A group of people categorised as overseas citizens of India (OCIs) have challenged a Central notification disallowing them from commissioning surrogate children in the country. In a petition before the Supreme Court, the OCIs termed the move as discriminatory.
Taking up the petition on Thursday, a bench of justices Ranjan Gogoi and NV Ramana asked the government to explain the logic behind leaving the OCIs out in the notification, even as the proposed law does not envisage it.
The SC is hearing a PIL filed by an advocate Jayashree Wad who complained that India had become a major hub for commercial surrogacy in the world due to unregulated practice of the trade.
The Centre issued a notification in November to regulate commercial surrogacy in India, considered to be a $445 million annual business. As a part of stringent measures, the government banned import of human embryo except for research.
“Under what authority of law have you imposed this ban? Even the draft bill does not contemplate it,” the bench asked the government counsel who assured the court to be back with a response on April 13.
The judges also asked the government to spell out the fate of the bill that was to be tabled before the Parliament. They recalled that the solicitor general had on October 2015 said the bill was at a consultative stage and would be introduced in the Parliament soon.
“More than three months have passed what happened to the consultative process?” the bench asked the government advocate who said the bill was now pending before a parliamentary standing committee.
The orders issued on November 3 and 4 last year said stated that no Indian mission or foreign office shall issue visa to foreign nationals for this purpose. The detailed advisory by the MHA and health ministry go a step further to stop commercial surrogacy even as the government works on a legislation to bar foreigners from renting a womb in India.
During the hearing, the bench indicated staying the notification in favour of the OCIs. However, on the request of the government counsel it did not issue any order.
The counsel said the purpose behind the notification was to extend the benefit to the “infertile Indian parents.”
“What is the law or mechanism by which you are stopping them (OCIs)? What is the policy? This is contrary to your bill,” Justice Gogoi heading the bench observed.
The Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) scheme launched in 2005 provides for registration as OCIs of all persons of Indian origin (PIOs) who were Indian citizens from January 26, 1950 or were eligible to become Indian citizens on that date and who are citizens of other countries, except Pakistan and Bangladesh.