Our country is witnessing an attack on doctors every alternative day, which can be attributed to lax laws and implementation. But here is an Act that can land a doctor in jail for minor mistakes and the irony here is that this law is implemented strictly. Radiologists, gynecologists, sonologists and doctors alike united across the country for a strike to demand for an amendment in the Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994. As part of the protest they refused to conduct sonographies on pregnant women on 15th April, Wednesday.

The PCPNDT Act, 1994 is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to stop female foeticides and arrest the declining sex ratio in India. The act banned prenatal sex determination. 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 ultrasound machine or any other equipment capable of detecting sex of the foetus.

Doctors feel that the implications of this Act have been severe and in many cases, unfair. In Mumbai, in the last 10 years, 412 out of 523 cases filed under the Act in courts have been solely for non-maintenance of records.  Medical community members said that over 500 sonography machines have been sealed for incomplete filling of forms or other paperwork mistakes. Also, last month, eight doctors from Pune were jailed for one year for not maintaining proper paper work under Form F of the PCPNDT Act. Doctors explained to TOI that the Form F comprises of 30 columns that run into four pages.

“The state and city vigilance committees look for minor mistakes in Form F, like not putting mobile numbers, or any other lack of details, and seal the machine. We have to go to the court to reverse the order, but the case takes up to 2–3 years to resolve,” said Dr Sharad Malvadkar, a radiologist and member of the Indian Sonologists and Gynaecologists Association.

These unfair constraints of the Act agitated doctors across the nation to come together to protest against it on 15th April. More than 6,000 doctors across 30 districts of Maharashtra participated in the agitation, with about 500 doctors from Mumbai gathering at Azad Maidan to register their protest.

Doctors say that they are most definitely not against punishment for sex determination, but simply the government machinery that is more interested in punishing clerical errors, probably because they are easier to detect. A striking imbalance in the child sex ratio and rampant female foeticide is what gave birth to the PCPNDT Act. But, the Act seems to be focusing on bookkeeping errors which are minor in comparison to the urgent need to address the social problem. It needs to be amended to re-focus on the main issue.

 

Deepu Sebin

CEO, Co-founder of DailyRounds - largest academic network for Doctors ! Internal Medicine MD. Contact dr.deepu@dailyrounds.org.

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