'We need a mass movement to eradicate female foeticide'
State health minister Suresh Shetty talks about the role of the Maharashtra Medical Council in tackling foeticide in the state, and helpful changes to the PCPNDT Act
You’ve chaired quite a few meetings with doctors and NGOs in the last week. What has the outcome been like?
Doctors, representatives from the Indian Medical Council, sonographers, Ayurvedic and Homeopathic doctors, attended my last meeting with the Maharashtra Medical Council (MMC). We have appealed to the fraternity to come together and speak up against erring doctors and strictly follow the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act. Some doctors plan to start campaigns against medical practitioners who indulge in sex determination and subsequent abortions on knowing the child’s sex. We are hopeful that this will generate talk within the community. Doctors who carry out these tests and abortions must know that their fraternity will not stand by them if they are found guilty.
There are, however, multiple issues we must understand and tackle to be successful in these campaigns. In some cases, for instance, if a sonography centre refuses to determine the sex of the baby, the family takes the woman to another centre. I think social awareness alone, can help in cases like these. Also, I’d like to clarify that the PCPNDT Act, as some people argue, is not against a women’s right to abortion. What it tries to tackle is the termination of pregnancy after 18 weeks —which is done not to choose whether to have the kid or not, but to get rid of the female child in most cases.
The MMC, which is a statutory body established by the Maharashtra Medical Council Act 1965, had been defunct for 10 years before it was renewed last year. How effective can such a body be when it comes to tackling an issue as grave and layered as foeticide in the state?
Yes, the MMC is facing teething issues right now, mainly in terms of the backlog in paperwork, which is slowing down its processes. Also, the pressure due to the PCPNDT Act has increased. But we are making requisite changes to ensure MMC works smoothly. For instance, till 2009, no meetings were held to discuss the PCPNDT Act. But between 2009-2012, we have held almost 6 meetings to discuss the issues and the Act itself.
Secondly, to ensure that plans and action are not delayed, we have a senior officer in Pune who will be in charge of all the paperwork. He will check if reports of all sealed equipment, anywhere in Maharashtra, are in the required format, so the MMC isn’t bogged down by trivial details and can concentrate on the bigger issues and act accordingly.
Last July, the state government wrote to the Union government, discussing the PCPNDT Act. Have you received a response yet?
Yes, we had recommended that mobile sonography machines be banned. They are a menace in rural areas because they conduct tests surreptitiously and it becomes really difficult to come down on them. People who operated these machines went to the high courts, even threatened to appeal to the Supreme Court. But the ban has been successful.
One major lacuna that was recently addressed in the national advisory board meeting was about our recommendation concerning consulting radiologists. Earlier, a radiologist could be a consultant to multiple clinics anywhere in the state without personally visiting the place.
So for instance, a sonography centre in Sangli can have a Mumbai-based radiologist as a ‘consultant’ purely on paper. This encourages malpractice because anything goes in the name of the consultant. But now, the rule stipulates that a radiologist can be a consultant in a maximum of two centres which fall in specific areas only.
One of the issues in our recommendation to the Union government that hasn’t been resolved concerns standalone sonography centres. In many rural areas, anyone having, say, even a kirana store can buy as sonography machine without having a radiologist or even X Ray, mammography and CT Scan machines on board. We are trying to push for this so only qualified doctors and medical practitioners can operate sonography machines.
How do you plan to ensure that the embarrassment caused by the now absconding Dr Sudam and Saraswati Munde, doesn’t recur?
The Mundes were powerful and we know they had help on various local levels. We’ll need a large movement, social reforms and the involvement of women’s groups to sensitise people so they never have to approach people like the Mundes.
The number game
In 2011, the sex ratio in Maharashtra was 833 : 1,000, as compared to 913 : 1,000 in 2001. In Beed itself, there were only 801 for 1,000 boys in 2011.
In 2001, Beed had 894 girls for 1,000 boys.