The Parkash Singh Badal-led SAD-BJP government is quick to announce cash benefits and other reward schemes to incentivise the birth of the girl child, but it does not appear to be equally proactive in cracking down on ultrasound clinics which use medical diagnostics to determine the sex of a foetus.
The Punjab health department had set aside funds in the financial year 2011-12 for sting operations, rewarding decoy patients and informers who provide clues about medical practitioners and clinics involved in carrying out illegal sex determination tests, and organising girl child competitions in the state. However, the health authorities not only failed to carry out even a single sting operation with the help of television channels, private agencies or any individual, but also could not develop a network of informers in the state.
While the bulk of the funds, allocated under the centrally-sponsored National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) for improving the sex ratio and curbing female foeticide, have been lying unutilised, health officials blame lack of adequate awareness for their failure to carry out these activities and involve the people.
Punjab has one of the worst sex ratios in the country, with 893 females per 1,000 males against the national average of 940, as per the 2011 census.
The union health ministry had sanctioned Rs 81 lakh for sting operations, informer rewards and girl child competitions during the previous financial year. Of these, Rs 74 lakh were allocated for the competitions – popularly known as “healthy baby contests” – in which three healthy newly-born girls with complete immunisation are awarded cash awards per sub-centre, but a meagre Rs 3.89 lakh were utilised by the department, according to sources.
The scheme with cash rewards for sting operations, informers and decoy patients was announced by then health minister Satpal Gosain in June last year to rein in indiscriminate sex determination. The Centre had also granted funds at the rate of Rs 50,000 per sting operation, and cash rewards of Rs 20,000 each for informers providing information about female foeticide and illegal ultrasound clinics, and decoy patients helping the state health authorities in nabbing unscrupulous doctors and centres indulging in sex determination.
While no sting operation was conducted during the entire financial year (2011-12), a cash award of Rs 20,000 was given to a woman in Ludhiana for giving information. The low utilisation of allocated funds has not gone down well with the union health ministry, which asked for a clarification from the state government.
The health authorities have promised to utilise the funds in the current financial year. In sharp contrast, the department has utilised the budget earmarked for giving cash awards to panchayats of villages having a sex ratio of 1,000 or more.
When contacted, director, health and family welfare, Dr JP Singh said there was a need to create awareness about these activities. “We are making efforts to create awareness among the people about the informer reward to catch those indulging in illegal activities. Two sting operations have already conducted in Amritsar and Jalandhar this year so far. Besides, a proposal has been made for a girl child competition fortnight,” he told Hindustan Times.
The child sex ratio (0-6 years) has improved in the state, but it continues to be far below the national average (914) at 846 girls per 1,000 boys, as per the 2011 census. The districts of Tarn Taran (819), Amritsar (824) and Gurdaspur (824) have the lowest child sex ratio in the state. Recently, the Delhi government had also decided to conduct sting operations to crack down on sex-determining clinics.