In 1994, the Parliament enacted the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act or PCPNDT Act to stop female foeticide and arrest the declining sex ratio at birth in India. The main purpose of the Act is to ban sex selection before and after conception and to prevent the misuse of prenatal diagnostic techniques for sex-selective abortion.
The Act, however, has not been properly implemented across many states as is evidenced by the low sex ratio at birth in the country.
To demand effective implementation of the PCPNDT Act, the NGO Voluntary Health Association of Punjab filed a writ petition before the Union Government. In response the Supreme Court in 2013 passed an order giving the Act more teeth.
As per the court's orders:
- All courts must dispose cases filed under the Act within 6 months.
- State governments must set up a special cell to monitor the progress of the cases filed under the Act.
- State governments must map all registered and unregistered ultra-sonography centres within 3 months.
- State and district advisory boards must ensure that manufacturers and sellers of ultra-sonography machines do not sell the machines to any unregistered centres.
- All genetic clinics and laboratories must maintain statutory records and forms. Action will be taken against them if they fail to do so.
- Central and state supervisory boards must meet every 6 months to oversee effective implementation of the Act.
- They must gather information on breach of the Act and initiate legal proceedings.
- The state advisory committees and district advisory committees must report details of the charges framed and the convictions given under the Act to the state medical councils so that they may take appropriate action.
- The authorities should take steps to seize the machines which have been used illegally and contrary to the provisions of the Act and its rules. These seized machines can also be confiscated under the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure and be sold in accordance with law.
What activists are saying
Activists fighting to bring an end to sex selection are hoping the order will finally put pressure on many states to set up mechanisms to ensure that the PCPNDT Act is implemented effectively.
Rizwan Parwez, an activist with Center for Advocacy and Research says, "At the level of the states much more needs to be done like mapping of ultrasound clinics and their machines. But we also have to ask whether states are equipped to carry out the steps the apex court has asked for. In many states there are no PCPNDT cells and even the committees are not fully set up. So how are they going to implement these recommendations? The good thing is that after the apex court order, the message has gone out to the states that they are answerable to, not just the centre, but also the court. Now we have to see if there is will to implement the law."
Another important voice in this fight is that of Colin Gonsalves, Founder-Director of Human Rights Law Network, a collective of lawyers and activists dedicated to human rights issues. He says, "After some initial enthusiasm, the issue of declining sex ratio fell off the radar of the Supreme Court until recently when we resurrected it in a case. We were shocked to find that the implementation had come down to 10%. It's a tragic situation that the child sex ratio is dipping drastically and a huge crisis is looming on the horizon. This includes even the capital and that shows the level of the apathy that exists."