HT Spotlight: How Haryana is fighting female foeticide rackets in Punjab
Punjab and Haryana have the worst sex ratio. Punjab’s drive to save its missing girls by tracking pregnancies lost momentum till neighbouring Haryana got proactive a year ago and took up the fight against foeticide. Its crackdown on ultrasound centres conducting sex determination tests extends to Punjab. The recent raids in Barnala and Sultanpur Lodhi hold out hope for Punjab. Chitleen K Sethi tells how:
It’s midnight but the air is pregnant with excitement in a dingy room of the century-old Ambala Civil Hospital, 45 km from here. Twelve Haryana health department employees are on a mission. Last-minute briefings are on to ensure everything goes as planned.
A woman employee, in her third trimester, is the star of the cast. If she goes wrong in dialogue delivery, weeks of labour will be lost. Civil surgeon BB Lala is the man behind the show. It is his 68th raid, using a decoy, to catch those determining the sex of the foetus.
Six hours on, the decoy meets the conduit. The woman takes her to a doctor, who happily announces that it’s a male foetus. “We arrested the doctor and the conduit. It’s a shame that the doctor didn’t tell my colleague (the decoy) that there was a problem with the foetus’s lungs. The infant died within days of his birth,” says Dr Lala.
“The conduit charges Rs 30,000 for the ‘complete package’. The ultrasound centre takes Rs 15,000 and if the foetus is female, it recommends an abortion centre that costs another Rs 15,000,” says Dr GL Singal, the coordinator of Haryana’s Beti Bachao Beti Padhao programme.
Under the programme, Dr Lala and his team are fighting a brave battle for the girl child since May last year. The campaign for the stringent implementation of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Act (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act is beginning to show results. Till March 2016, the sex ratio at birth data (SRB) showed that nine Haryana districts had crossed the 900 mark and 10 the 850 mark.
Punjab’s private eye
A decade ago, Punjab’s Nawanshahr (now Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar) district fought female foeticide by tracking every pregnancy till delivery. Health and social workers joined hands to mould the patriarchal mindset and fight foeticide. The drive lost steam with the health department failing to crack down on unregistered ultrasound centres or illegal abortion.
“Today, it’s a well-oiled machine reeking of corruption,” says a health department source requesting anonymity.
The Punjab government hired a private detective agency to track conduits with the help of decoys. The agency caught two doctors and conduits in Amritsar and Balachaur in April.
Haryana steps in
The principal secretaries of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh met last September and allowed inter-state inspections to fight foeticide.
Since then Haryana’s health department is stealing Punjab’s thunder. Teams of doctors from the neighbouring state have busted 11 rackets, the latest in Barnala on July 6 that led to the arrest of four persons.
“Forget cooperation, Punjab health officials opposed our team from Kaithal when it raided an ultrasound centre 70 km from Patiala,” says Dr Singal.
Punjab principal secretary, health, Vini Mahajan is, however, upbeat. “Things are improving. We are positive about the results shown by the private detective agency,” she says.
Dr Ranjit Guru, who is coordinating Punjab’s fight against foeticide, says it’s a “long-drawn, uphill task”.
“We have mapped all registered ultrasound centres through the Punjab Remote Sensing Centre in
Ludhiana. A round-the-clock helpline, 104, enables people to report cases of foeticide,” Dr Guru says.
What rules say
The law says every medical centre using an ultrasound machine has to be registered with the government and maintain records of patients and tests. The test is done after a prescription of the doctor to assess health of the foetus. In case an abortion is needed, it has to be done at a registered centre following the doctor’s note.
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