Pre-conception & Pre-natal Diagnostics Techniques (PC & PNDT) Act

Recently concern have been raised over the suspension of certain provisions under the Pre-conception & Pre-natal Diagnostics Techniques (PCPNDT Act) by the Union Health Ministry citing the COVID-19 pandemic. These 3 rules have been suspended till 30.06.2020 PCPNDT Act Rule 8: Renewal of Registration,Rule 9(8): Report to be sent by each centre by 5th of every month,Rule 18(A)6: regarding quarterly progress reports by Appropriate Authorities to GOI through the State Government .

Background :

  • The act was enacted in 1994 and amended in 2003 and is an important tool for addressing sex-selective eliminations.
  • Objectives: 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 a prenatal diagnostic technique for sex-selective abortion.
  • It was enacted in response to the decline in Sex ratio in India.
  • As per census 2011, adult sex ratio in India is 943 females per 1000 males.
  • As per the Census, 2011 the child sex ratio (0-6 years) has shown a decline from 927 females per thousand males in 2001 to 919 females per thousand males in 2011

Basic requirements under the Act:

  • Registration under Section (18) of the PC-PNDT Act
  • Written consent of the pregnant woman and prohibition of communicating the sex of fetus under Section 5 of the Act
  • Creating awareness among the public at large by placing the board of prohibition on sex determination

Offences under this Act:

  • 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

Provisions

  • The Act provides for the prohibition of sex selection, before or after conception.
  • It regulates the use of pre-natal diagnostic techniques only to detect genetic abnormalities, metabolic disorders, chromosomal abnormalities, certain congenital malformations, haemoglobinopathies and sex linked disorders.
  • 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 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.
  • The Central Supervisory Board (CSB) was constituted by the government under Section 7 to review and monitor implementation of the Act and rules made there under
  • It ‘criminalises’ non-maintenance of medical records by obstetricians and gynaecologists and suspend their medical licence indefinitely.

Issues with PCPNDT Act:

  • Present law of punishing the ultrasound technician in case of sex determination is too difficult to implement. Hence, the intended purpose of law to protect sex selection and improve sex ratio is not being met.
  • A study conducted by the Public Health Foundation of India in 2010 found many issues like:
  • Low rate of complaints and convictions.
  • Non-involvement of NGOs and local organizations in surveys and inspections.
  • Rigorous complaint process.
  • Lack of awareness.

Way forward :

  • However, online registration, geo-tagging and vigilant monitoring of scanning centres coupled with the fast tracking of registration facilities in Urban Primary Health Centers (for instance, online Form-F) and continuous advocacy efforts to generate awareness in society will help in the future.

Recent Supreme court judgement on PCPNDT Act :

  • The Supreme Court in May 2019 refused to dilute stringent provisions of PNDT Act under which a medical practitioner could be sent to jail upto three years for mere anomalies in the paperwork and for not keeping records of patients. (Indian Radiological and Imaging Association (IRIA) v Union of India)
  • It dismissed a petition filed by Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI) which challenged the validity of Sections 23(1) and 23(2) of Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act.
  • The sections state that criminal proceedings would be initiated against geneticist or gynaecologist in case of any violation of the Act and their registration could be suspended indefinitely during the pendency of trial.
  • Low conviction: Refusing to read down the provision of the PNDT Act, the court said, “There are only 586 convictions out of 4202 cases registered even after 24 years of existence. It reflects the challenges being faced by the appropriate authority in implementing this social legislation.”
  • Referring to the United Nations report, the apex court said that more than 4.6 lakh girls went missing at birth on an average annually during the period 2001-12 as a result of sex selective abortions and justifies the stringent provisions under the Act to maintain sex ratio and social balance in the society.
  • Any dilution of the provisions of the Act or the rules would only defeat the purpose of the Act to prevent female foeticide, and relegate the right to life of a girl child under Article 21 of the Constitution, to a mere formality.

08-04-2020 

  • The suspension of Clause 9(8) is of particular concern, Ms. Karat said in her letter. The Rule reads: “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 5th day of the following month to the concerned Appropriate Authority.”
  • Since the medical facilities come under essential services and thus are exempted from the lockdown, Ms. Karat said if the clinic is open and conducting tests it should be duty-bound to keep a register of such tests and suspension of the rule could lead to illegal procedures.
  • https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/ministrys-move-could-lead-to-sex-determination-brinda/article31284856.ece

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