Radiologists shut shop to protest 'witch-hunt'

They allege that they are being harassed under the pretext of a crackdown on sex determination tests

Pune/Mumbai: The malaise of sex determination tests has the entire state in a tight grip. As per government data of the last five years procured by mid-day, Pune recorded the highest number — 47 — of such cases in Maharashtra. Mumbai is a close second, with 24 cases.

But the Maharashtra State Branch of Indian Radiological and Imaging Association rubbishes these figures, saying they are inflated, and that most of the cases were registered because of improper maintenance of documents.

Alleging that radiologists were being harassed “under the pretext” of a crackdown on sex determination tests, the association struck work across the state yesterday. More than 2,500 radiology centres in the state, including 1,000 in Mumbai, downed their shutters to protest this alleged high-handedness. Over 50 radiologists protested in front of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) office.

Jignesh Thakkar, national coordinator of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, said, “The highest number of sex determination cases have been recorded in Pune, followed by Mumbai. We try our best to curb such discriminations based on the sex of the foetus, but we are being harassed without proper investigation.”

The trigger
The protest was sparked by action against a radiologist, Dr Ashutosh Jape, who runs a sonography centre in Hingane, Pune. He was booked under the PCPNDT Act after he performed an ultrasound test on foetus in his clinic on February 19 and reported that it had congenital anomalies. The patient was later admitted at Poona Hospital, under the care of Dr Neela Desai, and underwent a medical termination of pregnancy on February 25.

The “harsh” action against Dr Jape has riled up the community of radiologists, who fear that they are being targeted needlessly.

Dr Vaishali Jadhav, who is investigating the cases within the jurisdiction of the PMC, trashed the association’s allegation. “Raids and investigations are done within the framework of the law,” she said.

On a warpath
But many radiologists differ, saying she is on a witch-hunt against them.

Defending Dr Jadhav’s motives, Ganeshy Borhade, coordinator of NGO Lek Ladki Abhiyan, said she was instrumental in the issuance of a circular by the PMC last year, directing ophthalmologists to register their ‘A’ and ‘B’ ultrasound sonography machines under the PCPNDT Act to rule out any scope for misuse of the technology for sex determination. “Dr Jadhav had personally probed how such machines could be used for sex determination. Since then, she has started cracking the whip on errant radiologists.”

Even PMC commissioner Kunal Kumar supported Jadhav. “The administration is acting on the merit of cases filed as per the provisions of the law,” he said.

In the last five years, nearly 70 cases have been filed under PCPNDT Act in Pune, of which 33 were registered when Dr Jadhav took charge.

...but Pune surprises
Despite the high tally of sex determination tests, Pune’s child sex ratio (CSR) has risen since 2011

Year CSR
2011 884
2012 934
2013 933
2014 937
2015 925

(CSR is calculated based on every 1,000 boys)

Vets under the scanner
Following reports that people were visiting veterinary doctors to determine the sex of foetuses, the state government made it mandatory last month for veterinarians to register their ultrasound sonography machines with health officials. Similar rules are already in place for radiologists under the PCPNDT Act. The vets also have to give an undertaking that sex determination tests will not be conducted at their clinics or hospitals, and display boards mentioning that “sonography tests will be performed only on animals or birds”.

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