the reporting procedure has still to be complied with after condoning a certain delay. Similarly Section 18A not only requires the AA to send quarterly reports to the government but also to maintain full information of all the registrations in the specified Form H. Why should this rule have been arbitrarily suspended?

The suspension of the PcPNDT Rules could be misused by unscrupulous sections to conduct sex determination tests freely. The central government has suspended these rules till June 30. But there have been continuous attempts in the recent past to weaken the Act. We fear that this can easily be extended by the central government on some pretext. AIDWA demands that the suspensions be revoked by the central government to stop the dilution of the act in any manner.

Withdraw Suspension of Rules

CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, Brinda Karat, has written a letter to the union minister for health & family welfare, Harsh Vardhan, on April 7, demanding the withdrawal of the suspension of certain rules of the PcPNDT Act. Below we publish the full text of the letter.

THIS is with reference to the gazette notification dated April 4 by the department of health and family welfare suspending certain rules of the PcPNDT Act. This is done in the name of the “unprecedented situation created by Covid-19” and is valid till June 30. I am not sure whether this is done with your approval. I am writing to request you to have a relook at this notification, consider its implications and to withdraw it.

1. The suspension of Clause 9(8) in the rules is of particular concern. This rule reads: “Rule 9(8): Every genetic counselling  centre, genetic laboratory, genetic clinic, ultrasound clinic and  imaging centre shall send a complete report in respect of all  pre-conception or pregnancy related procedures/techniques/tests  conducted by them in respect of each month by fifth day of the following  month to the concerned appropriate authority.”

Medical facilities have been exempted under the essential services declared by the government. It stands to reason that if the clinic is open and conducting tests, it is duty bound to keep a register of such tests as mandated by the PcPNDT law. If government had assessed that for the month of March it would not be possible for clinics conducting tests to send the reports by April 5, and had issued an administrative order condoning the delay it would be understandable.

However suspending the rule itself means that the clinic need not produce any records till June 30. This could be misused by unscrupulous sections to conduct sex determination tests freely. You will appreciate my concern that the suspension of the rule may lead to sabotage of the law under the guise of the situation created by Covid-19.

2. Since the lockdown is for a period declared by the government to end on April 14, why is the suspension extended two and a half months beyond the officially declared lockdown period of three weeks,   to June 30?  This also causes concern.

3. The other two rules suspended namely Rule 8 and Rule 18a 6 pertain to registration of the clinic and registration (Rule 8) and meetings of the advisory council and other authorities. Here again when all meetings of professional bodies are being held through the use of technology, why should the authorities under the PcPNDT Act come in for special consideration to exempt such meetings? Why should checks of clinics before re-registration be suspended till June 30? Obviously in a period of lockdown such verification may not be possible, but once the lockdown is lifted as scheduled on April 14, why should procedures for registration be waived?

There was no urgent reason to suspend rules. No other rules under any other Act have been so suspended. It is questionable whether the ministry has powers to arbitrarily suspend rules placed before parliament.

The situation regarding skewed sex ratios continues to be very serious. India cannot afford any dilution or weakening of the implementation of the law.  Let not the Covid-19 crisis become a cover for this. I request you to withdraw the suspension of the rules.