In fight against female foeticide, SC verdict stresses on implementation of pre-conception and pre-natal diagnostics act
Voluntary Health Association of Punjab vs. Union of India [Writ Petition (Civil) 349 of 2006], Supreme Court of India Voluntary Health association of Punjab [VHAP], an NGO, filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court of India in 2006 against Union of India and others for the effective implementation of Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994. However, the practice of female infanticide still prevails. The writ petition at its core challenged the non-implementation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act’ 1994, focusing on the issue of rising female foeticide and the resultant imbalanced sex ratio. The average count of girl child (0-6 years) in the country has dropped to 914 per 1000 boys as per the Census 2011 which was earlier 927 in the 2001 Census. Expressing concern over female foeticide and the falling sex ratio, the Supreme Court asked the Centre to file an affidavit indicating the steps it had taken to curb pre-natal sex determination tests for improving the sex ratio which is sliding in most states. Several cases like People Unions for Civil Liberties v. UOI & Ors., Health and Allied Themes v. Union of India and CEHAT v. Union of India have already been decided in this regard, and are concerned with the prevention of sex-selective abortion and gender-based discrimination. VHAP stated that when it came to matching the girl child ratio with that of boys, the above seven States/UTs fared the worst. "Any figure below 900 girls per 1000 boys is to be viewed seriously," said senior counsel Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the NGO. In Rajasthan, for instance, the ratio of female child was 909 in the previous census and dropped to 883 in the 2011 count. Uttar Pradesh also recorded a drop from 916 to 899, Bihar 942 to 933, and Delhi 868 to 867. Maharashtra witnessed a drastic slip from 913 to 883 in a decade, while e Punjab and Haryana recorded an increase from 798 to 846 and 819 to 830 respectively. Three other states Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, and Madhya Pradesh, too fared badly on the census list. In order to ascertain the effective implementation of the PNDT Act, the Court asked the Health Secretaries to present statistics on the number of persons booked under the Act since its inception, prosecutions pending and convictions achieved. Gonsalves pointed out that prosecution figure was very low and only few cases yielded conviction. While the law provides for three years sentence, seldom do courts impose it as in majority cases, accused were let off with fine. Thus the Act failed to be a deterrent against female foeticide as intended by the legislature, Gonsalves said. He even accused the Centre of not conducting periodic reviews of state agencies under the Act, meant to supervise registration of clinics and centres conducting pre-natal diagnosis. Over the years, the court directed various states to submit reports on the status of the sex-ratios. After a 10-year long fight in the courtroom, the Supreme Court issued the final judgment in the case on November 8, 2016. The judgment placed the fulcrum of the issue on the non-implementation of the PCPNDT Act while highlighting the low status of woman in the Indian families. “When a female foetus is destroyed through artificial means which is legally impermissible, the dignity of life of a woman to be born is extinguished. It corrodes the human values,” the court observed. The court, in its judgement, made the following directions: (a) All the States and the Union Territories in India shall maintain a centralized database of civil registration records from all registration units so that information can be made available from the website regarding the number of boys and girls being born. (b) The information that shall be displayed on the website shall contain the birth information for each District, Municipality, Corporation or Gram Panchayat so that a visual comparison of boys and girls born can be immediately seen c) The statutory authorities if not constituted as envisaged under the Act shall be constituted forthwith and the competent authorities shall take steps for the reconstitution of the statutory bodies so that they can become immediately functional after expiry of the term. That apart, they shall meet regularly so that the provisions of the Act can be implemented in reality and the effectiveness of the legislation is felt and realized in the society. (d) The provisions contained in Sections 22 and 23 shall be strictly adhered to. Section 23(2) shall be duly complied with and it shall be reported by the authorities so that the State Medical Council takes necessary action after the intimation is given under the said provision. The Appropriate Authorities who have been appointed under Sections 17(1) and 17(2) shall be imparted periodical training to carry out the functions as required under various provisions of the Act. (e) If there has been violation of any of the provisions of the Act or the Rules, proper action has to be taken by the authorities under the Act so that the legally inapposite acts are immediately curbed. (f) The Courts which deal with the complaints under the Act shall be fast tracked and the concerned High Courts shall issue appropriate directions in that regard. (g) The judicial officers who are to deal with these cases under the Act shall be periodically imparted training in the Judicial Academies or Training Institutes, as the case may be, so that they can be sensitive and develop the requisite sensitivity as projected in the objects and reasons of the Act and its various provisions and in view of the need of the society. (h) The Director of Prosecution or, if the said post is not there, the Legal Remembrancer or the Law Secretary shall take stock of things with regard to the lodging of prosecution so that the purpose of the Act is subserved. (i) The Courts that deal with the complaints under the Act shall deal with the matters in promptitude and submit the quarterly report to the High Courts through the concerned Sessions and District Judge. (j) The learned Chief Justices of each of the High Courts in the country are requested to constitute a Committee of three Judges that can periodically oversee the progress of the cases. (k) The awareness campaigns with regard to the provisions of the Act as well as the social awareness shall be undertaken as per the direction No 9.8 in the order dated March 4, 2013 passed in Voluntary Health Association of Punjab (supra). (l) The State Legal Services Authorities of the States shall give emphasis on this campaign during the spread of legal aid and involve the para-legal volunteers. (m) The Union of India and the States shall see to it that appropriate directions are issued to the authorities of All India Radio and Doordarshan functioning in various States to give wide publicity pertaining to the saving of the girl child and the grave dangers the society shall face because of female foeticide. (n) All the appropriate authorities including the States and districts notified under the Act shall submit quarterly progress report to the Government of India through the State Government and maintain Form H for keeping the information of all registrations readily available as per sub-rule 6 of Rule 18A of the Rules. (o) The States and Union Territories shall implement the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) (Six Months Training) Rules, 2014 forthwith considering that the training provided therein is imperative for realising the objects and purpose of this Act. (p) As the Union of India and some States framed incentive schemes for the girl child, the States that have not framed such schemes, may introduce such schemes.