‘Why suspend sex test rules?’ 

#GS2 #Judiciary 

The Supreme Court asked the government to explain its decision to suspend crucial rules of a parliamentary law against pre-natal sex determination and sex selection till June-end, amid the COVID-19 national lockdown. 

Issue :  

  • A Bench led by Justice U.U. Lalit issued formal notice to the government on a petition filed by Sabu Mathew George challenging an April 4 notification issued by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare which put on hold the implementation of certain rules of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex-Selection Rules) of 1996 till June 30, 2020. 
  • Mr. George, represented by senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, asked how the government could temporarily freeze rules framed under a parliamentary law through a mere notification. 
  • The court told the petitioner to alert it if the government made any move to extend the suspension beyond June 30. 

Penal provision 

  • One of the suspended provisions, Rule 8, is intrinsically connected with the statute’s provisions dealing with the mandatory registration of genetic counselling centres, laboratories and clinics. Non-compliance leads to penalty. 
  • “The Central government has arbitrarily and selectively weakened a legislation aimed at curbing the pernicious activity of sex-selection and sex-determination. The number of girls missing at birth due to the practice of gender biased sex selection in India has been estimated at 0.46 million girls per year for the period 2001-12 (which is 5.52 million girl children, missing at birth for the 12-year period), and the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act and the Rules thereunder, are aimed at remedying this social evil,” the petition said. 

By suspending the Rules, the government has diluted the PCPNDT Act, the petition said. 

  • “This will result in misuse of technology by unscrupulous individuals who will no longer be deterred by the monitoring mechanism provided in the Rules,”. 
  • “This illegal suspension of Rules, while medical establishments continue to function, will provide avenues for misuse of technology for purposes of sex-selection and sex-determination, and will result in a loss of the gains made in the strict implementation of the Act,”. 

About PCPNDT Act: 

  • The Pre-conception & Pre-natal Diagnostics Techniques (PC & PNDT) Act, 1994 was enacted in response to the decline in Sex ratio in India, which deteriorated from 972 in 1901 to 927 in 1991. 
  • The main purpose of enacting the act is to ban the use of sex selection techniques before or after conception and prevent the misuse of prenatal diagnostic technique for sex selective abortion. 
  • Offences under this act include conducting or helping in the conduct of prenatal diagnostic technique in the unregistered units, sex selection on a man or woman, conducting PND test for any purpose other than the one mentioned in the act, sale, distribution, supply, renting etc. of any ultra sound machine or any other equipment capable of detecting sex of the foetus. 

Amendments: 

  • The act was amended in 2003 to improve the regulation of the technology used in sex selection. 
  • The Act was amended to bring the technique of pre conception sex selection and ultrasound technique within the ambit of the act. 
  • The amendment also empowered the central supervisory board and state level supervisory board was constituted. 

Main provisions in the act are: 

  • The Act provides for the prohibition of sex selection, before or after conception. 
  • It regulates the use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques, like ultrasound and amniocentesis by allowing them their use only to detect few cases. 
  • No laboratory or centre or clinic will conduct any test including ultrasonography for the purpose of determining the sex of the foetus. 
  • No person, including the one who is conducting the procedure as per the law, will communicate the sex of the foetus to the pregnant woman or her relatives by words, signs or any other method. 
  • Any person who puts an advertisement for pre-natal and pre-conception sex determination facilities in the form of a notice, circular, label, wrapper or any document, or advertises through interior or other media in electronic or print form or engages in any visible representation made by means of hoarding, wall painting, signal, light, sound, smoke or gas, can be imprisoned for up to three years and fined Rs. 10,000. 
  • The Act mandates compulsory registration of all diagnostic laboratories, all genetic counselling centres, genetic laboratories, genetic clinics and ultrasound clinics. 
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